While the craft beer renaissance grows bigger by the day, it still amazes me that franchise-style restaurants who serve alcoholic beverages have such limited craft beer menus. They wear blinders, with no interest in satisfying the thousands of drinkers who prefer good craft beer with their meal. These restaurant chains choose to stay static, with nothing but high-volume and convenience beers on tap.
Their beer lists are so predictable that I can rattle off the list without hesitation, even though I have never worked in any of those restaurants. It is the same, whether they are Red Lobster, Longhorn Steakhouse, Red Robin, Applebees, or an entire list that feeds on the wallets of America. Their portfolio of beer includes Bud, Miller, Coors, Corona, Heineken, Blue Moon, and sometimes Stella Artois or Amstel – brands with names exotic enough to fool those who have heard of “craft beer,” and want to dabble in something new.
In addition to the macros, some menus list one feeble attempt at craft beer with an occasional Sam Adams, Yuengling, or Fat Tire. These three “craft” beers would not typically be on the same beer menu, mind you – but a consumer might find one if they look at the bottom of the list, or perhaps one plus a Sam Adams Seasonal. Never do these franchise restaurants applaud the small, local craft brewers in the area. The exception to the rule seems to be Uno, one of a meager handful of franchises on the radar that open their taps to the locals.
In The World Atlas of Beer: The Essential Guide to the Beers of the World, Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont discuss the practice of high-volume brewing and convenience beers. Although it seems that, at one time, “the mass market was expressing a distaste for taste,” following the big brewers like a “happy, docile flock,” this flock is dispersing in greater numbers each year. Mass producers are battling craft brewers for market share as they observe falling sales in their core markets. Perhaps consumers are, in fact, railing back against “bankers who make beer,” a designation given to these mass producers by the European Union.
Unfortunately, those who make decisions for large restaurant franchisees control every aspect of the menu. To ensure profitability, their attempt to keep the beer menu as simple as possible makes mediocrity a core practice for franchise restaurants.
Another serious sin comes in the way most of these restaurants care for their beer. More often than not, draft lines are so filthy that the flavor of the beer is ruined, even if there is a great craft beer on tap. In addition, glassware is not properly washed or rinsed, and serving beer in a Sam Adams Boston Lager glass makes little difference in the end result. Without proper cleaning, it is impossible to sustain a head, even on a good craft beer.
Restaurant managers will swear that, by law, beer lines need to be cleaned every two weeks – even more often in some cases – and they fully comply with the law. These beer lines may have been cleaned, either by a company dedicated to that purpose or by the rep of the high volume brands - but cleaning and maintenance are at the level of a D-minus.
The Brewers Association formed the Draught Quality Guidelines group in March, 2007, through the leadership of the BA technical committee. Their mission was “to improve the quality of draught beer dispensed to our customers.” They recognized that an entire army of draught experts was employed to install draught lines, with each system pouring a wide variety of products, but there were no established standards among the industry that would ensure that beer was delivered to customers in optimal condition.
Unfortunately, too many bars believe that the care of beer ends when the keg is tapped. They ignore the variables that can alter the flavor and appearance of beer, including care of cooling lines, gas sources, carbonation, balance of draught systems, and good housekeeping practices. Even with the establishment of these guidelines, too many restaurant managers are unaware of the Draught Beer Quality Manual, available for free online at http://www.draughtquality.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/DQM_Full_Final.pdf or for a nominal fee in hard copy at http://www.draughtquality.org/
If you are a restaurant owner or manager, caring for your beer and educating your staff in best practices will maintain quality and ensure higher profitability. The Cicerone Certification Program, founded by Ray Daniels, educates those in the industry, helping to establish high standards in beer maintenance and service.