I drank diligently in the course of researching this week’s Young & Hungry column about the art of restaurant beer bottle and can lists. But I also put my glass down occasionally to talk to the people crafting these menus.
ChurchKey‘s beer director, Greg Engert, organizes his list of 500-plus bottles by flavor profile rather than style. This can make it more difficult for an educated drinker to find a specific IPA he might have in mind, but in the hands of a smart curator, it helps people discover new beers. So if a beer is both fruity and hoppy, how does he know in which category to list it? Says Engert:
I think about if somebody really despised a beer, I think about what they wouldn’t like about it, and I make sure to put it in that category. While you’re always trying to help people find what they like, you have to think about what the most dominant flavor is.
The wine-themed Proof has always kept a small stable of good beers, but it wasn’t until the restaurant’s tap system broke that wine director Sebastian Zutant really built out his beer cellar. He says:
When my tap system when down was when my beer by the bottle list really expanded. It was kind of a blessing and a curse—a curse in that I love craft beer, but a blessing in that I could get a lot of things in a bottle that I just couldn’t get on draft. There’s just so much more availability. … It’s like my wines by the glass list, in that I try to find eclectic producers doing some really neat things.
In the story, I focus on where to get good bottles of beer—although now that I think of it, “D.C.’s Worst Bars” might be a story for another day. But several beer directors told me they look to the bottle list when they’re at a bar they don’t trust to keep their drafts clean and fresh.
Pizzeria Paradiso‘s Greg Jasgur says:
I’d say most people prefer draft, but it seems counterintuitive to me. It leaves more open to the bar, whether the draft lines are clean, whether the kegs are fresh.… In a bottle, unless it’s sitting outside in 95-degree heat and blazing sun, it’s pretty much exactly how the brewer wants it to be.
And finally, while I’m more at home at a neighborhood joint than in Policy‘s Ed Hardy-esque club, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the 14th Street NW establishment put almost as much stock in its beer menu as in table service. (I didn’t get an ice bucket on my visit, but probably because I was one of those squares who went before midnight.) Here’s how manager Jordan Davidowitz describes Policy’s large-format bottle list, dubbed “40 Ounces to Freedom”:
We do it the same way we present wine. We bring out an ice bucket, we do the snifters, we present the bottle. … It’s great to see some people sit down, listen to some good music, and order a nice bottle. It’s definitely a good look.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery