Borrowing a leaf from the many chefs who champion local foods, some operators are promoting beverages made close to home as appealing signature items.
Locally produced spirits and beers, like local foods, have a special aura of quality, proponents say. Also like local foods, they may have a lower carbon footprint than products shipped long distances. Yet another reason for going local at the bar may be to cheer for the underdog, to support the small-scale producer that competes against major beverage corporations.
Local pride is a factor, too. At Elway’s restaurant in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood, bar manager Ky Belk vouched for the grassroots popularity of small-batch, craft-distilled whiskey and gin made right in Denver.
“With my crowd, I don’t think it is an environmental issue,” Belk said. “More than anything, I think they are proud that these products are ours.”
At the Rumpus Room in Milwaukee, a brand-new gastropub opened by the Bartolotta Restaurants based there, patrons are enjoying a limited-edition amber lager that was brewed locally and flavored with cascade hops grown in northern Wisconsin. The Rumpus Room is one of the few restaurants to get the beer, and general manager Omar Andrietsch said he will continue to seek unique local and regional beers for its patrons.
“Our customers love this,” Andrietsch said. “After all, this is Milwaukee, a city with a great beer heritage.”
Michigan craft beers are big sellers at the five Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burger Taverns in that state, a casual dining concept of Diversified Restaurant Holdings, based in Southfield, Mich.
All eight of the beer taps at the eateries are dedicated to Michigan craft brews, which account for about 70 percent of beer sales, said president and CEO Michael Ansley. Major domestic brands, imports and craft brews in bottles make up the rest.
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The Michigan selection currently numbers 19 brews from 11 producers, including a copper-colored American pale ale, a full-bodied Scotch ale and an unusual brew that combines the traits of a Belgian dubbel ale and a stout.
Ansley said he realized the potential of local brews when he attended a Michigan Brewers Guild event a couple of years ago and witnessed almost 8,000 young adults enjoying craft brews.
“This Gen Y, these Millennials, they want customization, they want different flavors, and their palates are more sophisticated,” Ansley said.
Another reason for backing homegrown beverages is the likelihood of having something more interesting than a mass-market product. At Elway’s, Belk said that the assertive flavor of the local whiskey stands up well in Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. It also was a hit in the Denver Club Cocktail he mixed with simple syrup infused with sage grown in his own garden.
“I felt that it spoke to the West with the sage and the whiskey,” Belk said.
If you ask for a lager at Tender Greens in Hollywood, Calif., part of the seven-unit, Los Angeles-based chain of fast-casual, health-oriented eateries, you may be politely encouraged to try a California common beer, a golden, warm-fermented lager with significant hop aroma, from a brewery in Rancho Santa Margarita, about an hour away. The style almost disappeared after Prohibition and is now being revived. Executive chef Eric Hulme rotates distinctive Southern California craft beers like that on his four taps there.
Hulme, who is also a home brewer, has made a name in the beer community with his summer Beer Garden events at Tender Greens, which feature whole animal roast on the patio and beers poured by craft brewers. The $35-per-person affairs usually sold out their 60 seats.
“I love turning customers on to new beers and helping small local breweries get established,” Hulme said.