Craft beer becoming alternative to wine at the dinner table

Now with over 2,000 breweries operating across the country that produce a wide variety of beer – more people are choosing a craft beer while enjoying a nice meal --over a bottle of wine or a mixed cocktail.

In the mood for a steak? Instead of a Cabernet Sauvignon for your rib eye, try a brown ale like Moose Drool Brown Ale.  Think white wine is the only thing that goes with fish?  Try a Belgian Witbier or Belgian White beer instead.

“I think just the flavors and all the uniqueness of all the craft beers that are out there just provide a lot of value for the customers,” said Raul Gonzalez, owner and executive chef of Rulis’ International Kitchen in El Paso, Texas. “With the way the economy’s been, people are looking out. They are trying to get bang for their buck,” said Gonzalez.

A craft beer costs someone $4 or 5 for a pint or bottle, whereas a glass of wine can be as much as $15, with even moderately-priced bottles starting at $25.  Gonzalez said his customers generally aren't as intimated by ordering a bottle of beer, as they are when picking wine.

“I think wine for the longest time, people assumed it’s only for the rich, only for the knowledgeable,” said Gonzalez. “Beer is so much easier to access,” he added.

Adrian Perez, a craft brands manager with L&F Distributing in El Paso, said he's seen many wine drinkers make the transition to beer. “When they hear ‘hops,’ ‘malty’, ‘bitter,’ ‘sweet’ – they’re curious to see how it is so they break that old niche they had,” said Perez.

In Gonzalez's restaurant the wine list is getting shorter while the beer list has expanded --a trend that those the hospitality business say extends to wine and beer stores in El Paso.

“The craft beer sales are off the chart here in El Paso. Compared to five, maybe seven years ago we had maybe a dozen labels, now we’re in the hundreds,” said Perez.

He said spirits are still very popular in restaurants. Yet, if a customer is looking for the same buzz from a spirit, some beers are starting to resemble the taste and kick of hard alcohol. Brewers are releasing new lines of craft beers with amazingly high alcohol-by-volume (ABV)--as much as 50 percent --that are stored in bourbon and whiskey barrels and meant to be sipped like brandy.

So is the wine industry concerned that beer will surpass wine as the drink of choice at fine restaurants?

With all the hype of craft beers, John Hames, executive director of the American Wine Society, said he’s not worried about the wine industry taking a hit.

“The increased popularity of craft beers should be viewed as complimentary to wine sales, not as competition,” said Hames.

“Many people who enjoy the variety and diversity of wines available in the market also enjoy tasting the various styles of beers that are now widely available due to the growth of craft breweries.”

Gonzalez showed some great pairing options the next time you want to try beer over wine.

Moules and Frites 

A traditional Moules (mussels) and Frites dish is often prepared with Pinot Grigio. Naturally, that very wine is a great pairing. A Belgian Wittekerke is an excellent substitute, offering a nice citrus taste that goes so well with seafood.

Mexican Slider 

An Alma de Los Andes Malbec red wine from Argentina pairs up with some hot Mexican sliders. For the beer curious, pick up some Goose Island Honkers Ale. It’s a perfect substitute because the subtle taste goes well with the heat and roasted flavors in the dish.

Makhanwala Paneer 

This is a curry dish from India with lots of spice. Sweet and spicy complement each other well, so a sweet Ryan Patrick Riesling wine is a good match. An Indian beer might as well go with an Indian dish, right? A hoppy Indian Pale Ale like a Bengali Tiger IPA is a great substitute. The hops-character with the spiciness of the dish is amazing with an IPA, said Gonzalez.

Panna Cotta

If you want to keep the party going while you enjoy your dessert, there’s more than sweet wine like a Elena Moscato.  Ask for a coffee-flavored beer with this delightful Italian cream dessert. “Coffee with dessert is just a no brainer, so why not have coffee in your beer?  It’s delicious too,” said Gonzalez.  Imperial Java Stout is dark and hoppy, and is also an alternative to some Irish coffee.