Beer of the Craft Varietyby Chris Becicka
We’re talking craft beer here, the now nearly ubiquitous beer whose popularity has soared.
Regional craft breweries, microbreweries, and brew pubs (the total category) have really taken off from the mid-90s, rising from 537 to 3,464 in 2014. Hence, all the noise about them – it’s a battle out there. In Kansas City, beer aficionados are familiar with the huge variety of choices, from the local area to nationwide. In fact, a friend just showed me a picture of a restaurant’s menu in Beijing that was featuring Boulevard Beer.
|Biergarden at Grunauer|
So what constitutes a craft beer? The Craft Brewers Association defines it as small (fewer than 6 million gallons annually), independent (less than 25% of it is owned or controlled by a bigger company who is not a craft brewer) and traditional (a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.) What it’s not: Bud Light or Coors or PBR.
The most common types of craft beers, like all beers, are ales and lagers. Ales are usually stronger in taste due to the fact they are fermented warmer and faster than lagers. That is also why they are more popular than lagers in brewpubs especially – they can be ready in about a week. Ales include brown ales, usually milder with coffee, caramel, or toffee flavors; pale ales are sharper and more bitter. This is the category that includes IPAs, India Pale Ale, so popular now. Porters are darker and “thicker,” and their cousins, stouts, are even darker and more viscous than porters. Ales are served at room temperature normally, unlike their colder counterparts.
Those cold lagers are more trouble and take longer to make. They are made with bottom-fermenting yeast and brewed at colder temperatures – hence they take longer to make, weeks or months instead of days. They also tend to be somehow crisper or more mellow according to some. They are always served at a colder temperature, best at about 40 degrees.
There are four broad categories of lagers. Pale lagers are, well, pale. Light. Highly carbonated, these beers are what most Americans consider to be mainstream. Pilsners are similar except they are usually more bitter and their taste more distinctive. Marzens, also called Oktoberfest beers, are more full bodied and usually amber or dark copper in color and taste more malty. Bocks are heartier still and are both hoppy (bitter) and malty (sweeter).
Of course, a craft beer devotee could add much more description to the above, and a certified or master cicerone – someone who has actually passed difficult tests in beer knowledge and serving – could just wax poetic explaining more than you could ever ask about all beers. Wesley Boston, Executive Chef at Sullivan’s and a certified cicerone (and sommelier) is an example of a passionate beer guy. “Beers are just as varied, just as complex, as wine,” he says. “But they’re less expensive and can be a lot more fun!”
Craft beers are in front of the public in both smaller and larger ways. Events featuring beers now occur continually. There are regular tours, tap nights, brewery nights, and special city-wide events all the time. These include parties such as the Kansas City Craft Beer Week, Westport Summer Beer Festival, Boulevardia, or the City Market Beer Festival which just occurred. Coming up are the UNICO Microbrew Fest in Zona Rosa (August 15) or the September 5th Craft Beer Festival of the Lost Township (Raytown) or the High Plains Brewhoff in downtown Overland Park (September 19). Grünauer’s 6th annual Oktoberfest begins on September 25th and is overflowing with beer, food, and music. They offer not only local beers but also central European beers all the time, not just during the festival.
Not only does Kansas City have its own established craft breweries (besides the ever expanding Boulevard, there are probably around 20), but we keep spawning new ones. Four or five have surfaced in the last year or so, and another is on its way to the east Crossroads. Developed by Ted Habiger (of Room 39 fame and a James Beard award semi-finalist in 2014) and partners, it’s called Brewery Emperial. Slated to open early in 2016, it will brew 12 beers, Americanized versions of classic European Beers and food will be gastropub(y) with a wood-fired grill.
|BD's Craft Beer Offerings|
It’s also true that practically all of our restaurants have embraced both local and national craft beers. Besides the growing popularity of these beers, chefs have begun to recognize the pairing affinities possible with beer.
Some restaurants like BD’s Mongolian Grill in Independence not only serve but truly highlight craft beers which certainly entice a certain clientele to visit frequently. For instance, BD’s has typically 50 craft beers on tap and 200 bottled beers in their Beer Library at to-go prices. Every two months they feature a craft beer brewery with giveaways and the rep there to answer questions. Their refillable Howlers and Growlers are a beer lover’s carry-out or in-restaurant liquid dream.
Speaking of sometimes the most unexpected places have a large craft beer selection, besides BD’s we have to mention Hawg Jaw Que and Brew in Riverside. Currently they have over 20 microbrews and are looking at adding many more. One especially cool thing? If you go in and they don’t have your fav, they’ll order it for you. Can’t resist adding that they have all kinds of old fashioned sodas for the kids, too.
Waldo Pizza in Lee’s Summit is another somewhat surprising craft beer hangar. Around 20 beers on tap are craft beers and another 40 or so in bottles are as well. Their Waldo location has even more bottled varieties, about 90 or so, and they sponsor a brewer of the month when the brewer comes in and hosts a special evening. Their staff is particularly knowledgeable about their beers, which is important to those who don’t know what to choose among so many. Pizza never tasted so good. We wonder if there is a particularly great beer to go with their homemade desserts, too. Places like Westside Local know they must appeal to beer drinkers with more than Bud Light. They emphasize local breweries with ten or 12 on tap and a varying selection of national beers. Cleaver and Cork has six craft beers on tap, and another 30+ in bottles – they recognize beer’s flexibility with both casual and upscale food. The Pig & Finch in Leawood expands their clientele every other month when they do a beer dinner, utilizing such brewers is Mother’s out of Springfield, Missouri or River North Brewing next door in Denver.
Upscale restaurants are certainly not missing out on this trend. They all know they must offer a few craft beers, at least. Practically all of the beers at The American fit the definition of craft beers. At Sullivan’s Steakhouse, the aforementioned Wesley Boston, a Certified Cicerone®, admits that probably nothing gives him more pleasure than the three craft beer dinners the restaurant hosts every year. He stocks 8 – 15 staple craft beers and then continually supplements with a revolving list of beers, all reliably tasted. And Jax on the Plaza which serves mostly seafood, also has a number of craft beers which not surprisingly, as their cicerone/sommelier Rick Compton knows, pair well with fish.
Even catering companies have been seeing requests for craft beer for all types of events. Brancato's Catering (they run Harvey's at Union Station) has been complying with this trend for some time at especially corporate events and weddings. People want food stations paired with craft beer. Others want tasting stations with flights of 3 ounce pours with four or five selections on a tray for each person. Laura Fleming, Brancato’s Event Coordinator, says that the evolution of craft beer and catering have been parallel over the last few years. Clients’ tastes for food, display, and beverages have elevated. Craft beers have become part of a total experience that people want for themselves and their guests.”
Credit for the craft beer resurgence has been given to England in the 1970s (though small breweries in Europe have been around for centuries) but only in perhaps the last ten years in this country have they begun their phenomenal ascent. Kansas City reflects this burgeoning interest in high quality, locally produced beers and our restaurants definitely cater to the trend. That’s a good thing, for as Plato said, “He is a wise man who invented beer.” We add, “and who drinks beer.” Craft beer.
What’s in a Name?
Craft Beers by Category Microbrewery – produces fewer than 15,000 barrels a year with 75% of it sold off-site.
Brewpub – a restaurant brewery that sells at least 25% of its beer on-site.
Contract Brewing Company -- A business that hires another brewery to produce its beer or one which hires another brewery to produce additional beer
Regional Craft Brewery -- an independent regional brewery with most of its volume in “traditional” or “innovative” beer(s). Emphasis is on quality, flavor, and brewing technique rather than number of gallons produced.
Regional Brewery – annual beer production of between 15,000 and 6,000,000 barrels.
Did You Know?
Vermont ranks first in craft beer drinkers with 16.2 craft gallons per 100,000 21+ year olds.
Missouri is #17 with 2.4 gallons and Kansas is #42 with .6 gallons. But in terms of number of breweries per capita, Missouri is #26 and Kansas #34.
If I Drink Beer, Will I Get Fat?
According to Livestrong.com, typical calories are:
12 ounce light beer: 103
12 ounce regular beer: 153
1.5 ounce 80 proof liquor: 97
6 ounce chocolate martini: 438
8 ounce margarita: 453
8 ounce Singapore sling: 230
1 ounce wine: 25 (you do the math)
So if you’re choosing between a craft beer or a chocolate martini, think thin and get the beer. What about you?