Retailers emphasize the unique characteristics of beer with food-pairing cooking classes
It's Boys' Night Out, but the venue of choice isn't a bar or club. It's a supermarket.
That's because it's a beer-themed cooking class, where men who love fine brews and food get the best of both worlds by learning how to prepare meals like BBQ Baby Back Ribs and Jalapeño Coleslaw capped off with Prohibition Ale.
The new three-hour cooking class, offered several times a year at Dorothy Lane Market, combines fine craft beers, food, recipes and fun.
Long known for its upscale assortment of food and wine, the Dayton, Ohio-based three-store operator is using the classes to cater to the growing number of beer enthusiasts.
“In the past, beer took a backseat to wine in terms of food pairing. That's no longer the case,” noted Todd Templin, Dorothy Lane's beer and wine director.
The cooking classes come at a time when beer is increasingly being positioned as a food accompaniment, along the same lines as wine.
“There are a lot of beers that are perfect with everything from seafood to jambalaya,” Templin said.
While Dorothy Lane has paired beer and food for years, it's become much more aggressive, not only via the cooking classes, but also by cross-merchandising select beer in perimeter departments.
“In the seafood department, we don't just have sake, but also Sapporo [Japanese] beer,” Templin noted.
One of Dorothy Lane's popular pairings is Belgian beer and cheese.
Dorothy Lane is even considering launching a beer club, in which each month a new selection of beer would be mailed to members' homes. It started a similar club for wine at the beginning of this year.
The time is right for beer and food pairings, thanks to a large selection of domestics, as well as an influx of new European brews, according to Templin. Since many people have not tried them, food and beer pairings can attract new shoppers to the category.
“There's not a lot of brand loyalty right now; there's a lot of experimentation,” he said. “Consumers are willing to try different things.”
Costing $65, Dorothy Lane's first Boys' Night Out cooking class was held in June to tie in with Father's Day. The menu included a variety of craft beers, including “90 Minute IPA” from Dogfish Head Brewery paired with Black & Blue Buffalo Burgers with Sweet Corn; Garlicky Italian Flat Chicken with Char-Grilled Tomatoes; and Grilled Banana Splits.
In addition to the classes, Dorothy Lane has started monthly beer tastings, in which sales directors from craft breweries feature a variety of brews.
The events typically feature six to 12 beers for a cost of $10 to $12. Cheese, chocolate-covered nuts and other foods are served to complement the selections.
“The idea is to get people to try craft beer and experience for themselves what a difference handmade craft beer can taste like,” said Stephany Madliger, beer and wine manager for Dorothy Lane's Oakwood store.
Another way the retailer is building its beer business is by posting a food and beer pairing guide on its website. Until two months ago, the guide was available only in stores.
Among the guide's suggestions: Drink amber ales with chicken or beef; golden or blondes with seafood; and India pale ales with appetizers.
Jungle Jim's International Market, Fairfield, Ohio, makes beer and food pairing easier to understand with cooking classes for both men and women. This past spring, a class called “Hot Thai Summer Sizzlers” combined exotic Thai flavors that go well with beer.
Brands like Lost Coast India Pale Ale, Goose Island Summertime and Hacker-Pschorr Weisse Blanche de Bruxelles were paired with Grilled Marinated Pork Satay-Style with a Lemon Soy Chili Dipping Sauce and Chicken With Lemongrass Coconut Curry.
“People are now looking at fine beer much as they would fine wine,” said Jungle Jim's beer and wine director, Dave Schmerr.
Brewers say there's no reason why beer can't be viewed as a food accompaniment just like wine. Late last year, Anheuser-Busch released “The Anheuser-Busch Cookbook: Great Food Great Beer.” The cookbook contains 185 recipes master chefs recommend for pairing beer with food.
Pairings will be on tap in October at one of the largest beer events in the U.S.: the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado, where attendees will get to sample beer and food pairings inside a beer and food pavilion. More than 1,800 beers from about 400 U.S. breweries will be sampled. About 46,000 people are expected to attend.
The beer-food pairing trend is especially beneficial to retailers like Green Hills Farms in Syracuse, N.Y., where state law prohibits supermarkets from selling wine, according to Dan Piron, grocery/frozen/dairy manager.
Until about a year ago, Green Hills was also prohibited from sampling beer. Green Hills' beer category has benefited from a new state law that permits beer sampling.
“Sampling has really helped our specialty beer sales,” said Piron. “People don't want to spend $8 for a beer they don't like. They want to try it first.”
Green Hills' deli department recently prepared soup recipes provided by Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y. The soups were then served with samples of Ommegang's Belgian-style beer.
“More and more people are using beer like wine by pairing it with meats and entrees,” Piron noted.
Helping in the effort are new craft beers that lend themselves to cross-merchandising. For instance, Blue Moon Brewery recommends drinking its Belgian White Brew with a slice of orange to bring out its natural spices and fruit flavor. For this reason, Green Hills frequently cross-merchandises Blue Moon in the produce department near the oranges.
Likewise, the single-unit operator is having success with a variety of bread mixes that require beer as a leavening ingredient. It started carrying a Guinness-brand bread mix last October and sold out just several months later during St. Patrick's Day. It plans to reorder the bread mix this October. Green Hills also carries a variety of other bread mixes that have beer as an ingredient.
Piron said the category is getting a push from popular recipes like “Beer Can Chicken.” The recipe calls for putting an open can of beer in the cavity of a whole roasting chicken. The beer will continue to moisten the chicken as it cooks.
“The beer keeps it moist, steams it and gives it flavor,” said Piron.
Despite consumers' newfound reliance on store brands, private-label water and wine have lost some category share.
|PRIVATE-LABEL CATEGORY||$ SALES*||% CHANGE VS. YEAR AGO||% OF CATEGORY|
|Convenience/PET Bottled Water||$64.8M||-0.7||17.7|
|Domestic Table Wine||$44,748||-15.4||0.02|
|Source: Information Resources Inc. |
* Sales in food, drug and mass channels for the four weeks ending July 13.