Julia Herz: Pairing Craft Beer & Making it Pay Off

Image Source: CraftBeer.com

Craft beer’s boom means a boon of golden opportunities are available to chain operators. Among these is the pairing of pairing beers with menu items as a sales and merchandising tool. Julia Herz, the craft beer program director for the Brewers Association and publisher of CraftBeer.com, will be teaming up with Chef Adam Dulye at the upcoming Vibe Conference in San Diego. Herz and Dulye, executive chef for the Brewers Association and CraftBeer.com, will be hosting an interactive workshop entitled “Palate Trips and Craft Beer Pairing” on January 19 at 11:30 AM.

Here is what VIBE Conference attendees can expect to learn from this workshop and tasting.

What can attendees look forward to during your workshop?

We’ll be showcasing how craft beer and food items work together, as well as a sensory talk about 4 craft beer styles – strategically picked – and working the attendees through a palate trip to talk about pairing options. We so rarely get that people buy beer based on not only what’s going to be in their glass but also what’s on the plate. We’ll also talk about how certain establishments are making themselves known as better beer destinations.

We’ve all heard this before: Beer and food pairings make sense. Can you support that statement?

We have data to confirm this. For example, from a Nielsen study the Brewers Association commissioned, we found that 71% of craft beer purchasers gave “Complemented my meal” as a very or somewhat important criterion in their beer choices. That’s an even stronger statistic, I’d like to believe, in the restaurant establishments we’ll be speaking to.

Who is best positioned to take advantage of this type of menu pairing concept?

We’re not necessarily talking white tablecloth restaurants, we’re talking fast casual to the upper end. But in every case, you are going to make more money and beer is going to be better for your bottom line when you treat the beverage like a contributor to the meal and put it on the menu. Make suggestions for pairing, have your sommelier become a certified cicerone, and train your staff better about beer and food. Beer is the country’s number one fermented beverage; wine sales are worth $37.5 billion while beer is worth $101 billion. Craft beer has incredible attributes in pairing with food and if we look at it in the same way as wine, operators are not going to lose wine sales; they’re going to gain beer sales.

Is there a particular approach to craft beer pairing that you recommend?

I go back to the concept that perception is personal, and the way we each perceive and discern is so individualized that it’s important to realize one option isn’t the best. That’s why having both a wine and beer pairing and getting a handle on one or two attributes of the flavor profile helps. One of the best ways to make a sale with any fermented beverage is to have a conversation with customers at the table. Do you like sweet-forward? Do you like drier? More intense? Less intense? Get a baseline on their flavor characteristics and then have maybe in the back of the house a plug-and-play set of answers that will suit their response, or have a staff that’s more knowledgeable and can address what works.

We also recommend to operators with draft that they have a great way to address tasting and uncertain customers by giving them a splash of something to make sure that’s what they want. Also, half glasses of beer is a great option for people who may not be familiar or certain and can’t commit, something that allows you to up charge a higher price per ounce, making it well worth the effort.

The 2016 VIBE Conference takes place in San Diego on January 19 and 20. Register now!

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