Growing the In-House Beer Program
Tips on compact brewing systems and best practices for beer dinners.
As craft breweries reached double-digit share of volume in the marketplace for the first time last year, equipment options and training resources have continued to improve. That’s good news for restaurant operators seeking to add brewing capacity or expand beer offerings. The practicality of growing a craft beer program must, of course, be tempered by what’s actually possible within a restaurant operation when space, time, and cost limitations are taken into account.
The annual Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America was held in Portland, Oregon, and it was my fourth year attending as media. Highlights included space-saving brewing systems, advanced faucets to help decrease cleaning needs and reduce waste, and educational sessions regarding pairing dinners and server training.
Compact Brewing Systems
For restaurants looking into small, onsite beer production, two compact brewing-system manufacturers stood out: The first, Brewmation Incorporated in Fishkill, New York, specializes in small-scale electric and steam-based brewing systems, with capacities ranging from half a barrel (the size of a typical large keg) up to 10 barrels (electric) and 20 barrels (steam).
The Brewmation offerings are turnkey and have a touchscreen interface, with a high level of automation, especially for a small system. “You don’t need extensive machine knowledge to go through and operate it,” says president Kevin Weaver (no relation to FSR beer editor Ken Weaver). “It also offers a high level of consistency.”
The electric systems in particular are relevant to space-constrained operations. “What’s nice about the electric is it’s very easy to install. You don’t have to worry about things like the gas permitting, emissions, even the steam side of things,” Weaver explains. The electric systems are also modular and can be arranged in essentially any order, affording more flexibility for smaller spaces.
For instance, The Mill House in Greenwood, South Carolina, is a brick-oven bistro that added a three-barrel system last fall that uses Brewmation controls. Mill House brewmaster Sidney Huskey says, “We like the setup: the controls and ease of use.”
The bistro currently offers house-brewed beers alongside beer from other producers. “Ever since we added these [house] beers on tap, they’ve been the No. 1 selling beers every week,” Huskey notes. Mill House specifically set aside space that allowed the operation to grow beyond its current setup; it is in the process of purchasing two more fermenters and may begin distributing locally.
The second brewing system worthy of note from the conference comes from BREWHA Equipment Co. of Vancouver, British Columbia, which manufactures electric brewing systems of an even smaller size range. The company’s patent-pending BIAC packages are available in three sizes: small (for 3- to 5-gallon batches), medium (up to 15 gallons), and large (47 gallons, or 1.5 barrels). The latter setup is most relevant to restaurants.
The key selling point of the BIAC system is that it combines what would normally be four separate vessels—a hot liquor tank, a mash tun, boil kettle, and fermenter—into what fits together as one single vessel. “You’re able to fit it in a quarter of the space of a traditional system,” explains designer Nathan Janz.
While space-limited home brewers had been the key demographic for the business, the introduction of the large BIAC option late last year has resulted in more restaurant clients. “Maybe [a restaurant is] not wanting to go full-fledged brewery or brewpub,” Janz notes of his clientele, “but it may want to be able to sell its own beer.”
A good example is Mastry’s Brewing Co., which opened in CD Roma Restaurant in St. Petersburg, Florida, in January and operates a 1.5-barrel BIAC system. Matthew Dahm, the owner of Mastry’s, explains that it serves as a pilot program for a full-size brewery that will eventually exist off-site. Dahm looked into traditional three-vessel systems, but decided they required too much room.
Having an on-site brewery, Dahm adds, has helped the restaurant operations on a variety of fronts. “We’ve definitely found that the atmosphere has begun to change,” he says, noting that many guests are now in the 21- to 35-year-old demographic, where the restaurant’s core clientele was traditionally over 40. The on-site brewery also enables the restaurant to have more food-pairing options, promote events, and do collaborative work with other brewers.
When the off-site facility opens, Dahm emphasizes, the in-restaurant recipes and brewing will continue: “We don’t want to take that home-crafted feel away from the restaurant by suddenly opening another place and doing all of our operations out of there.”
Another conference highlight on the equipment side were the faucet technologies showcased by Perlick Corporation of Milwaukee. The second generation of Perlick’s forward-sealing faucet was introduced in February, while the flow-control faucets debuted just over a year ago.
The patented design of the forwardsealing faucet uses a ball and floating front seal approach that differs from the piston-based design of many traditional faucets. The latter often leave wetted surfaces open to the air. “The benefit of the Perlick forward-sealing faucet is that we don’t have those wetted surfaces,” explains Tim Ebner, vice president of marketing and business development. “We don’t have those crevices for mold and bacteria to grow.”
A key benefit to the forward-sealing faucet, particularly for bars and restaurants with a large number of taps, is that it doesn’t have to be disassembled when it’s cleaned. “All you have to do is take it off the tower and soak it in solution,” Ebner says.
The second-generation product increases the bearing area for longer life, improves its spout angle, and has cleaner lines. Perlick’s flow-control faucet builds off the forward-sealing faucet’s design, allowing one to regulate a beer’s flow rate directly from the tap.
“Flow-control faucets have been around for a long time,” Ebner explains. “What’s different about this particular flow control, other than the forward sealing, is that it’s all self-contained within the faucet.” Changing the tap handle’s flow rate allows the pourer to adjust for slight changes in pressure or temperature.
Perhaps more importantly for the craft segment, the new design lets servers switch easily between the different flow rates desired for filling growlers and pitchers versus the flow needed for the far-smaller glasses in sampler flights—thus decreasing the amount of foam-over waste. Because the control mechanism is contained within the faucet itself, both types can be swapped onto existing tap lines.
Better Beer Dinners
During the session “Build a Better Beer Dinner” in the Brewpubs track at the conference, Jesse Friedman from Almanac Beer Co. discussed best practices for organizing beer dinners, which often present challenges to restaurants that are hosting for the first time. He recommends that chefs do test batches of new dishes (especially when cooking with unfamiliar beer), and that restaurants think about glassware and emphasize the food progression over the beer progression.
Friedman mentioned The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg as being quite useful for chefs and beverage managers looking for pairing ideas, and also noted that dinners are ideal for breaking out rare, special beer. “People will contemplate it, they’ll drink it, they’ll appreciate it. I feel like you get a lot more mileage out of beer in these settings,” he says.
Beyond those suggestions, Friedman suggests: Have a theme, have a point of view, and, if in doubt, go seasonal. “You should be trying to communicate something about your beer, about the food, and about these things going together.”