Getting Started Q&A • Craft Beer Restaurant Reference Library


A carefully constructed beer list is the easiest and most important tool to use in building serious craft beer sales. In preparing your beer list it helps to spend a little planning time before making the final decisions. The following list of questions will help you reach a decision that is good for you.

What's on your food menu?

Your cuisine will largely determine your beer list selections because each entree needs to be well-paired with at least one beer. The number of beers on the list is not as important as the careful pairing of the beers determined by the style of cuisine. The entrees on narrower style-focused menus, for example those at steak/chop houses, red sauce Italian trattorias, seafood or Indian restaurants, are all fairly simple to cover with just a few different beers.

The more challenging menus are those at restaurants featuring New American, Continental, Pacific Rim and other such broad-reaching cuisines. Because their entrees tend to have so many different directions to their tastes, they typically require more beers in order to pair them up adequately. These restaurants also tend to have more extensive wine lists for the same reason.

Where do I start with pairing?  

Give the most thought to selecting beer pairings for your most popular entrees. Once those are nailed, move on to other items.

A specific beer style is typically able to cover a range of food items and cuisines. For instance, the Brewer's Association recommends an Abbey Dubbel with barbecue, smoked ribs, steak, meat stews, stronger cheeses/cheese sauces, and chocolate desserts. Likewise they recommend a Hefeweizen with salads, sushi, seafood, mild sausages, chevre and other fresh goat cheese, strawberry shortcake, and key lime pie. So you can see how a handful of beer styles can cover a lot of culinary territory.

Do you emphasize local?

If your restaurant emphasizes fresh, locally-sourced foods, so should your beer list. While this strategy may exclude some big-name, award-winning beers, your beer list is better if it is true to your restaurant's style. Fortunately, high quality local microbrews are available in just about all parts of the country. For regional cuisine you may have to reach out a state or two, but for beer, that is just fine. Unless you are located in the midst of wine country, your beer list can be much more local than your wines.

Do you emphasize organic?

If your restaurant is organic, you may have to search a little, but there are a growing range of certified organic craft beers on the market, both from US and European brewers.

Is your cuisine ethnic?

Some ethnic cuisines are natural for pairing with beers from that ethnic homeland. The best examples are German and Belgian restaurants where the homelands have a great variety of tasty beers that are readily available in the US. And for authenticity's sake, it's nice to have a national beer or two offered in Japanese, Mexican, Irish and Italian restaurants, though the commonly available beers from those countries tend to be quite limited in style. In these cases, be sure to fill out the rest of the beer list with craft beers carefully selected to pair with the food menu, even if the beers are not from the mother country.

What about Situations and Seasons?

Do you want your beer list to recognize the seasons?  Should it cover more specific parts of the total restaurant dining experience, such as aperitif and after-dinner drink? These and other concepts are more fully discussed in the
Craft Beer Restaurant article on Craft Beer List Formats.

How long should the beer list be?

Unless you have a very broad, eclectic menu, entree pairings can typically can be covered with as few as four or five different beer styles. If you want to pair desserts too, that will likely require an additional beer or two. The same goes for appetizers. Therefore, a basic food-pairing beer list requires 8 to 10 craft beer selections.

Customers today also appreciate the ability to select from different price ranges. Offering two beer selections in popular style categories, with one being more expensive than the other, can encourage customers to trade up to what they might perceive to be a better beer. This strategy will lengthen the beer list, but provide more opportunity for profit.

Reasons to have a shorter beer list

  1. You are just getting into craft beer and are not sure what is best for your restaurant.

  2. You do not have extra storage/cooler space for a bunch of beers.

  3. You have a very simple or limited food menu and just a few wine choices.

Reasons to have a longer beer list

  1. You have an extensive menu and a well-developed wine list.

  2. You want to give your customers a broader selection of beer styles.

  3. You want to give your customers the ability to trade up to more expensive offerings.

  4. You are in a more developed craft-beer market that has a high craft beer demand.

Related article:  A good beer list is....


Some initial beer list questions to ask