Beer expert shares 6 things restaurants can do to keep beer drinkers happy

Craft beer has been a thing in South Africa for more than a decade. We now have over 150 breweries making all-SA ingredient pale ales, stouts flavoured with rose water or rooibos, barrel-aged sour beers infused with raspberries or cherries, and everything in between. Yet if you walk into the average – or indeed often the above average – restaurant, you’ll find little in the way of variety when it comes to beer. And despite the fact that it is our nation’s most popular alcoholic beverage, surprisingly little in the way of beer knowledge either. So here’s a quick list of tips to keep beer drinkers coming back to your restaurant or bar.

Put your beers on the menu

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve picked up a restaurant menu in search of their beer selection and come up short. I’ve seen menus listing wines, cocktails, spirits, coffee, tea, soft drinks – good Lord, even water, but bafflingly, beer often doesn’t make it on to the menu. It’s time to add beers to the list, ideally with brief tasting notes and perhaps even food pairing suggestions.

Make sure you have some variety

Many restaurants now serve a range of beer brands, but what’s still sadly lacking is a range of beer styles. There are more than 130 recognised beer styles found globally, but most places in SA list just one: pale lager. Sure, there might be six different versions of it, but the flavour variation between them is minimal. Imagine going into a restaurant and looking at the wine list only to find that the selection is limited to half a dozen unwooded Chenins. That’s what it’s like for a beer drinker walking into a place that offers lager, lager, lager or lager.

Ensure your glassware is “beer clean”

The merest hint of invisible grease or soap in a glass can destroy a beer in seconds, in the way it wouldn’t with spirits, soft drinks or wine. If glasses are washed in the dishwasher with food, a greasy residue can remain that kills beer’s characteristic fluffy white crown. And this doesn’t just ruin the beer’s appearance – that head plays a role in delivering flavour and aroma to the drinker. Look out too for patches of tiny bubbles clinging to the inside of a glass. These nucleation points can be caused by anything from flecks of lint to simple droplets of dried-on water, and they’ll also mess with carbonation and foam, spoiling a beer drinker’s pint instantly. Beer glasses need clean, hot, soapy water, a liberal rinse and should never be dried with a cloth.

Look after your draught beer

Draught beer is a delicate creature and needs to be used as quickly as possible. A rule of thumb is that you should be able to kick a keg in five days, so think carefully before installing multiple taps. Most importantly of all, make sure the draught lines and taps are professionally cleaned at least every two weeks.

Train your staff on beer as well as wine

Restaurants around South Africa seem to invest in teaching their staff which wines to recommend, or at least impart basic knowledge on wine storing and pouring. But when it comes to beer, servers often don’t know a pilsner from a porter, which glass is best or even worse, how to spot a dirty glass or a past-its-best beer. Giving staff the basic tools to recommend and troubleshoot not only empowers them, it goes a long way to making the beer drinker trust and respect your establishment.


Keep your craft beer cold

Most craft beer is unfiltered and unpasteurised and wants to be kept in a fridge. This is also true of kegs, which shouldn’t – as is seen in many a South African drinking hole – be kept on the floor under the bar then chilled en route to the glass. Ideally all beer should be in a fridge or cold room to keep it at its best and to maximise its shelf life.

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Lucy Corne is a writer, journalist, and beer expert. She has authored several books on the subject, including African Brew: Exploring the Craft of South African Beer and Beer Safari: A Journey Through South African Craft Beer. Lucy is passionate about promoting the beer scene in South Africa and has contributed to various publications both locally and internationally. 

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