Breweries are taking their brands to new regions, often in collaboration with chefs and with a clearer focus on food pairings.
The craft beer industry is thriving, and with it the appreciation for pairing fine brews with fine foods is trending upward as well.
By mid-2014, production at U.S. craft breweries was up 18 percent from the previous year, according to the Brewers Association. In fact, double-digit growth has been typical in recent years. From culinary collaborations, to restaurant expansions, to new production facilities, craft breweries are seizing upon these synergies and newer restaurant-based initiatives are gaining steam.
A Learned Approach
One fresh movement in this direction is Brooklyn Brewery’s partnership with The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), which plans to open a craft brewery on its campus in Hyde Park, New York, by this summer. The new seven-barrel brewery will be part of the CIA’s degree curricula and will be staffed by students in the Advanced Wine, Beverage, and Hospitality concentration. Brooklyn’s brewmaster Garrett Oliver and other brewery staff will support CIA faculty in developing course materials, which will range from technical brewing considerations to the financial aspects of opening restaurants where making beer is a core component.
While Brooklyn Brewery has partnered with the CIA on numerous projects during the past two decades, the on-site brewery marks a major escalation in craft beer’s involvement within formal culinary education, in a similar fashion to the Beer & Food Course that has been introduced recently by the Brewers Association.
Other breweries are moving toward greater restaurant involvement as well. In October, Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan, announced that it would be expanding its Eccentric Café from counter ordering into a full-service restaurant, and expects to open the new space by June.
Jason Reicherts, Bell’s director of retail, notes that a major impetus for the change was feedback from visitors. “Right now it’s über-important—people expect [a full-service restaurant] when they come in,” Reicherts says. The additional 130 seats and expanded prep space will allow Bell’s more room to tap into current food trends.
In addition to sourcing non-GMO and organic foods, the Inspired Hospitality program at Bell’s will aim to significantly improve the compatibility of beer and food. Additionally, the brewery will hire staff who are fully capable of handling all aspects of food and beverage. “We’re looking at people who understand both food and beer, not just one or the other,” Reicherts notes. “We want them to recognize what a good pairing is, and what’s not a good pairing.”
The flip side of bringing restaurant service to the breweries is giving restaurants—and specifically chefs—a voice in the making of the beers they serve. This benefits both the restaurant’s beverage menu and the brewery’s distribution model.
As part of its decision to expand distribution across northern Virginia, Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., market, Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Oregon, recently debuted a collaborative saison with Chef José Andrés, leader of D.C.–based ThinkFoodGroup, which has a number of upscale, landmark restaurants in that market.
“We’ve done a variety of collaborations before,” Deschutes’ CEO and founder Gary Fish notes, “but nothing with a chef.” The project was in the works for more than three years before the Zarabanda beer was released in November.
“We approached the project the way a chef would approach creating a fine dish,” Fish summarizes. Starting from a general framework of a spiced saison with lemon verbena added, which was an ingredient Chef Andrés had been working with, the brewery added spicy pink peppercorns, dried lime, and sumac to create the saison’s umami character. Ultimately, Deschutes Brewery tested more than 150 spice profiles before settling on the perfect balance.
“[It] was designed specifically to go with food, and to really enhance the food experience,” Fish explains.
The Deschutes partnership with Chef Andrés is just one example of a wave of chef-involved beer collaborations in recent years, such as Evil Twin Brewing’s collaboration with Andy Ricker and Pok Pok, Mikkeller’s black-truffle stout in conjunction with Grant Achatz’s The Aviary, and Goose Island’s multifaceted Chef Collaboration Series.
Expanding Distribution and Production
Deschutes’ expansion into the D.C. area was one of numerous distributions into new territories that the brewery announced over the past year, bringing it to 28 states, D.C., and various international locales. With the craft beer industry seeing prolonged growth, wider distribution has become the norm.
Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, expanded to Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Arizona during the first half of 2014, before announcing in September that its brewery would add about 57,000 square feet. As a result of the expansion, the company anticipates shipping 50 percent more beer in 2015, and the brewery could scale to nearly five times its 2014 output.
New Belgium, Oskar Blues, Avery, Green Flash, DESTIHL, Sweetwater, Dogfish Head, and too many other breweries to name have expanded their distribution over the past year. In fact, craft beer distribution is stronger than ever, and for restaurants, the available choices have become more numerous than ever.
In response to increasing demand, additional production facilities have opened. Sierra Nevada’s new operation in Asheville, North Carolina, opened in 2014, with a taproom and restaurant slated to open early this year, while New Belgium’s nearby production facility in West Asheville aims to be running by year-end. Both efforts amount to investments of well over $100 million each and will position these West Coast–centered breweries to better serve their East Coast customers. Additionally, Colorado brewery Oskar Blues opened a second brewery in Brevard, North Carolina, in late 2012.
Similarly, Stone Brewing Co. has announced it will open additional breweries in Richmond, Virginia, and Berlgarin, Germany. As with Sierra Nevada’s Asheville expansion, Stone’s newest locations will also incorporate full-service restaurant components. The brewery’s signature Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens will be established at each satellite location, bringing the same food principles and exceptional beer service as its original brewery in San Diego.