The beer essentials

BeerBeer might currently be playing second fiddle to wine at Australia’s dining table, but there are still plenty of ways to attract your diners to a cold brew, says Ben Canaider.

Thank goodness hospitality industry professionals are never reactionary. Bar, cafe and restaurant owners are always measured and carefully responsive, no matter what new bit of Australian Bureau of Statistics data is chucked at them. Beer has been the latest in such statistical headlines. Apparently Australian beer consumption is at 68-year low. Shock, horror! It used to be so different, we all scream.

In our heyday, Australia’s total alcohol consumption per capita had beer at about 75 per cent of the entire volume. Beer is now 40.9 per cent of our overall alcohol use, with wine gaining ground at 37.4 per cent. More importantly, there’s a longer-term trend suggesting that, overall, consumption of both beer and wine is falling, as it is with spirits. Indeed, the only category growth area is cider. Much of this reflects macro, world trends—but, thankfully, there are some silver linings.

In terms of trends in other first-world countries, Germany is a useful comparison. When you think beer, you think Germany. But they are changing the way they drink it. As Germans become more conscious of health and well-being issues, and as they exercise more, they drink less beer. Their consumption is down two per cent year on year. Beer is also less fashionable with the younger demographic, who see beer as a lower socio-economic drink of choice; the preference is towards wine. And as Germany’s population ages (as Australia’s is), the trend is set to become only more exaggerated, or so demographists suggest. Alarmingly for Germany, few people drink beer at breakfast anymore…

Think posh

It seems it doesn’t matter what nation’s capital you might find yourself in, quality over quantity is the new mantra. For liquor licensees this sends a very clear message: go posh. And posh means quite a few things, even with regard to beer.

“Organic might be seen by cynical types as nothing more than a marketing gimmick, but if customers want organic then an immutable law is at play: the customer is always right.”

There are a few ways to re-organise your beer offerings to meet this emerging and real trend. The fact that beer as a drinks category has stratified so stunningly over the last decade helps in this way. You’ve got options.

Artisanal

Boutique beer—led by ale and the many sub-categories thereunder (pale, steam, late hopped, brown, bright, India, etc.)—have brought a much-needed attention to Australia’s beer consumption, going back about 15 years now. Small brewers, such as Mountain Goat (bought by Asahi in late 2015), did much to help, turning us from a nation of parochial lager drinkers into a nation of informed and more demanding beer connoisseurs. This trend is set, and is still very strong. Indeed, if you don’t have a range of beers that run along the beer flavour/weight spectrum (from light lagers to heavy stouts) you’re going to put a lot of customers off.

Organic

This sub-category has a similar resonance with beer drinkers, who not only want a reasonable range of beer options on offer, but also want to display their dietary morality by drinking a product that hasn’t helped kill Mother Nature. Organic might be seen by cynical types as nothing more than a marketing gimmick, but if customers want organic then an immutable law is at play: the customer is always right.

New lagers

Almost as a backlash against the recent sea of ale, lager has made a bit of a comeback, particularly in cans. Who’d have thunk it? It makes sense, however, particularly in a country like Australia, where we are for six months of the year in a hot and humid stupor from which cold, clear, lightly flavoured and incredibly sessional lager is the only escape. Importantly, lager only works if it is more or less frozen. If lager is not icy cold your customers will linger over it in an unsatisfied sort of way, wondering why they didn’t order a room temperature Scotch Ale.

Local

If the food movement’s “locavore” cult has inspired chefs and foodies to pluck edible weeds out of their rear laneways, then beer lovers are doing something similar when it comes to fresh beer made, if not on the premises, then at least around the corner. This trend is to be applauded, I reckon, as it is a real return to how beer used to be—made locally for locals, to be drunk brewery-fresh. Nothing’s better. Engaging with local small-batch brewers is a no-brainer for your business.

True internationals

On the other hand, the pulling-power of international beers still has some oomph. Even though more beer fanciers know that most of the better-tasting imported beers are in fact made here under licence, some imported benchmarks could serve you well, particularly in the cooler months. Belgium Trappist beers, such as Chimay, can form an important part of your customers’ beer education, of which you’ll invariably benefit.

Match your nosh

To old-fashioned Australians (which, judging by the demographics, are the dead ones) the notion of beer and food matching is as dodgy as wine and food matching. But, boy, does it lend a layer of complexity and interest—not to mention intelligence—to your clientele’s appreciation of beer. In this sense, beer really is trying to be the new wine. Use this affectation to your advantage by making beer-matching suggestions on your menu. Brown ales with pies; clear, clean lagers with calamari or any lighter entree dish; stouts with a rich, heavy stew.

Service protocols

Different beers, it seems,need different glasses—just as wine does (or doesn’t, depending on your tolerance to pretension). Whilst this might be a bridge too far at bar service, once you’ve got your customer seated, what’s wrong with offering them lager in a stemmed glass? It’s practical, as it keeps warm fingers on the stem and not on the glass’s bowl; and it is suggestive of a keener care and attention-to-service detail. What sort of customer doesn’t want that? Oh, yeah: a brickie in need of a quick counter-attack. “Pie and a schooner, thanks mate.”

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