With spring just around the corner, and summer maybe not so far behind, Susanna Forbes tells you how to add a little seasonal sparkle to your beer offering
‘Follow the colour of the season,’ says Martin Hilton, beer sommelier and managing director of Purecraft Bar & Kitchen in Birmingham. ‘Spring is light and fresh – it’s golden.’
Beer sommelier and educator Annabel Smith agrees. ‘Weight the menu towards lighter beers, both in colour and strength, but remember there is still an appetite for variety,’ she says. ‘In warmer weather we drink beer more to quench the thirst than for the flavour. Having said that, you need to taste something, so beers like chilled wheat beers (Erdinger, Hoegaarden) are perfect on a summer day. Ice-cold pilsners are also extremely versatile.’
But what else might our on-trade insiders recommend? Here are their top 10 tips for spring-cleaning your beer list.
1 Pales will be big
‘A fresh, hoppy, sessionable pale ale or IPA is going to be a must this summer,’ says BrewDog’s Gareth Bath. ‘But don’t be afraid to drop in a classic US-style IPA. Those big tropical, citrus and piney aromas are really going to bring your summer food menu to life.’
Lager will be as important as ever, ‘but look for something new and interesting that is going to excite your customers’, says Bath. Look, too, for so-called session pale ales. ‘The lower abv enables you to hit price points per pint that are accessible, without sacrificing the full-on hoppy aromas and flavours that these beer styles bring to the party.’
Speaking of abvs, Steve Holland, licensee of The New Inn in Tywardreath, Cornwall, recommends ‘keeping the 4.9s and 5s into March, then go lighter’.
For those buying off a specific list, don’t feel constrained. ‘If it’s going to be [a] big [trend], keep asking,’ says Mike Stokes, award-winning licensee of Shepherd Neame pub The Hoop & Grapes in Farringdon. Keep an eye on trade media, and for an idea of what punters will be seeking Stokes says: ‘Speak to the reps about where the marketing spend is going to be.’
2 Hang on to ‘specials’
‘The British beer drinker is one of the most adventurous in the world, so reflect this on your beer list,’ says Frazer Thompson, CEO of Chapel Down, brewers of the Curious beer family. But don’t change just for the sake of it. ‘Think of beer like you do food, and keep some “specials” on the list,’ says Hilton. ‘Keep the signpost brands,’ advises Caledonian Brewery’s Andy Mitchell, adding: ‘Look back on previous years – drinkers will enjoy what they have tried and tasted before.’ Whatever you do, don’t overdo it. Rather than having too many taps on at once, ‘extend your range with complementary cans and bottles’, advises Simon Lewis, CEO of West Berkshire Brewery.
3 Don’t ditch darks
‘People who like dark beer don’t hibernate for summer,’ says Adrian Rigby, architect of Carlsberg’s extensive Crafted and Tapster’s portfolios. Think dark IPAs, a well-chosen porter or stout, or try a malt-infused Scottish 80-shilling style of beer, such as Caledonian’s Edinburgh Castle Ale.
4 Cans make sense
‘Cans are quicker to chill, lighter to carry, more environmentally friendly and can be served more widely at outdoor events,’ says Chapel Down’s Thompson. ‘But never drink a beer from the can,’ says Annabel Smith. ‘Eighty per cent of what you taste is through what you smell – and you can’t smell beer in a can! Make sure half the beer is dispensed into a glass, and the can is presented to the customer.’
5 Food matching
‘Seasonality is extremely important with beer,’ says Boyd Smith, manager at The Doric, Edinburgh’s oldest gastropub. ‘Over the next few weeks I’ll sit down with my head chefs to plan our summer menus, and in turn we’ll call in bottled beers to try out with the new dishes. Light pilsners like Orkney’s Atlas Latitude go great with our salmon and trout dishes, and the warm, nutty notes of Edinburgh Castle matches well with our rib-eye steaks as well as the beef carpaccio starter.’
In warmer weather we drink beer more to quench the thirst than for the flavour
Bath recommends turning the tables: ‘Invite in some of your local and national craft brewers and task them with matching their best beers with your summer menu plans.’
Play like the wine boys and add tasting notes and food tips to your beer list, and beer tips to your menu. ‘You will sell more, even with desserts,’ says Mitchell. ‘It’s like wine was 10 years ago. This helps people planning their next drink,’ says Rigby, who also advocates amalgamating beer and wine lists.
6 Find fruits
‘Consider stocking a fruit beer, such as Liefmans Kriek or Fruitesse, or Bacchus Framboise,’ says Annabel Smith. ‘They are uniquely refreshing and can encourage non-beer drinkers to dip their toe into the beer world for the first time.’
7 Check the calendar
Check the diary for national dates. St Patrick’s Day in March is ‘a good time for trying new products from the Guinness range’, says Stokes, with St George’s Day in April ‘an obvious event for good English real ale’. Or champion your revamped list with a customer event, perhaps ticketed. Oliver Alsford at The Beer Vaults in Portsmouth, a Fuller’s stronghold, suggests a craft beer taster evening with tapas-style dishes.
8 Build connections
While good suppliers are pivotal in all this, consider forming alliances with your favourite breweries, as Hilton does
at Purecraft (see box above). Or import beers yourself, as Nigel Owen of Bethnal Green-based, New York-influenced tap room Mother Kelly’s does.
The correct conditioning is key, as is tapping and venting – even glassware is crucial
9 Empower your staff
‘It’s absolutely critical to get to taste the new beers with the food,’ says Rigby. ‘Hold simple tasting sessions when a new beer comes in and encourage staff to make notes,’ says Annabel Smith. See if your suppliers have any beer sommeliers you can call upon, or consult The Beer Academy.
‘Every night we send staff home with a different bottle of beer,’ says Owen. As well as training with the likes of Annabel Smith, Owen recommends sending staff to beer festivals at home and abroad for research, saying he’ll be doing more of that in 2016. ‘We have bought pallets blind on the basis of a trusted staff recommendation,’ he says.
10 Clean it up
Turn all Aggie MacKenzie on us, with a deep clean of both bar and cellar. Hilton recommends a full wash down, detailed checking and cleaning of all elements, and, if necessary, a lick of paint. Finally, don’t forget the dispensing temperature. According to Annabel Smith, warm beer is the top reason most non-beer drinkers say their first experience of beer was poor. She recommends that you ‘check your cellar, check your fridges, and make sure your beer is being dispensed to the brand owners’ specification’.
Coming in 2016
While pale and golden ales will vie with IPAs for your attention, sours are definitely on the rise, not least for their food-matching potential. ‘Saisons and sours, lambics and gueuze will grow in popularity,’ predicts Purecraft’s Martin Hilton, with The Beer Vault’s Oliver Alsford picking out Beavertown’s Quelle Saison as a particular favourite.
The Bottle Shop’s Andrew Morgan reckons that ‘the trend towards hop-forward, lower abv beers is set to continue into 2016,’ but Beer Day Britain founder Jane Peyton BS anticipates more creativity. ‘New-wave breweries will continue to brew innovative beers that are hybrids: mash-ups that contain additional botanicals in the ingredients list, or that revive ancient styles such as braggot [the mead/beer hybrid mentioned in The Canterbury Tales],’ she says.
Spain and Italy will grow their market share, too, she adds, citing the ‘staggering increase’ in the number of Italian breweries over the past five years.
Localism will remain important, and beer and food matching will continue to grow, as will the number of women drinkers. Good-tasting gluten-free pilsners such as organic Celia (celialager.co.uk; via Carlsberg) will also be in high demand.
Spirit of 2016: Purecraft Bar & Kitchen, Nottingham
As its name suggests, Purecraft offers sustenance from its open-plan kitchen alongside much to sip on, with 21 beers on tap and 60 good-looking bottles jostling for fridge space.
‘We tend to evolve our beer list rather than apply a wholesale change,’ says MD Martin Hilton. ‘While rural pubs have the tradition of a guest beer, we think about styles, countries and strengths, making sure we cover a range of styles, abvs and colours on our list.’
High-volume beers allow Hilton to invest some margin in other, more esoteric beers. ‘Let the sales mix drive your portfolio. We have our staples – the trio from Purity. People are getting more adventurous but they still have their favourites.
‘Instead of only working with wholesalers, we work with a few of the brewers direct,’ he says, explaining how they’ll be invited to suggest their seasonal beers throughout the year to partner with Purecraft for seasonal customer events. ‘In February, we’ll start preparing for an event in May, for example,’ says Hilton.
But the beer portfolio is only part of the story. Nurturing the casks and kegs is vital. ‘I’d liken what we do in the cellar to what we do in the kitchen. Just as we devote time to prepping in the kitchen, so the correct conditioning is key, as is tapping and venting. Even glassware storage is crucial. We say that we craft beer into the glass.’ purecraftbars.com
Ten of the best
Our experts tell you how to clean up at the till this summer
Steve Holland, The New Inn, Cornwall
St Austell Liquid Sunshine, 3.9%, golden ale
Zesty notes and a quaffable abv – a seasonal favourite at The New Inn in Tywardreath.
POA; July-Sept; St Austell Brewery, 0845 603 5434
Annabel Smith BS
Liefmans Fruitesse, 3.8%, fruit beer
‘Serve very cold in a goblet glass; this tastes great with paté, goats’ cheese and chocolate.’
£28.13/24x330ml; £60.49/30l keg; Carlsberg, 0800 027 4144
Martin Hilton BS, Purecraft Bar & Kitchen, Birmingham
Purity Mad Goose, 4.2%, pale ale
Super zesty, this has ‘connotations of spring from the start’.
£10.95/8x500ml; £13.38/5l cask; Purity Brewing Co, 01789 488007
Mike Stokes, The Hoop & Grapes, London
Shepherd Neame, Spitfire Gold, 4.2% (4.3% bottle), golden ale
‘It’s sold exceptionally well from day one, tapping into the current trend for lighter, fruitier golden ales.’
£1.50/500ml; £85/9gal cask; Shepherd Neame, 01795 597000
Oliver Alsford, The Beer Vaults, Portsmouth
Fuller’s Montana Red, 4.5%, American red
‘Amply hopped, with a distinctive rye finish. Good with smoky, barbecued food, and a great thirst-quencher.’ £124.99/30l keg; Fuller’s, 020 8996 2000
Boyd Smith, The Doric, Edinburgh
Caledonian Brewery Coast to Coast, 4.6%, American pale ale
With six West Coast hops alongside Scottish east coast malt, it’s ‘a match made in heaven for chicken dishes’.
POA, Heineken, 01506 471501
Andy Young, Left Coast
Two Beers Trailhead ISA, 4.8%, session IPA
‘Light biscuity character, alongside pine and citrus notes and a lovely bitterness.’
£32/24x355ml cans; £114/30l keg; Left Coast, firstname.lastname@example.org
Simon Lewis, West Berkshire Brewery
Renegade West Coast Pale Ale, 5.1%, American pale ale
‘Assertive and enjoyable, with tropical fruits and pine, the depth gives this good food-matching capability.’
£32.40/24x330ml; £87/30l keg; West Berkshire Brewery, 01635 202968
Gareth Bath, BrewDog
BrewDog Electric India, 5.2%, saison
‘A vibrant, dry-hopped saison, which blurs the distinction between IPA and a Belgian farmhouse classic.’ £27.64/330ml; BrewDog, 01358 724921
Chapel Down, Curious IPA, 5.6%
‘Perfect with barbecued meat, such as ribs or steak.’
£12/12x330ml; £74/30l keg; Chapel Down, 01580 763033