The UK beer market evolves quickly, and trends come and go on a daily basis. It’s exciting, diverse and dynamic. But it’s also utterly overcrowded, which poses an issue for restaurateurs striving to compile a profitable craft beer list.
Indeed, if beer is the main raison d'être of drinks-led venues such as pubs and bars, the main function of a restaurant beer list is to complement the food offer. As such, these lists can be much trickier to put together.
So what are the golden rules of crafting a solid beer selection for a food-led venue? To answer the question we summoned Stewart Cumming of Brighton's Curry Leaf Cafe – SIBA’s Best Independent Craft Beer Restaurant 2019 – who revealed the secrets to building a successful restaurant craft beer list in his session at Imbibe Live.
Stock a good lager
‘There are many lagers available out there,’ said Cumming, ‘though it’s crucial that you choose a very good one, like the Renegade Lager from West Berkshire Brewery, for instance. Hopefully this will lead your guests to trade up to something else on the list.’
Cumming explained that a lager is something many restaurants take for granted and don’t pay too much attention to, but it should be the starting point for any restaurateur looking to have a craft beer list.
‘Make sure it comes in glass bottles and not in a can, however. Cans still have a bad connotation when it comes to lagers.’
Value your no and low
‘Double IPAs are really hard sells in a restaurant,’ said Cummings, ‘while lower abv, below 5% beers work really well for one-hour meals.’ He highlighted that in a casual dining environment tables have to turn fast.
Higher-alcohol beers – which are normally sipped rather than gulped – run the risk of keeping guests in their chairs for too long, leaving potential customers queuing outside in frustration.
‘Small Beer Session Pale and Big Drop Pale Ale are both brilliant examples to stock.’
Each beer needs a story
Why would your guest order a more expensive beer instead of your house pour? An interesting story can come in handy, helping to make a more expensive label more appealing. However, great beers and great stories are worthless without training. ‘Engage with your teams,’ Cumming pointed out. ‘As long as they can highlight one cool little fact about the beer, they’ll be able to sell it.’
Vegan friendly and gluten free
All restaurateurs know that there isn’t a service without guests that want gluten free or vegan food. Therefore ‘you need to cater for such a huge share of the market’.
Cumming said that there’s no need to segregate gluten free and vegan beers to a dedicated section on the list: ‘Northern Monk Brew Co Origin, for instance, is an IPA that happens to be gluten free, so it can go on the menu alongside all other IPAs.’
Keep on top of trends
Craft beer is constantly evolving; what’s cool today won’t necessarily sell itself tomorrow. ‘Always keep the craft beer market monitored, otherwise you’ll end up with lots of stock sitting in the fridge beyond its expiry date.’
All beers must work with food
‘I love the weird and wonderful stuff, but in a restaurant environment all beers must be selected because they work with food,’ Cumming assured the audience. He gave a classic Bavarian wheat beer as an example of a particularly food-friendly brew: ‘A Krombacher Weizen is smooth, round and spicy and works wonderfully with a huge range of foods.’