Restaurant Beverages Trends – Wine and Beer
Tipping the Glass – Georgia’s Restaurateurs on Trend with Wine and Beer
by Shannon Wilder
When it comes to beverage trends, the clear expectation is that flavor is going to carry the day. But what comes to the fore in this economic environment is that, across the board, savvy restaurateurs are focusing as much on the experience surrounding the drinker as whatâ€™s in the glass, whether itâ€™s wine, beer or non-alcoholic beverages.
According to data from the Beverage Information Group, people in the United States consumed nearly 3 gallons of wine per person in 2008. Many are the first round of Millennialsâ€”those born roughly between 1980 and 2000â€” who are now of legal drinking age and who are more savvy about wine at an earlier age than previous generations.
Many diners, including Millennials, will continue to be cost-conscious through 2010 as the economy slowly rebounds, and that means bottles of wine between $25 and $50 will continue to be frequent sellers.
Unique Experiences Reign
Diners have been cautious regarding who they spend their money with, and that wonâ€™t change in 2010. Restaurants who can provide these cost-conscious patrons a unique experience without them spending a bundle will be rewarded with repeat and loyal customers.
For JoÃ«l Brasserie in Atlanta, that unique experience translates to wine tastings and dinners, educational wine seminars, and its French-born sommelier, Perrine Prieur.
Prieur, who grew up on her familyâ€™s vineyard in Burgundy, has an extensive knowledge of wines from around the world. Diners often seek out JoÃ«lâ€”recognized in both 2007 and 2008 with Wine Spectatorâ€™s Award of Excellenceâ€”and Prieur because of her deep understanding of French wines.
Prieur helps educate diners and attract people to the restaurant with monthly wine seminars. The budget-friendly events are $35 for an hour and a half session, complete with hors dâ€™oeuvres, and focus on wines of a particular nation or region, such as France, Italy, Spain or South America.Â She also uses the seminars to focus on new and upcoming trends such as organic and biodynamic wines.
And while the more pricy wine dinners are nothing new, they still do attract diners looking for that unique experience and will continue to be popular in the coming year.
Prieur says she enjoys planning wine dinners for her restaurantâ€™s clientele. â€œEvery month, sometimes twice a month, I try to get winemakers here,â€ she says. â€œI try to do wine parings but itâ€™s boring to do always the same wines. Each dinner needs to try something different.â€ So far, sheâ€™s hosted vintners from Chile, Argentina, Napa Valley, Oregon, Bordeaux and Champagne. A recent wine dinner focused on a vineyard in Burgundy that uses organic practices.
As far as the wines themselves, more clear fruit flavors are starting to overtake the woodsy notes, and brighter flavors are gaining popularity.
Staying Green and Close to Home
Itâ€™s no surprise that the organic and local movement is starting to infiltrate the beverage world given its popularity in chefsâ€™ kitchens, and organic and local wines will continue to pick up steam in the coming year.
While there are several Georgia wineries gaining recognition, Prieur has noticed that itâ€™s been difficult to carry Georgia wines in the restaurant, but sees that changing in the coming years as the local movement continues to gather steam.
She currently offers an ice wine from Clayton-based Persimmion Creek, noting that it pairs well with dishes as diverse as foie gras and a Fuji baked apple with caramel sauce.
â€œIâ€™d like to pour some more and represent a little bit more,â€ she says of Georgia-based wineries, â€œbut itâ€™s not that big a demand yet.â€
Although interest in â€œgreenâ€ beverages is growing, restaurant diners may still be confused about some of the terminology. Part of the issue is that these sustainable labels donâ€™t always have teeth. While food and beverages can be certified organic, there is still some confusion regarding other green terms slapped onto labels. More regulations within the wine industry are on the horizon to help customers navigate these increasingly popular terms, and with it an increase in dinersâ€™ requests for these more earth-friendly options.
Tech-Savvy Equals Wine Savvy
The wine world has not been immune to the influence of the Internet, and Millennials are leading the charge.
From the social networking site Wine 2.0 to more than 700 wine blogs and iPhone apps, technology and the Millennials who use it will continue to influence how restaurant patrons learn about and purchase their wines while dining out. Itâ€™s a trend that shows no sign of stopping, and could influence how restaurants market their wine lists in the future.
Just as the local and organic movement is touching the wine world, so too are there an increasing number of organic and locally brewed beers being requested by diners.
According to the National Restaurant Association, the top trend for beer and wine is locally produced wine and beer, with organic wine and beer coming in fourth and craft beer ranked at No. 6.
A few decades ago, says Nick Kaye, managing editor of Atlanta-based Beer Connoisseur, a newly launched magazine that aims to be the brew crewâ€™s version of Food & Wine, there were just a handful of big breweries producing beer in America.
Now, however, the craft brew movement is in full force. Much like family-owned wineries, craft breweries â€“ defined by the Brewers Association, a trade group for craft brewers, as producing no more than 2 million barrels of beer a year â€“ are cropping up all over the country producing innovative reinterpretations of historic beer styles made from a mix of traditional and nontraditional ingredients.
Youâ€™d be hard pressed to find a drinking establishment in the state these days that doesnâ€™t have at least one local Georgia brewery represented in some form.
That wasnâ€™t always the case. Alan LeBlanc, co-owner of Atlantaâ€™s Max Lagerâ€™s, the stateâ€™s oldest independent brewery restaurant, encountered a sort of bias against craft beers and microbrews when he started up 12 years ago. â€œTheyâ€™d say, â€˜No, I donâ€™t like microbrewsâ€™ because they had one they didnâ€™t like. I think a few years back we reached the tipping point where people realized they might not like all the microbrewed beers, but that doesnâ€™t mean its bad beer. Itâ€™s no different than preferring Merlots over Cabernets.â€
The craft beer movement, Kaye says, â€œis a mission to spread the word of good beer and get it into more peopleâ€™s mouths and restaurants. Beer is being treated these days, and appreciated these days, the way wine always has. Itâ€™s a whole new level.â€
And like wine, several restaurants in Georgia are starting to offer beer-cheese pairings and beer dinners. In fact, Kaye says when it comes to one time-honored pairing â€“ wine and cheese â€“ beer may be ready to give the grapes a run for their money. â€œAt its base level, the effervescence of beer, the carbonation really cuts through some of your more heavy, fatty buttery cheeses like a goat cheese.â€
Many in the stateâ€™s rapidly expanding restaurant market rely heavily on well-prepared servers who function as de facto cicerones, the beer worldâ€™s version of the sommelier, to help educate diners on the increasing array of beer choices.
Kaye singles out Taco Macâ€™s extremely knowledgeable Beverage Director Fred Crudder, who has a sort of club room named after him at the Sandy Springs location. Itâ€™s open to members of Taco Macâ€™s Brewniversity, a combination beer education and customer rewards program that helps patrons navigate the chainâ€™s formidable beer offerings.
Based on Taco Macâ€™s former Passport Club program, the Brewniversity encourages patrons to try new beers. Diners get credit for each different brew they select, and an â€œID cardâ€ keeps track of progress. Those in the program start to receive rewards starting with the 13th unique beer consumed.
Down in Savannah, the Nichols brothers, John and Phillip, who recently reopened one of the cityâ€™s oldest dining establishments, the c. 1933 Crystal Beer Parlor, offer a page-plus menu advising the perfect beer to go with dishes such as chili cheese dogs, gumbo, steaks, shrimp, and even a Greek salad.
Crystal Beer Parlor has close to 100 beers in bottles and 15 on tap. The Nichols also keep a book out in which patrons are encouraged to make suggestions. Most of whatâ€™s currently in stock, Nichols says, is craft brews, including beer from Savannahâ€™s own Moon River Brewing Co.
Max Lagerâ€™s, which, like Moon River, is one of the nationâ€™s 990 brewpubs, now offers beer parings, beer dinners and beer flights with six glasses.
â€œItâ€™s very social,â€ says Alan of the beer flights. â€œItâ€™s very interactive, and youâ€™re developing a nice knowledge.â€
The restaurant has also launched an entirely new event, Beer Judging 101. LeBlanc says patrons are presented with an official beer-judging sheet and compare one of Max Lagerâ€™s house brewed beers with similar bottled varieties. The idea is to learn to assess the characteristics of each.
â€œWe conduct a beer judging seminar to teach people about the different varieties,â€ he says. â€œIâ€™ll bring our beer and several bottles of a similar style together and lay out the official beer judging guide sheets and have some appetizers beforehand. Then weâ€™ll come in and sit down and do a beer judging seminar so people can see varieties, â€¦ what the differences are in character. Thatâ€™s something I find to be a lot of fun.
â€œItâ€™s about different, unique flavors and experiences,â€ he adds. â€œNot seeking the same old same old but trying to discover something interesting, something that you like, something thatâ€™s different.â€
Unlike many of the stateâ€™s dining establishments with hundreds of beers available, Max Lagerâ€™s carefully culls its offering to some 30 bottled beers in addition to the handful of house brews. While some offeringsâ€”usually a dark lager, a pilsner and Vienna-style red beerâ€”stay on tap year-round, LeBlanc says brewer John Roberts reserves one or two of the restaurantâ€™s taps for a seasonal brew such as a barleywine beer that will be ready to pour this spring and an Imperial Oatmeal Stout, which is earmarked for St. Patrickâ€™s Day.
Before the new Crystal Beer Parlor owners relaunched the restaurant, they sat down with a local beer expert and planned out the offerings. Among them is a selection of retro beers called â€œBeers of Our Fathers,â€ which includes such familiar names as Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz, Strohâ€™s, Dixie and Genesee Cream Ale.
Nichols also keeps an eye out for vintage beers â€“ he happened upon some vintage 2006 and 2007 Stone Double Bastard, a California ale. â€œI got the only two cases in Savannah and sold them in 24 hours,â€ Nichols says. The higher the alcohol content, the longer the beer keeps, he adds. But donâ€™t expect any 100-year-old vintages; beers last about five to six years.
He also plans to start carrying gluten-free beer in the near future. Heâ€™s had a few requests for this type of beer, which is made from sorghum, and also has a family member with celiac diseaseâ€”such people canâ€™t tolerate gluten, which normally comes from grain, especially wheat.
The industry is also seeing an upswing is canned beers, but not like the ones your father used to drink. Canned beers have had a bad rap for so long, but with new lining technology, more breweries are finding that the cans keep the beer fresh longer and give a truer taste with some types of beer. Daleâ€™s Pale Ale, a craft beer out of Lyons, Colo., is just one example of a high-end beer thatâ€™s sold in a can and has started to have a wider distribution in Georgia.
Itâ€™s this mix of quality and perceived value that will continue to drive the beverage industry into 2010.
â€œConspicuous consumption is not cool anymore,â€ LeBlanc says. â€œFor somebody like us whoâ€™s always offered a high-quality product, weâ€™re not the cheapest but weâ€™re not the most expensiveâ€”weâ€™re being successful in this environment.â€