As beer menus around the city swell with more local and specialty offerings, there’s a greater need for bars and restaurants to up their collective knowledge of the beverage. Waitstaffs are scrambling to keep up.
“We are fanatics about how our beer is presented,” says Martha Holley-Paquette, cofounder of Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project. “We are often disappointed with how they are served.”
Common serving mistakes include pours that are too foamy, improper glassware, and misinformation about a beer’s style and taste. Craft beer’s gains are forcing restaurants to increase server education, and establishments from The Rattlesnake to L’Espalier are responding with beer-specific staff training.
When Backlash Beer’s Helder Pimentel asks waiters to describe his Belgian IPA, “Declaration,” they often leave “Belgian” out of the description. Belgian yeast imparts distinct spicy and fruity flavors into the beer that make it very different from a typical India Pale Ale. “It isn’t necessarily misrepresenting the beer, but it’s leaving out a pretty important detail,” says Pimentel.
One restaurateur has printed materials available for the staff. Brian Poe, chef and owner of The Rattlesnake Bar and Grill, The Tip Tap Room, and Estelle’s, distributes two beer manuals to staff and holds periodic three-hour training sessions devoted to the differences between ales and lagers, and fleshing out various hop varieties. Working the bar one night, Poe received what has become an increasingly common complaint from a knowledgeable customer. He wasn’t happy with Poe’s work. “He said, ‘Nice pour, chef.’ He was being sarcastic,” says Poe. “The general public knows when a pour is off.”
At all three restaurants, Poe encourages his staff to ask when they don’t know specifics about a beer. Jamie Walsh, bar manager at Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale in Downtown Crossing, goes over tasting notes daily. At a bar with 20 rotating taps, five cask lines, and 90 bottles, staff is constantly sampling.
L’Espalier beverage director Lauren Collins has developed an eclectic beer list with around 25 offerings (to go with a 600-bottle wine list). She’s particularly fond of Enlightenment Ales, a nanobrewery in Lowell whose American biere de champagne she suggests pairing with cheeses from blue cheese to goat. “Ideally I want my staff to be as versed in beer as they are in wine,” says Collins.
Some restaurants bring in the brewers. Rob Lucente, co-owner of Maine’s Peak Organic Brewing, often finds himself at the daily staff training, known as pre-meal, at eateries across the city. Sometimes Lucente is called to do a presentation. Other times, he does an impromptu tasting, using New England-grown hops and barley he always has with him to make his point.
A visit from a brewer can make a big impression. “For the staff to see and feel the passion of the person that makes the beer they’re selling changes the whole game,” says Kevin Martin, bar manager at Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square.
Liquor stores are also trying to keep up. At Social Wines in South Boston co-owner John Libonati encourages staff to read about new brews. With an increasing number of seasonal and one-off beers, that’s becoming a part-time job.