by Lacey Griebeler, Chef Magazine

This article is the Beverage & Spirits column for the April 2009 issue of Chef Magazine.

The Brewers Association reported in late February that small, independent craft brewers are continuing to gain in the alcohol market share. Estimated sales by craft brewers were up 5.8 percent by volume and 10.5 percent in dollars between 2007 and 2008, and nearly a half million new barrels of craft beer were sold in 2008. These stats support data from Gallup, which reported that 47 percent of U.S. adults prefer to drink beer (while 31 percent pick wine and 23 percent chose liquor).

Here's why these numbers matter to restaurants: Consumers are now expecting craft beer on your menu, and they're looking for full-flavored choices that will complement your food. Even the National Restaurant Association's What's Hot survey reflected that craft beer is transitioning from a hot trend to a perennial favorite.

Adding beer to your menu is easier to embrace if your concept is more casual. But fine-dining still seems to be struggling to get on board. I was talking with Mike Roper about beer and white-tablecloth restaurants last November at a pairing event he hosted at his restaurant/bar Hopleaf in Chicago; he told me that a certain acclaimed Chicago chef (with a highly regarded wine list at his restaurant) once said to him, "You will never, ever find beer on my menu"--that a 12-ounce bottle of beer with a goofy label would just not be at home atop his pressed linens.

But craft brewers are reacting to restaurateurs' concerns by producing more larger bottles--650 mL (a.k.a. bombers) and 750 mL sizes--with attractive labels and often special branded glassware, perfect for tableservice. Here are just a few:
  • Juliet (pictured, right), Goose Island Beer Co.--A Belgian-style sour ale aged with sour blackberries and partially fermented in Cabernet barrels; pairs well with rotisserie chicken, rabbit, roast pork, lamb and aged Cheddar (6.7 percent ABV)
  • Four (pictured, below), Allagash Brewing Co.--A dark Belgian quadrupel ale brewed with four malts, four hops, four sugars and four Belgian yeast strains; pairs well with bacon-wrapped scallops, crab-stuffed mushrooms, filet mignon, chocolate crêpes (10.0 percent ABV)
  • Pangaea, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery--A slightly spicy strong ale brewed with ingredients from every continent (like crystallized ginger from Australia, water from Antarctica, basmati rice from Asia); pairs well with grilled red meat and game (7.0 percent ABV)
  • Dead Guy Ale, Rouge Brewery--The brewery's signature malty maibock, brewed with local ingredients; pairs well with pork and hot or spicy foods (6.5 percent ABV)

Explore craft beer, and you never know: You just might find that it pairs better with your menu than wine--and it doesn't have to compromise the look of your table.

Quick tips for finding the right craft beers:
McIllhenny Co., maker of Tabasco Pepper Sauce, has launched the 2009 Hottest Chef Contest, inviting professional chefs, sous chefs and lead line cooks in the United States and Canada to create and submit an original menu item using easily sourced, fresh ingredients. To qualify, entries must include Original Tabasco Pepper sauce, Tabasco Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce or Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce. Additionally, featured dishes must be considered profitable for a restaurant to sell. Entries can be submitted online at until July 17.

The professional chef with the winning recipe will receive $10,000. For more information, visit Tabasco's Web site, or call 1-888-HOT-DASH.
Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence (CIVP), an organization representing more than 750 vineyards in Provence, France, has condemned a new European Commission initiative that would accept the blending of 5 percent red wine and 95 percent white wine to produce rosé. If the proposed ruling is approved on June 19, the blending technique could go into effect as early as Aug. 1. The European Union says that allowing the creation of a blended rosé would open additional export markets for Italian and Spanish wine producers who have an oversupply of red and white wines.

French winemakers create dry rosé by briefly macerating red grapes and removing the juice before it becomes heavily colored, giving the wine its unique flavor profile. Thus, the CIVP says that simply mixing a solution of white wine "with a dash of red" is by nature not true rosé, despite its pink color, and that it will mislead consumers.

"It has taken man years of patience, professionalism and exacting attention to quality control to persuade consumers that
rosé is a distinctive, refreshing selection for wine lovers throughout the world," said Francois Millo, director of CIVP-Wines of Provence, in a statement. "This proposal will destroy the true wine's hard-earned image and undermine a time-honored tradition of production excellence."

For more information, visit