At a growing number of restaurants, a request for the bottle list may summon a vintage beer menu in addition to, or even instead of, the expected directory of wines.
According to Certified Cicerone Anne Becerra, the overwhelming majority of today’s popular beers are pasteurized pale lagers or India pale ales (IPAs), generally meant to be consumed as fresh as possible.
“Neither are great candidates for cellaring, so the idea of aging beer might not seem like a natural thing to do,” she says.
At Treadwell Park in New York City, where Becerra oversees the beverage program, however, guests are offered a reserve list of aged brews “to show off the benefits of patience.”
She’s not the only one to embrace the idea. This is something beer collectors have done for years, seeking rare bottles to add to their stockpiles. Beverage directors and Cicerones like Becerra are finally showing how to enjoy such cellared brews in a restaurant setting.
Like many wines, some beers benefit when stowed away for later. Age can introduce new aromatic elements or affect their flavor profile.
Harshness may mellow, for example. That’s the case with high-alcohol imperial stouts, which develop Sherry-like notes from gradual oxidation. Beer brewed with wild yeast like Brettanomyces, meanwhile, may be funky and bright in infancy, but can mature into a richer or spicier beverage. And though Trappist ales will lose some of their juicy, fruity aromas, they’ll evolve into a beer with attractive earthy notes.
“Vintage beer is part of the whole set of tools we use to elevate beer,” says Greg Engert, beer director of Washington, D.C.’s Neighborhood Restaurant Group. He’s been known to offer a 5–7 course beer and food pairing menu, just as sommeliers have done with wine for centuries.
Tom Peters, who owns Monk’s Café in Philadelphia, is another who thinks some selections are worth the wait. He’s amassed a substantial list of vintage brews, many of them Belgian, since he opened the beer bar in 1997.
“I want to show the range of what beer can be,” he says. “You wouldn’t just have only young Rioja on your wine list.”
Why should it be that way for beer?