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The Limits of Passion

November 17, 2017

Every restaurant owner is in business to make money. It’s a business. But almost no restaurant owners open a restaurant driven by the goal of financial reward. The work is too hard. The risk is too great. The profit margins are too slim.

People open restaurants because they are passionate about them.

Passion for restaurants can take many forms. Some are driven by hospitality. Some by food. Some by beverage. Some by design. But it’s unrealistic to expect restaurant owners to have an infinite well of passion, and that’s where things can get dodgy.

Here’s a good example. I know a guy who reads this blog who loves The City Beer Hall. Loves it. But he and his friends don’t go out to eat alone, they bring their wives. And the ladies aren’t beer drinkers. They are wine drinkers. And the wine program at The City Beer Hall is its achilles heel. There is clearly nobody at the place who has a passion for wine.

The argument here isn’t that everyplace has to be everything to everybody. But even just a few well chosen bottles would go a long way.

But I don’t want to talk about wine today. Today, I want to talk about beer.

Beer has come a long way recently, and the craft beer scene in the Capital Region is surprisingly strong. Certainly, there are great chefs who have embraced great beer, even those not at beer centric restaurants. Chef Eric Murtagh aka mr.loaf on Instagram, shares pics of the beer he is drinking inside and outside the kitchen.

One of the best chefs I’ve known loved the simplicity of Budweiser, and a couple bottles of that macro brew were literally the only things in his refrigerator at home.

And that’s fine. People have their personal preferences and all that rot.

However, in this day and age, there are greater expectations than ever for restaurants positioned at the higher end of the dining spectrum. It says something about a restaurant if the best beer it has on tap or Sam Adams and Guinness. Which isn’t to besmirch Sam Adams or Guinness. But it’s the sign of a lazy beer program that has failed to recognize some of the amazing stuff that’s happening with beer in America.

Especially in a place like the Capital Region, that has such a strong beer culture, people will make a judgement on a restaurant as a whole based on the tap choices behind the bar.

Which isn’t to say that every restaurant should strive to be a craft beer bar. However, I do believe that every restaurant should have a tap list, wine list, and cocktail list that is at the same level as their food menu.

Il Faro in Menands does a great job. Peck’s Arcade does too, bolstered by the Lucas Confectionery and Tavern Bar. But surely there are others. Often times wine is the weak link. Sometimes it’s cocktails. In other instances it’s beer. Few places nail the trifecta.

I recall the tap list at Rascals in Crossgates. It was a high end steak house, and the best beers they carried were Ommegang Rare Vos and Brown’s Oatmeal Stout. Beyond that, it was a bunch of things you could get anywhere. Beer lovers are also food lovers, and I know there were people who avoided the place because they didn’t see the value in paying good money for a steak, if there wasn’t a quality beverage available with which to enjoy it.

So the question is, what beers would a place that’s not a beer bar need to have on tap to make craft beer lovers stop and take notice? They would need to not be generally available and easy to find. Plus they would have to appeal to non-craft beer drinkers as well.

I have some ideas to get you started.

Peekskill Brewery makes some kickass stuff, their Uncommon Lager is delicious.
SingleCut seems to make its way up here a lot and their IPAs are great and not ridiculous.
Common Roots is close to home and makes a fantastic pale ale.
Jack’s Abby House Lager has the power to convert the Bud or Miller drinkers to craft.
Founders Porter is a wonderful beer, with national distribution.

What say you? And I’m curious to also hear how do you weigh in on the beverage programs at local restaurants in general?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2017 12:01 pm

    Ithaca Flower Power. It’s a bit on the floral side, but solid and respectable and no IPA drinker is going to turn up their nose at it. It’s also the best selling craft IPA in NY state so easy to get. A no brainer to add to a casual beer list.

    • David Nardolillo permalink
      November 29, 2017 1:21 am

      A great suggestion.

  2. November 17, 2017 12:03 pm

    Hudson Valley Brewery, along with Equilibrium Brewing are making some of the best beer in the state right now and are only an hour and a half outside of Albany. Suarez Family Brewing is also making a name for themselves, especially when it comes to sours and farmhouse ales, and they are even closer. We are a household who loves beer, and seeing any of those three breweries on a tap list would get us excited! When I say household, I mean entire household– our cat just made Hop Culture Magazine’s list of favorite beer drinking pets! https://www.instagram.com/purrsuitofhoppiness/

  3. November 17, 2017 4:01 pm

    Excellent observation and post. One of my biggest pet-peeves was the beer program at The Wine Bar. We had great food and a fairly decent wine list, but for some reason ownership insisted that to make things easy all beer should be the same price, $5 per bottle at the time. Sam Adams was the high-end beer there. I would often forgo my shift beer in protest. A little effort would have gone a long way. Our sous chef who was well-schooled in the craft beer scene even offered to revamp and oversee the beer list. That was shot down. I see this in too many restaurants, one aspect that falls short whether it’s part of the beverage program, the desserts, or the service. If you as the owner or manager cannot cover one of the bases find someone who can. It will help your bottom line.

  4. November 17, 2017 5:14 pm

    It’s so disappointing to go to a decent restaurant and all they offer is bottles of Sam, Bud, Bud Light/Coors, and so on.

    I don’t expect every place to go in big with nice beers on tap, but at least expand the bottled beer selection.

  5. Eamon Millar permalink
    November 17, 2017 6:22 pm

    This does not directly answer the question asked, but is in the ballpark. It occurred to me, when reading about the new craft beer bar on Delaware Avenue (of which I am very excited about, because I live around the corner) that at some point the craft beer craze must crest. It has grown so rapidly, especially in the Capital District, that it seems that it can’t sustain itself. One brewery can be hot hot hot for a season and then I never hear about it again, and I fear that bars aren’t too far behind. I guess they can always adapt to whatever is popular, but I do wonder if we’ve reached peak beer.

  6. David Nardolillo permalink
    November 29, 2017 1:54 am

    The departed Ginger Man had a very solid draft and bottle selection. There weren’t too many of the current darling breweries on tap, but they had a nice mix of imports and craft names, plus some good bottles. I also think dp An American Brasserie/Yono’s does a nice job with its beverage program. You’ve picked some good options, Daniel, but I think it is a little harsh to criticize restaurants as lazy for carrying Sam or Guinness. Sure, for some restaurants it is a missed opportunity, but for other places, it is not worth the risk. Keep in mind that craft, albeit growing, is stalling out well below 20% market share. Some restaurants have gotten burned with things that don’t move, and for businesses that depend on the margins alcohol provides might want to stick with the consistent sellers. Unfortunate for those of us who like craft, but not unreasonable to play the percentages when you have employees and rent to pay.

    I also think we have to be honest that the craft market needs to shake out a little bit better in terms of consistency and quality. Too many one-off beers instead of focusing on delivering quality has resulted in beers that I wouldn’t want to try again, and that’s not fun when you’ve mismatched a beer with your food. I’ve also been disappointed when certain beers have rotated off the tap list at favorite restaurants. More and more I’m on the lookout for the known quantities; sometimes, the bottle of Duvel or Orval [or insert your favorite non-trendy premium beer] is your best bet to complement your meal.

    • albanylandlord permalink
      November 29, 2017 9:28 pm

      I disagree. Any bar / restaurant should have at least one world-class beer available in bottles. I assume distributors will let you buy less than a case.

      Gingerman did have a fantastic solid beer selection. AS you said nothing flashy but all solid. And they had an amazing bottle list that I rarely touched as the drafts were so good.

      • David Nardolillo permalink
        December 2, 2017 8:38 pm

        Daniel was talking about tap lists, so that’s what I was referring to, but I agree with you; introducing better bottles is a good low-risk strategy.

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