Year of the Beer


This patio season wavriety trupms familiarity.

The argument about which beer to drink, or which beer is superior used to be trivial. It’s beer after all; while differences existed between the variously branded suds, it was  what it was. So, while a patron may have a professed preference, the chances of customers detesting the domestic pint placed in front of them, no matter what particular keg it happened to come from, was reasonably small. Such was the reality of generally inoffensive, palate-pleasing and thirst-quenching beer.

Fast-forward to today’s crowded beer scene and those rules no longer apply. Canadians’ penchant for travelling, along with a boom in craft breweries, has opened a Pandora’s box of  flavour profiles. No longer content with standard offerings of massive domestic suppliers, beer drinkers across the country are embracing myriad new styles and tastes — good news for bartenders and servers who know their audience.

With micro-breweries and unique, craft offerings as well as one-off European, Asian and South American imports, there’s ample opportunity to wow a customer and charge a premium price for a premium product, too. On the flip side, unlike days gone by, today you can serve someone an hibiscus ale, for example, from Montreal’s Dieu du Ciel, and they’re going to love it — or hate it.

“With all of these new beer options, from craft to specialty flavours and even beer cocktails, you’re going to get that love/hate response, and we hope you do,” says Nathan  Cameron, national beverage manager with Prime Pubs, operators of Fionn  MacCool’s pubs in Ontario and Alberta. “The point is, if you’re looking for beer, we have something for  everyone.”

Cameron has watched the beer scene evolve to a point where various beer styles and flavours are treated like wine varietals. “We’ve identified food and beer pairing as a huge trend. In fact, our new menus feature QR codes, which pair our food with different beers available,” he says. “Instead of ordering by brand, people today are ordering by style,  too, such as stout or wheat, just like you’d have someone order a chardonnay.”

And, far from simply ordering what Cameron calls “session beers,” he’s seeing a trend: it turns out, patrons are ordering fewer pints, while changing the brew throughout the night  and, more importantly, they’re ordering more expensive  beer, too.“Four or five years ago, our beer list would have been very traditional, without any room for something such as  an Innes and Gunn oak-cask aged beer at $9.99 for a bottle. But, when we offered that beer as a one-night exclusive for Robbie Burns Day, every pub sold out,” he says. “There’s  always  a market for  those mainstay brands, but today you can also get away with a lot more when it comes to wacky, niche, luxury- sipping beer and exclusive limited-release products. The sense of discovery is a huge driving force, so that’s lots of fun for us.”

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