Would you like our beer with that? Why restaurants are making their own booze

‘We’re so involved in the provenance and all aspects of the food we produce,’ says Alphabeta co-founder Simon Anderson. ‘We breed our own pigs, churn our own butter, bake our own bread – we thought it was a nice way of finishing off the whole process.’

 

Alphabeta is, unless I’m very mistaken, one of a kind. The brewery is part of Pitt Cue’s Devonshire Square restaurant, and a response to the restaurant’s ethos – being in ultimate control of everything they put down in front of their guests. As a result, the brewery can fine-tune their beers to suit any part of Pitt Cue’s menu.

Simon Anderson

‘All our beers are paired with the food,’ says Simon. ‘For example, we do a range of saisons and sour beers which go with the fruits we use in the dishes, like rhubarb.’ And, being an American-inspired barbeque joint, sweet and smoky and flavours are begging to be incorporated into drinks list. ‘We took some of the oak we use to cook the food, smoked it overnight, and vat-packed it with a bottle of bourbon, then put that in a beer. We went a bit crazy.’

As well as the obvious benefits of running your own brewery, it allows you to be incredibly resourceful with the ingredients moving through the restaurant. ‘There’s tons of synergy all the way across,’ says Simon. ‘We have a beer that has an element of the barbeque spice rub we use to spice the food. And when we make a wheat beer, it’s the same grain used to make our bread.’ Wheat in particular continues through Pitt Cue’s food cycle – when it’s shovelled out the brewing process as spent grain, it’s then passed onto Coombeshed Farms (Tom Adam’s farm-restaurant in Cornwall) as feed for his sounder of swine.

Restaurant Brewery Beer making

Is Alphabeta the beginning of restaurant-led breweries? The project has, after all, become so successful that they’re almost at full capacity, and looking to expand. A wise move when Alphabeta has found its potential coveted by other businesses – namely The Ned and, more recently, new Soho joint Flavour Bastard. ‘We made Flavour Bastard a nitro beetroot stout,’ says Simon. ‘And we made them a “Bastard’s Brew”, which as their food’s Asian-led, is a spiced beer [somewhere in between a summer ale and a witbier].’

While having your own brewery is like owning, in Simon’s words, ‘a giant science kit you can play with,’ most establishments wouldn’t even consider the luxury. Especially if beer isn’t ‘their thing’. The alternative? Commission someone to do it for you. Like Alphabeta have done with The Ned, or Borough Market restaurant Roast have done with Argentinian winery Ruca Malen.

‘We serve high volumes of red meat here at Roast,’ says general manager Sergei Gubars. ‘So producing our own Malbec was a no-brainer.’ Apparently, customers like the fact Roast has a selection of its bespokely made beverages (they have their own wine, scotch and gin), not least because the staff are more passionate about the story behind them than they would otherwise be. It’s meant that Roast’s Bacchus Reserve – made by Kent winery Chapel Down to pair with the restaurant’s signature pork belly – is the best selling wine on the list. There’s also the added bonus of exclusivity – a 26-year-old single malt from Caperdonich, distilled especially for the restaurant, is extremely rare, with only one bottle of the stuff currently left.

With someone like Roast, who already have a good relationship with the wineries and distilleries that supply them, approaching these producers for something bespoke is all well and good. But for restaurants who don’t have those close connections, where to start? Sergei suggests looking at the restaurant’s cuisine first, rather than the supplier. ‘An Indian restaurant could make their own British beer; an Italian restaurant could make their own English sparkling wine – rather than Prosecco.’

Roast wine

Sergei says to then start a conversation with, ideally, a producer you trust. While Simon suggests working with someone not keen on the extreme. ‘I find subtlety is better than going over the top,’ he says. ‘We like a beer that can be enjoyed in itself, and compliment the food. Some beer, on the other hand, is like chili sauce.’

Breweries, distilleries, and wineries working with restaurants not only represents the essential relationship between food and drink. It may even remove the boundary between them. ‘We’re really proud of our beers,’ says Simon. ‘They really round off the whole package.’

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