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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Elk in the Woods in the passage

London was positively Dickensian yesterday. The Beer Widow and I a couple of friends spent the afternoon in the Elk in the Woods, a Swedish restaurant in Camden Passage, Islington. We were sitting near the window by the Christmas tree watching the snow come down and it was just perfect.

Lunch itself was very fine. Just one problem though - the menu at Elk lists wines, cocktails, soft and hot drinks, but there's no mention at all of beer. When you ask, they'll admit to stocking Kronenbourg, a Swedish lager whose name I didn't catch, and a perfectly serviceable keg Theakstons Old Peculier, plus a range of bottles that don't exactly push the frontiers of beer appreciation but do create a more interesting range of drinks than you'd find in an average boozer.

Why?

It always irks me when cafes and bars don't put beer on the menu - they're saying it's "just beer" - not even worth listing, less interesting than whether they stock Coke or Pepsi. Usually in places like this when you do ask you're given a choice of Bud, Becks or Stella. But still, why? And why stock some more interesting beers and then not tell your customers about them?

Anyone know?

12 comments:

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

I'm so frustrated by restaurants that neglect to even mention the fact they do beer, yet pull out a wine list to envy Oz Clarke's cellar.

Especially when any single bottle from the aforementioned wine list requires a double re-mortgage and the help of a loan shark to purchase.

And then I go to a new and much revered grill house in Leeds and I find the unfindable, a restaurant with a beer list.

And then I find its beer of the month is Lucky, possibly the worst beer to pair with your taste buds let alone food!

(Rant over, apologies for breaking the 'let's be nice' rule).

Anyway, London looks amazing in the snow, even more wintery than York does! Where's Camden Passage?

Laurent Mousson said...

My take on it is that beer's not something to be mentioned in many restaurants because they have no clue about beer.
To them, wine is the drink for serious, civilised people who know their food... ;o>
At least that's the line still followed by many restaurants very much influenced by french gastronomie which we all know to be all too often overrated considering what you actually get.
Yet that folklore still manages to have chefs in many countries, including Scandinavia, feel their own food tradition is inferior to french cuisine.

Yet I feel that with some common sense, that restaurant could most certainly come up with an interesting range of tasty swedish beers (Närke, Dugges, Nils Oscar, Jämtlands, anyone ?) and sell them well just because they're swedish.

The Beer Nut said...

I got into a discussion about this on a forum recently. A restaurateur said:
"Its very hard for restaurants to stock a good selection of beer. I find a very small % of people order beer with their meal and most of them want muck (Bud, Miller, Coors light, heineken). + beer goes off wine doesnt.
This is my own exp as a restaurant owner, I had a descent beer list and had to bring most of it home. Now I just stock the usual + Tiger and paulaner and might sell 12 of each in 3-4 months.
I have never had to do that with wine."

So, because of custom and practice among diners, if you're not making a special point of being a beer restaurant with associated promotional activity, then you won't stock decent beer.

Though that doesn't explain why restaurants who have put a bit of effort in don't list beers on their menus. That's just stupid. Dublin's newest gastropub has a pretty good beer selection, but try finding any mention on their website.

impymalting said...

Keeping Old Peculiar secret...that's criminal!

Sometimes it seems an issue with management not training the staff re. beer, maybe because they don't know enough about it themselves.

Cooking Lager said...

Us beer enthusiasts, like what we are, are a small band. Most people are apathetic about beer, and the market reflects this.

Complaining about it is like complaining that just 'cos the BBC show Final Score, they should also have a show with that weeks ice hockey scores. The difference being millions like the footie and only a few thousand are interested in hockey.

Its like that and thats the way it is. The answer is to enjoy and appreciate cooking lager. Then there is always a beer on the menu that you like.

Also steer clear of posh gaffs. Eat in the local curry house. You can get a banquet and several pints of Cobra for a fraction of the price.

Laurent Mousson said...

Indeed a restaurant with a decent beer list will need to focus on promoting those if it wants them to sell.

Just having them on the menu is not enough. Customers have to be convinced or reminded that beers and fine food can be matched.

Which means the staff has to be trained, beer & food matching has to be mentioned on the menu, and it may be a good idea to have beer + food specials, or set menus with a beer matching option, typically a small glass for every course.

An interesting example of how to do it could be Norrebro Bryghus in Copenhagen, where the upstairs restaurant has a set menu where you choose if you want two, three, four or five courses, and then are offered a further option of a glass of beer matching every course for a flat fee.
It makes it a lot easier for customers who are not comfortable with choosing beer to go with their food to give it a try.

Jeff Pickthall said...

Part of the problem is the slim margins beer typically generates.

Many restrateurs and chefs I've spoken would be keen to have a beer list but they're scared that by applying the same percentage mark-ups they do to other drinks that the beer will seem grossly expensive - and thereby draw attention to their regular food + drink margin. Result: beer drinkers aghast at "rip-off", non-beer drinkers aghast at "rip-off".

There isn't an easy way around this.

Where restaurants do have some decent beer they fall into one of two categories: 1) the proprietors are particularly keen on beer as a USP and willing to take a hit on margin 2) It's a top-level restaurant where customers are paying little attention to price.

Fortunately we're lucky in Britain that we have beer-specialist outlets known as pubs. I suspect we'll just have to live with the fact that most restaurants will ignore good beer.

Knut Albert said...

Any Scandinavian restaurant away from home should have a hand picked list of beers and aquavit. It's our gastronomical heritage!

michael-j said...

plenty of gastro-pubs have mediocre beer though too - quite often i read a restaurant review of somewhere in Timeout or similar and the critic mentions 'fine real ales', and then i find out that means a tap or two of Deuchars IPA and Greene King or similar boring stuff

Andrew said...

Nørrebro's Bryghus has pioneered so many good things about beer in Scandinavia. And they are being followed - that's the good thing. It is still uphill work though. One of the basic problems is that the profit margin on a bottle of beer isn't close to a bottle of wine. Carlsberg tried with Semper Ardens to sell beer in 75cl bottles at wine prices, but that was before the flood gates had opened with imports and microbreweries. The Danish chef Claus Meyer has done some great work as well.

Patience - we're on a roll.

Laurent Mousson said...

Andrew, that's another interesting point about Denmark : the general push by brewers small or large to showcase beer & food.
I felt, having visited Denmark a few times in the past decade, that it has changed perception of beer for the better in the general public, but also among government officials.

But as you say, beer & food matching is still very much uphill work.

Andy Dwelly said...

We've done one beer evening at a restaurant in Steyning and we've another coming up in February.

Granted that they are both one offs rather than a regular menu but both have sold out.

I think there's an untapped market here.