Take a look at nearly any food menu and you’ll see the word “local.” But, how often are restaurant goers seeing “local” on beverage menus?
Senior Beverage Manager of Service Inspired Restaurants (SIR Corp), Sam McCaffrey shares insights on where local fits into the Canadian beverage industry. SIR Corp restaurants include Jack Astor’s, Reds Wine Tavern, Scaddabush, Canyon Creek and more.
How has the beverage industry changed in recent years?
When I was bartending 10 years ago, major domestic beers dominated the beer portfolio in the hospitality scene. Premium imports like Guinness and Stella were, and still are strong. There’s always been the Canadian Caesar! But, Niagara wines were hard to come by. Today though, whether beer, wine or spirits, it’s extremely rare for a category not to have local options on a SIR menu.
Statista reported 57 per cent of Canadians prefer beer over other alcohol. Does beer dominate menus in terms of local selection?
Absolutely. The average consumer’s knowledge on beer and brewing ingredients is more advanced thanks to a lot of PR and marketing initiatives launched over the last few years. People can now go to a brewery and also enjoy a dining experience. Consumers think of local craft beer to be just as premium as imported beer, if not more so because it’s fresh. Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) reported small brewers are expanding facilities to source from more local suppliers and are spending more than two million on local sponsorships.
Guests ask for local even if they don’t know the brewery. They’ll make their decision based on city of origin – there’s definitely an emotional connection.
Did you know? According to the February 2018 Ontario Craft Brewers fact sheet, there are approximately 242 operating craft breweries in Ontario, including 72 contract brewers and over 100 start-ups!
What about other beverage categories?
Canada makes some of the best Riesling in the world! Gretzky’s new riesling is listed in Jack’s Ontario menu. All of SIRS house wines are from Niagara. The craft spirit industry is still in its infancy stage but looks promising based on recent growth. Canyon Creek’s upcoming summer cocktail menu showcases local Ontario spirits like Lot.No 40 and Georgian Bay Spirit Co. vodka and gin.
REDS “Create your own G&T” program lists 39 gins and 11 of those are Canadian. A diverse spirit like gin can be made anywhere, so it’s important to showcase Canada’s amazing gins alongside internationally recognized brands.
What are some of the most interesting local products that have come across your desk?
False Ox’s’ Beet Ginger Schrub is in REDS Beet Margarita and in a mocktail. I’m also playing with Detonic, a cool all natural tonic syrup, also at REDS.
What’s the most important local campaign you’ve launched while at SIR?
The craft beer program at Jack Astor’s, we really diversified it to include the right balance of craft beer taps. We increased it by 20 to 30 local craft taps. Some of our larger locations increased by 40 taps.
Ever worried that local prices are perceived too high?
Pricing is higher but that comes with small production. Generally, people don’t mind paying 25 cents more for a local beer if it means they’re getting a fresher product.
What are some great local products to use in cocktails?
Restaurants that have the ability to grow herbs, cucumber, berries, etc. and pluck them fresh for cocktails definitely should and they should call it out. Basil and mint are both extremely refreshing, I’ve used rosemary in tons of different applications too.