Craft Beer. What comes to mind when those words are uttered? Pretentious hipsters? Hops from a foreign land? Long lines and high prices? Independence? Limited production and sales? While all of these are encompassed in the craft beer culture to some extent, one association is prevalent in the minds of the craft beer die-hards and the casual craft beer drinkers alike - “good beer”.
If craft beer is the premium version of beer, why hasn’t it risen to the level of other premium beverages and taken a seat at the table of fine dining? Those of us craft beer consumers who choose to partake in the fare offered at upscale dining establishments are well aware that beer is not typically an available option in that environment and know all too well that there is a gaping hole in this industry just waiting to be filled with our beverage of choice, but why aren’t we seeing beer fill this gap?
It was a breezy summer evening. After a long day of field work and the usual madness encountered on the freeway, I headed over to a local taproom for a nightcap before I shut it down. After placing my order at the Mexican food truck that stopped by, I headed over to the bar for a Weissbier to wash it down. The bartender came back with a clear, watery beer in a Weissbier vase with absolutely no head. My attempt to exchange the beer resulted in a minutes long debate about how I could have ascertained that the beer wasn’t a wheat beer without having been personally involved in the production process. It was later confirmed that the tap handles for the two beers were mixed up.
This type of situation has been experienced by countless consumers of craft beer, and the underlying theme is a lack of education and knowledge of the product. Craft has been inundated with folks looking for personal popularity and trendy lifestyle perks on both the consumer and industry sides. Much like the music industry, an endless amount of effort is put into artwork, social media hype, and promotional events, but this same effort is missing when it comes to education and the discipline to learn and excel in the craft. This lack of product knowledge would never be tolerated in fine dining, or any other high end industry. Imagine paying hundreds of dollars for a meal at a restaurant where the server was unable to distinguish sea bass from trout. Would you continue to consider that establishment upscale? If the food being served wasn’t stored, prepared, or presented properly, would you still maintain that the restaurant represented fine dining?
The industry will have to “put some respekt on beer’s name” before it is respected elsewhere, and it all starts with education. It requires a vast knowledge of the product and appropriate pairings, as well as a consistent and well-made product.
The beer industry has a lot to gain by entering the fine dining arena, but there is work to do internally before beer broadens its horizon.