ITM: The craft beer segment is doing very well and is leading the growth of the beer category. What do you think are the main contributing factors to this?
JK: It all comes down to guest satisfaction. Craft beer is an affordable trade-up and has the flavor and variety that drinkers are looking for. Millennials are driving a lot of the growth, adopting craft beer just as their parents did with wine. As craft beer continues to improve in quality, guests continue to try new items across the category.
ITM: With all the growth, how do you recommend retailers optimize their beer offerings?
JK: When determining which brands to offer, it’s important that operators first look to lead brands that satisfy the most guests. The majority of craft beer drinkers have one or two go-to brands. For most retailers, a six-handle tap system will satisfy 90 percent of guests by offering a mass domestic light, an import, a domestic specialty, a craft, a seasonal craft and a local craft. It’s important to not only look at the brands being offered but also at how many beers are being offered. There is a point where having too many choices creates guest confusion and operational complexity, without adding anything to revenue.
JK: The good news for craft brewers and retailers is that we don’t see this growth slowing down anytime soon. Beer drinkers are trading up in greater numbers than ever before. Consumers’ palates are getting more and more sophisticated, and patrons are looking for a more interesting experience when choosing their drinks. One of the great things about being a craft brewer is the opportunity to experiment with new and exciting beers. Right now IPAs and seasonals are hot and we are also seeing more beers that are fruit forward, as well as beers that are brewed with some very unique spices.
ITM: Traditionally, people think about pairing food and wine but there has been a huge shift in this trend, as more consumers look to pair their food with beer. Why do you think this is?
JK: When I started hosting beer dinners twenty-eight years ago, food was heavily influenced by French and Northern Italian cuisine, which paired well with wine. Today we have such a variety of food choices that span the flavor spectrum and craft beer has the versatility to pair with all of them. Drinkers are looking beyond the wine list in restaurants across the country, knowing that many great meals pair better with a full-bodied beer like Samuel Adams Boston Lager® than with another cabernet.
ITM: Can you tell us about some of the beer and food pairings that we will experience at this year’s Epcot client event?
JK: We have worked with the culinary team at EPCOT to show the versatility of the food and beer pairings and how they complement each other. Tonight, you will see Samuel Adams® Octoberfest paired with a slow-poached lobster tail with a creamy pumpkin risotto. The sweetness of the lobster is enhanced by the sweet and roasted malt character of the beer. We will also have a classic pairing of Samuel Adams Boston Lager being served with a pasture-raised prime tenderloin of beef with bleu cheese mashed potatoes and pinot noir demi-glace. We also have some great pairings with our Whitewater IPA, as well as New World and Thirteenth Hour, which are both from our Barrel Room Collection.
ITM: Chef Damon, what was it like working with Samuel Adams beers on these pairings?
Chef: I was excited to be a part of creating these beer and food pairings. The brewers have a vast knowledge that we were able to tap into, making it a fun and educational experience. With the wide range of flavor profiles of the Samuel Adams beers, we were able to create some fantastic pairings, like my personal favorite, the butter-poached lobster with Samuel Adams Octoberfest.
ITM: When creating food and beer pairings, what do you look for in a beer?
Chef: One thing we look for is contrast, to create balance. For example, hoppier beers will cut some of a food’s richness. We also look at characteristics that will complement the food, like a beer’s citrus notes, which match the flavors in many seafood dishes.
ITM: If you had to choose one food and beer pairing, what would it be?
JK: Boston Lager and beef. The upfront malt flavor matches the meat’s caramelized flavors, and its hoppy finish prepares the palate for the next bite.