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Boosting Beer Business

GOOD MATCH: Head chef Mark Granucci's food complements brewmaster Darren Whitcher's beers at Brew Brothers Brewery.

TOPPING OFF: A proper head is a key sign of good beer service.

Although certain college students might beg to differ, one cannot live on beer alone. That's an important point that any restaurant looking to get serious about beer sales needs to consider: The right food, service and promotions all create an atmosphere conducive to beer consumption.

A mug club drives a lot of business at Titanic Brewery & Restaurant in Coral Gables, FL. Members join for $75 ( renewals are $50 a year) to get a personalized 20-ounce mug that stays at the Titanic (and a 4-ounce bonus of beer per draft), a free dinner on Wednesdays and a mug club shirt or hat. There is always a waiting list to join the 120-member club.

Besides building loyalty, the mug club's free dinner packs the house on an otherwise slow night, says Titanic owner Kevin Rusk. Food costs for the comp meal run under $1 a plate, but beer sales more than offset that modest expense.

Beer accounts for just over a third of overall revenue at the Titanic. While there are regulars who stop in mainly for a tall one-and perhaps a light meal from the bar-"we get a better check average from the food people," Rusk says. Checks average about $12 at lunch, $19 at dinner.

Titanic, which produces six standard beers along with a variety of seasonal beers, generally has four on tap. To encourage sampling, the restaurant stages regular brewmaster dinners-five-course seasonal menus that pair a different beer with each course. A recent "Plates of the Caribbean" event included tamarind and rum-glazed grouper served with Titanic's Boiler Room Nut Brown Ale; lychee, coconut and mango bread pudding was served with coconut milkinfused Shipbuilder's Oatmeal Stout. Titanic uses sevenounce sample glasses for the $40-$45 dinners.

The focus on food at Titanic has been deliberate. Rusk says he realized when he opened the restaurant five years ago that "you can't just be a beer place, you have to have a good restaurant to back it up."

At Brew Brothers Brewery in Reno's Eldorado Hotel and Casino, "about 40-45 percent of our dollars are beer dollars," says brewmaster Darren Whitcher. The menu for the brewpub, which opened nine years ago, focuses on American pub foods and emphasizes high-quality ingredients like breads baked daily in the hotel and freshly butchered meats. The items were carefully chosen to complement the seven beers made on the premises. Essentially, that meant finding foods that pair well with a bitter beverage.

Brew Brothers' staff is careful about how the beer gets to the customer: Properly carbonated, at the right temperature, with a correct amount of head and no off odors. It all starts with "beer clean" glassware, Whitcher insists, which means it's free of beer and detergent residue. "If there's any chlorine in the glass, it inter-acts chemically and creates aroma compounds that are detectable," he says. A special warewasher helps achieve that level of cleanliness.

Faucets imported from Italy allow precise control of the flow, so when glasses are poured they include a healthy head-a crucial top layer of the beer, which Whitcher says too many brewpubs omit.

Glassware is crucial to the experience as well. Brew Brothers serves a number of its seven varieties in a 16-ounce pilsner glass, some in sample-size glasses and a few in glasses designed for Bavarian wheat beer.

"Our beer looks good when it's presented," he says.

Located at the intersection of several sprawling hotels, Brew Brothers has no problem getting customers through the door most nights. But Sundays are sometimes slow, so the brewpub created Extreme Sundays. The bar's 21 television screens show ski videos, motocross and other sports that appeal to a younger crowd, and the brewer's special-which rotates throughout the year-is served in customized glasses.

"Once we get people to taste our beer, it's a done deal," Whitcher says.

For both these brewpubs, lighter brews rule. Most popular at Titanic is the Germanstyle Triple Screw Light Ale, while Brew Brothers' top seller is Lucky Lady, a light lager beer.

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