Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Straw Man Beer

Writing over at CNN's Eatocracy blog, Nathan Berrong just posted a bit on beer and restaurants that made me pause. "Why do restaurants neglect beer?" he asks, arguing that it's hard to find amazing beer and great food in the same place. "Maybe the best restaurant in town serves Guinness," he states, and "I'm baffled when I go into a nice restaurant and the beer list mirrors the offerings of the convenience store down the street." Budweiser and Heineken are called out for particular abuse.

I paused to check the date on the piece.  It was April 3, 2012, not, as I first suspected, 2006.  My next question was, "where in the world is he eating?" No location in the dateline, but I did note that Berrong "works at CNN's satellite desk."  So, he might still be in orbit, which would make things understandable.

Because, frankly, I have no idea what he's talking about. Good beer is everywhere in good restaurants these days, and not just in Charleston (where, admittedly, we do have some culinary advantages) but just about every city I visit. Victory HopDevil is the new Budweiser, Allagash White the new Heineken.  It's quite typical to find anywhere for eight to two dozen really good beers on tap--a handful of locals and a bunch of craft/micros from all over the country, plus a few dozen more bottled names. And that offering is not just for the bar crowd: chefs are highly attuned to beer, too. It's  becoming quite common to see a beer or two slipped in among the wine pairing suggestions on menus, and it seems like there's a beer-paired dinner every three or four days here in Charleston.

About two years ago, as I reviewed restaurants around town, I would note with delight, "The bar has a deep line up of craft brews, too . . ." and list a few examples. These days I rarely even mention the beer selection because it almost goes without saying that they're going to have a deep line up of craft brews (and they have coffee, too, both regular and decaf, and your choice of sparkling, still, or tap water!).

Now, in Berrong's defense, he's really just creating a straw man that he then pounds to shreds by listing a bunch of restaurants in New York, San Francisco, Denver and cosmopolitan Decatur, Georgia (my birthplace!) that focus on craft beers and pair them with the meals. But, that straw man is getting pretty dusty and dry these days.

As the formerly encyclopedic wine list shrinks to a manageable page or two, and the attention to beer and cocktails increases, I predict that before long beer and wine will share equal billing at your typical "nice restaurant". Whether that's a good thing or not is a subject that's open for debate, but that seems to be where the winds are steering us.

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