Summer’s nearing, and while you may have already laid out plans for your warm-weather fare, something could be missing from your menu: seasonal beers.
“If you’re a restaurant that’s seasonally changing your menu, you should also be seasonally changing some of your beers,” says Charles Bockway, whose website (http://craftbeerrestaurant.com) helps restaurants market and increase sales of craft and seasonal beer. “It just goes hand-in-hand with the kind of seasonal influence that’s taken over the industry.”
Bockway says seasonal beers account for almost 18 percent of the market in the beer retail channel and that offering these “better beers” can help restaurants see higher revenue. Seasonal beers also give your restaurant a quality of changeability, Bockway says. “They give you that opportunity to create interest by variety.”
In the summer months, Bockway suggests offering fresh, light beers that are served cold and have moderate alcohol levels, such as Kölsch, Belgian Wit, or lighter wheat beers. These beers offer a “refreshing, thirst-quenching style that makes them more fun in the summer, especially with lighter summer cuisines” like salads, he says.
For restaurants testing the seasonal beer waters for the first time, light beers are the way to go because they pair well with foods, says Jon Connolly, director of brewing operations at Carolina Brewery in Pittsboro, North Carolina. The restaurant and brewery, which has another location down the road in Chapel Hill, has been offering seasonal beers for 17 years.
Carolina Brewery serves a “West End Wheat” in the summer—which Connolly describes as a “fizzy beer, light in body, with a really nice flavor”—as well as its “Firecracker Pale Ale.” Last year, the brewery even came out with a beer named the “Bull Pen Pale Ale” that it makes especially for the Durham Bulls baseball stadium in Durham, North Carolina. This beer has a hand-crafted flavor, but is light enough to enjoy out at the ballpark.
The brewery changes its menus—and its beers—every three months to “reflect the season,” Connolly says. “I think it’s absolutely a great idea for restaurants to offer seasonal beers, because otherwise you might be drinking the wrong beer for the season.”
Connolly suggests that restaurants looking into seasonal beer offerings should “decide what types of food are on their menu and find beers that complement those flavors.” He says contrasting food flavors with beer or even taming spicy foods with a light beer—or playing them up with a spicy India Pale Ale—can work all year round.
Once you decide on which beers to offer on your summertime menus, marketing is key. At the very least, Bockway suggests having a written list of your special beer offerings that the waiter can hand to customers.
When waiters approach diners and introduce daily specials, be sure they’re not only mentioning the seasonal beers, but also giving a brief description of each, such as where they’re from and what they taste like.
“That requires that you do have to have a little extra training or information passing from management down to the wait staff,” Bockway says. “They have to be aware of what the seasonals are, and they need to be able to speak like they would on a food menu item. They need to make that beer sound good.”
By Mary Avant