Pass the beer list, please!

When I visit a restaurant or bar for the first time, I’ll often ask to see the beer list.

I do it out of curiosity, because I like a good beer, and to be slightly annoying too. Sometimes I get a funny look, sometimes they’ll flick to the back page of the wine list, and sometimes they’ll say “Heineken and Steinlager”.

Occasionally I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

There’s an art to designing a good beer list, but many establishments just don’t seem to have bothered.

Assuming they haven’t sold their soul, first born and their beer list to a major brewery, restaurants and bars now have an excellent opportunity to stock a wide variety of local products that will enhance their food offerings and provide an additional income stream.

Having a bad beer list warns me the kitchen side of the operation is unimaginative and the marketing side is dull.

That’s why it’s so very disappointing to see the same combinations of international lagers and perhaps a draught and Guinness.

The first thing I look for in a beer list is a variety of beer styles. There should be at least one good lager or pilsner, a malt-driven ale, and a hoppier ale. With those three styles you have covered beer fans’ basic tastes and have a decent food match for most of the entrees and mains on your menu.

A dark lager, a porter or a stout would be handy too, and many make an excellent combination with a chocolatey dessert. If a cafe or bar wants to extend its basic range, it could add a wheat beer and support several craft brewers to offer alternatives in the popular styles.

I’m not impressed by a broad international coverage, for two reasons. Most of the international offerings are made in New Zealand; and beer is a fresh product. I wouldn’t expect a cafe to get bread from overseas, and overseas beer is unnecessary too. The hospitality industry likes to support local wine producers but often ignores local breweries, which is a disappointment for the travelling beer fan.

As I said, I’m not sure why the beer basics are too difficult for so many hospitality outlets.

Let me know what you look for in a beer list. Do you ask for one? What would you like to find?

And more importantly, let me know if there’s a cafe, restaurant or bar that you visit that has a good beer list, and we can give them a free plug.

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4 Responses to “Pass the beer list, please!”

  1. House on hood street in Hamilton has an excellent beer selection, both in bottles and on tap. They have at least 8 craft brew on tap.


  2. My worst fear is the “we don’t have a list but tell us what you like and I’ll see if we have it”. At this point I know they will have all the green bottles and probably a few brown bottles.

    There are a lot of a places in Wellington with a reasonable selection.

    Wellington: Ortega Fish Shack has an amazing, well thought out, selection of bottled beer. D4 has an excellent selection of tap and bottled beer. Logan Brown and Boulcott Street Bistro are pretty good (with the latter being a little more adventurous in the past… but I feel the former may be hitting their straps now).

    And in the home of the Ranfurly Shield: Buster Crabbe, on Dee Street in Invercargill, has a few taps, two handpumps, and a great little selection of bottles.


    • If I’m feeling especially annoying, I might ask barstaff to suggest a beer – “I’m looking for a hoppy ale – what do you recommend?” Sometimes I get a sensible answer, a good beer and an intelligent conversation. Sometimes I get “Dunno”.

      What sort of reaction would I get if I asked for a wine list and a recommendation for an off-dry white, do you think?

      Wellington is doing well, as you say, and the events this month around Wellington on a Plate and Beervana will see that continue, especially the beer matching masterclasses.

      Topmarks too to Buster Crabbe and House on Hood St. More of it!


  3. Stu has covered most of the ones I was going to mention (some of them I have been involved with formulating)

    Another would be Ambeli.



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