Why don’t restaurants give a shit about beer?

Draft Taps

When it comes to food, wine, and spirits, most of the city’s restaurants have things down.

Look to any ranking of the city’s best restaurants and you’d be hard-pressed to find any among them who haven’t taken some time to cultivate a thought-out list of wines. Since arguably the dawn of going-to-another-place-to-eat-things-made-by-other-people, a separate menu or even a fucking table topper with a list of available vintages has been a practically mandatory requirement.

And it has it been likewise well established that the closer and fresher the ingredients restaurants use to cook their meals, the better said meals will be. Indeed, if you’re in a restaurant that isn’t touting locally-sourced ingredients somewhere on their menu, I’d venture that you’re not in a very good restaurant.

So too are virtually all bars and restaurants embracing “cocktail culture.” You can hardly swing a Hawthorne strainer in this town without hitting a muddling bartender who will insist you call them a mixologist while they whip up their house-made honey kombucha with shiso and Horchata.

So why the hell is virtually no one in the city giving beer the same level of respect we snotty Torontonians demand of virtually every other substance we cram in our suck holes?

Well, throughout the next month, I’m fixing to find out.

Over the next (roughly) 30 days, I’ll be dedicating Ben’s Beer Blog to exploring the relationship between food and beer; fine dining and well-crafted brews; eatin’ and drinkin’. Frankly, it’s weird that these two things are so often overlooked and, I think, important to take note of some of the bigger hurdles people who like quality beer and quality food are facing—whether they know it or not.

One of the main culprits, in my opinion, is (surprise!) big brewers. In an industry where profit margins are often razor thin, the prospect of discounted or even free draught beer can be highly enticing to a new business owner. Later in the month I’ll explore the idea that the expectation of cheap beer that has been established by the macrobrewers is largely behind what’s ruining the beer-food experience in our city’s dining establishments.

Of course, there’s an argument to be made that sound planning means beer doesn’t have to be an afterthought and incorporating your draught and bottle selection into your menu planning makes sound financial and culinary sense. For perspective on how to make it work, I’ll also be talking to one of the city’s few restaurateurs who seem to understand the possibilities pairing fine-dining and well-crafted beer.

I’ll also talk with experts in order to look at the finer points of food and beer pairing and explore extremely simple ideas for incorporating beer into your own cooking.

Of course, sometimes a beer is phenomenal simple by virtue of the circumstances in which it is enjoyed, so throughout the month, I’ll also be exploring the emotional connection with a great beer in my ongoing “Best beer I’ve ever had” series by featuring restaurateurs and chefs and their stories.

Most of these proposed posts aren’t even a scribbled note in my Moleskine yet at this point, so I’m not entirely sure where this adventure will lead. At the very least, I hope my exercise in looking at dining and beer will start a conversation I find isn’t currently happening as much as it could be and, maybe, by month’s end, we’ll have brought so much attention to the issue that you’ll never be forced to pair your Nova Scotia swordfish, jicama salsa, and chanterelle mushrooms with a fucking Stella Artois ever again.


Got post ideas, input, or a story to tell about beer and food? Send me an email at btjohnson81(at)gmail(dot)com.

13 thoughts on “Why don’t restaurants give a shit about beer?

  1. I was in a very nice Italian restaurant In London Ont. last year and they had a wine list on the table. Everyone ordered fancy named wines and I asked if there was a beer menu. They said no. They mentioned a few macros and I did get a Steam Whistle. I got mine 5-10 minutes after the wine was served. I do remember that their wine was WAY more expensive than my beer.

    1. I’m actually from London! Care to name names? London can be even tougher given that it has for so many years been a Labbatt’s town. Of course with Pub Milos there and the guys from Forker River making serious in-roads it seems the tide might be changing finally.

  2. I’m quite impressed with Against The Grain. It’s the only place I’ve seen that has a beer menu with the Prud’home Beer Sommelier’s name at the bottom, offering him as a food pairing resource.

    1. Yes! That’s exactly the kind of thing we need more of. Presumably that might also open some doors to all the Prud-hommes out there who have no idea what practical use they might put to their certification. 😉

  3. Canoe actually has a decent beer list; I was pleasantly surprised the last time I was there. It was well-chosen and fairly diverse with no macros in sight. The fact that the majority of it was local was great too.

    1. Now if they could just put a bit more care and concern into the maintenance and cleanliness of those draught lines, I could be inclined to revisit…..

  4. One of the major reasons stopping development/sales of beer (but many other products too) is that people have to think about it.

    It is sad and unfortunate: if people have to do something different and deviate from their previous patterns (ie. buying macro beer on all their lines) then that is a huge barrier.

    Places that offer a gastronomic experience and have good wine lists but haven’t thought a lick about putting 1 decent beer on tap or on bottles need to give their heads a shake. If you put care & attention into everything except beer …i just can’t explain that one.

  5. Some great restaurants that have decent beer in Toronto:

    Farmhouse Tavern & Farmer’s Daughter

    And they don’t look down on you for asking about a beer list in response to being offered a wine list!

  6. My first visit to Bymark I was quite disappointed to see how crappy the beer selection was. particularly on draft. They had a fairly extensive wine list. It’s been a number of years since we’ve been so I don’t know if that’s changed. Doubt it. It’s a shame really when higher end restaurants put the time and care into their food and wine menu but not the beer menu.

  7. Hate to dump on restauranteurs but the ones that do add craft beer tend to offer Steamwhistle and Lugtread, mainly lager because they are the ones that sell. When looking at what to offer, they often look at sales. The same approach isn’t used for wine and you do have to approach beer the same way.

  8. I’ve always been surprised (but perhaps shouldn’t be) when small restaurants that produce such amazing food often have the crappiest beer selection. A few years back I was enticed by a friend to visit a new restaurant in Leslieville that made a big production about the quality of their food, using only local ingredients, all organic, etc. etc. (indeed, the food was quite good). When I asked what they had on tap the answer was Canadian, Coors, Coors Lite, Miller Lite, and Carling. I ordered sparkling water instead.

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