By Mark Fisher | Friday, March 29, 2013, 07:11 AM
Restaurants in every segment of the industry — and their customers — are cozying up to craft beer. Consider this:
A few weeks ago, Tom Ryan, founder and managing partner of the Denver-based Smashburger , came to the Dayton area to visit the chain’s restaurant across from the Dayton Mall to meet with Luke Purcell, brewer of Cleveland-based Great Lakes Brewing Co. Together, the two sat down to evaluate potential beer-and-sandwich menu-pairing recommendations.
Both men, along with a handful of other Smashburger and Great Lakes folks, sampled several of Smashburger’s signature burgers and chicken sandwiches, each with its own flavor profile of condiments, and tasted each of the five different Great Lakes brews to come up with suggested pairings.
The event played out very much like a wine-tasting, and Smashburger founder Ryan seized the role of the beer equivalent of an enophile. “The toppings on this really pull something sweet and floral out of the (Great Lakes) Dortmunder Gold,” Ryan said while searching for the perfect pairing with one of his chain’s chicken sandwiches.
The group eventually found consensus on which sandwiches matched up best with which Great Lakes beer, and those pairings will show up on the menus at the three Dayton-area Smashburger locations within the next few weeks. Smashburger is doing the same thing with the Christian Moerlein brewery to suggest pairings in the chain’s Cincinnati-area restaurants.
The chain started the beer-pairing menu suggestions in Denver and other western markets late last year, and customers have embraced the idea. Ryan said Smashburger’s beer sales in the Phoenix market jumped 33 percent after the pairings showed up on menus.
“I believe there’s a lot of change going on in the marketplace,” Ryan said between pairings. “Craft breweries are inventing beer for the next generation. They’re taking beer to a new level.”
And beer, Ryan said, “is a huge differentiator between us and others in the better-burger segment,” the Smashburger founder said.