Upscale restaurants located in hotels such as Four Seasons and Kimptons are really embracing beer – to the point where some are growing their own hops (see photos below).
“Chefs love beer so I think any involvement we can have in the process working with these local breweries is great,” Kimpton chef chef Dennis Marron told me. “Brewing is more like cooking than winemaking. Winemaking is all about growing the grapes, but brewing is really like cooking – a pinch of this pinch of that.”
Some hotels and resorts have long embraced beer. The Southernmost Hotel in Key West, Fla., for instance, holds poolside “beer school” sessions that include tastings and beer talk.
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And in 2009, for instance, Starwood’s mid-priced Four Points by Sheraton chain hired a beer expert as its “chief beer officer” to help select local beers to sell guests in each Four Points market; the Twitter account FourPointsCBO has been inactive for nearly two years.
But with a growing number of chefs throwing their (chef’s) hats in the ring, the trend today is reaching new levels. In the past they might have helped select great local beers to serve, but now they’re getting involved in the brewing process. Marron, the top chef at Poste Modern Brasserie inside Washington D.C.’s Hotel Monaco near the Verizon Center, started growing hops in the hotel’s rooftop garden three years ago. He worked with a local brewery – Three Stars Brewing Co. – to create three batches of beer including one that incorporated chocolate mint from the garden, Marron. It sells out quickly within a week or two, yet it still adds local flavor the the French-inspired restaurant.
For next fall, Marron planted some chamomile, different flavors of mint and more yarrow — all for future special batches.
At the Four Seasons Hotel Seattle, the hotel’s restaurant partnered with a Seattle “nano-brewery” that specializes in brewing small amounts of beer. The brewery, NW Peaks, created a special beer for ART Restaurant called Never Trust a Skinny Chef Ale. The 24-ounce northwest pale ale has a light malt backbone and bitterness with a medium body and clean finish. I asked executive chef Kerry Sear a few questions, so here’s my Q&A:
Q. Why name it Skinny Chef Ale? There’s got to be a story behind this one!
A. We actually turned to restaurant and hotel employees for the name. The only rules we gave was that it had to be something fun that would spark conversation and curiosity to try it, plus it could not have “Four Seasons” in the name. We had over 100 entries, some of them we really liked, but couldn’t move forward with because the name was already trademarked. One of the names submitted was “Never Trust a Skinny Chef Ale” – a take on the tongue-in-check reference – and it just stuck! [Editor’s note: Both chefs are, in fact, skinny.]
Q. Describe the reaction you’re seeing from consumers. Are you selling more of this beer than others, for example?
A. We’re getting a really good response. A lot of people see the Skinny Chef Ale bobblehead beer tap and ask about it, which leads to them trying it out. We really push local ingredients, spirits and beverages at ART (we have over 55 small-batch, crafted PNW spirits on the menu called 55 Locals), so Skinny Chef Ale has been a really nice addition to the local spirits. I ordered these custom mugs for the beer and people have been loving them too. We’ve had to order an extra batch because people kept asking to buy them!
Q. How much are you charging for a pint?
A. $8 for a 24-oz. mug; $7 during happy hour.
Q. Why do this now?
A. When we launched the 55 Locals spirits program last year, we knew we wanted to extend it to beer since Seattle is also a big beer town. It ties in nicely with everything we do to work with local and regional companies, vendors and farmers. Our guests are always interested in what the locals are doing, drinking, eating and now they can also experience some of the best Seattle has to offer in our restaurant.
Readers: Have you been seeing – and trying – batches of beer from your favorite hotel’s restaurant?
Photos of chef Kerry Sears drinking beer, and the beer mug, above courtesy of the Four Season Hotel Seattle.
Photos of the beautiful green hops below courtesy of chef Dennis Marron.