Saturday, November 10, 2007

Beer: Fine Dining and Craft Beer

Say you're going out for a delicious steak dinner at Ruth's Chris, or any of the glut of steak houses in downtown. What's your drink of choice? 99% of people would ask for a red wine, likely a Cabernet Sauvignon. And you know what? They wouldn't be wrong. Wine and steak go together like PB&J. But you know what would also taste delicious next to that steak? A nice pint of brown ale, or maybe a porter.

Sadly, the world of fine dining has not really caught up with the fast-growing craft beer movement. You'll be lucky to find a restaurant with 10 craft beers available while they gladly stock their shelves with hundreds of different wine options. These days, if you want craft beer with a meal, your options are generally bar food or bar food. Not that craft beer is bad with bar food, but there are so many other interesting and delicious food-beer combinations!

Around Indianapolis, the various breweries generally specialize in bar food, though Rock Bottom has a surprisingly good menu. Alcatraz Brewing Co. changed their menu in the last year or so to gourmet burgers that I've heard are quite tasty, if a bit expensive, topping out around $15. There are also a handful of local restaurants that stock an impressive selection of beer including Shallos, MacNiven's, BadaBoomz, Rathskeller and the Ale Emporium. Indiana Beer provides a list of other local restaurants with noteworthy selections.

One of the few fine dining restaurants around town with a decent beer list is R Bistro and even then they've only got 6 or 8 options. Still, I gladly order beer when I'm there because the option is so rare -- last time I got a Unibroue Trois Pistoles -- not to mention quite a bit cheaper than wine.

So, what's the answer? I'm not sure. Asking restaurants to suddenly start stocking their beer shelves in proportion to wine isn't going to do anything unless diners ask for it. And diners certainly aren't going to ask for beer unless they're informed and options are readily available. Even then, we've got years and decades and centuries of wine-drinking tradition that goes against the notion of beer with fine dining. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not asking for wine to be replaced with beer, just that the option be available.

I think the answer is that it's going to be a long, slow process of educating both restaurants and diners that great beer pairs well with great food. If food-beer pairing interests you, for now you can always dine at home where you can control everything! Here are a handful of sites that offer useful tips on pairing:

Apparently Stone Brewing is very interested in this concept as well and recently hosted a beer vs. wine "Tasting Menu Showdown." You can read a bit about it here.


Matt said...

Great write up. There is a small and growing movement to pair good beer with good food. Beer is just so versatile as well. With all the styles you can easily find something that pairs well with pizza, burgers, chicken the regular bar food, but you can also find great beer that goes with good cheese, wild game birds, and fresh fish. It's just a more versatile beverage that wine is, and with wine bars if it's more expensive that means it must be better!

You just get a better deal with beer. Wine has it's place, but public perception needs to change. I think I am going to put together a beer dinner with some people between the holidays just for fun and see what people think. Again, good write up. is a neat little site to start looking up things for pairings.

rodney said...

If you're interested in exploring the world of food and beer pairings, I strongly recommend Garrett Oliver's book "The Brewmaster's Table." It's a must read and has taught me a lot. They have a copy at the library if you'd like to try before you buy.

CorrND said...

matt -- thanks for the beer dinners link. That sounds like a very interesting concept and I'd be very intereested in trying it out!

rodney -- thanks for the book link, I'll definitely have to check it out. I'd never heard of Garrett Oliver but I see that he's the brew master of Brooklyn Brewery. Having heard that their IPA (East India Pale Ale) was designed to be a food pairing IPA (as opposed to most palate-busting IPAs), this really sounds like a must read.