There's little doubt that the popularity of "beer dinners" is increasing. These events are good way for breweries, retailers, and distributors to expose the public to their beers, and to increase awareness of craft beer in general. I've been thinking about the costs to attend these functions, and the message the sponsors are trying to get across. Is it about the food, the beer, both? I mentioned the Samichlaus dinner at Brasserie Beck recently. This $110 a plate meal comes at a premium price. The menu received just a brief mention in the promotional email, and given the beer to be served, the price was probably to be expected. But are the expectations for a beer dinner correct? What's the message? Is the craft beer industry trying too hard to overcome the frat-boy-party-animal image that the likes of Budweiser and Coors have long saddled us with?
Most beer dinners I've read about, or attended, have a price tag of $60-70, for a 4-5 course meal. Such prices are reasonable given the venue; typically it's a gourmet meal, five or more different craft beers, along with some educational aspects. However, the more I think about it, is this necessarily the best way to promote craft beer? Sure we want beer to gain a better image, especially as a proper accompaniment to good food. But how many people are willing to regularly spend $60 or more, per person, for a dinner out? It seems to me that these gourmet meals are being promoted to the exclusion of simpler affairs. Sure, these are special events and we all want and deserve a treat every now and then, but many more people could be reached through different venues.
As people gain an appreciation for fine beer over factory beer, they will soon realize that good beer costs more. But we don't want to give the impression that good beer is an extravagance. Why isn't there greater interest in sponsoring more moderately priced events? Let's spread the message through less extreme events and offer small samples of properly paired food. Focus on education over extravagance. Brewers would do well to sponsor events promoting craft beer to a greater general audience. I recently saw notice of a $30.00 Flying Dog dinner that is described as "affordable and tasty". Certainly a step closer to what I am suggesting, but why a sit down dinner at all? Serve appetizers and light snacks, add more beer varieties, and it would still be possible to keep the cost attractive to a large audience.
Here's a plea to brewers. Keep those fancy dinners coming, but let's see more low cost events too. Present us with 4 or 6 of your beers along with samples of easily prepared foods for everyday enjoyment. Teach folks that a Pale Ale goes just as well with nachos as it does with pan-seared salmon.
Update, May 20: Andy Crouch as posted on a related topic in The SAVOR Wrap-up And Concerns About The Growing Snobbery Of Beer…