Drinks

7 World-Class Restaurants That Choose Beer over Wine

The taps are taking over
Beer Focused Restaurants
Photo: Courtesy of Freret Beer Room

For centuries, top-tier cuisine has gone hand-in-hand with extensive, well-honed wine lists, complete with a tuxedoed sommelier, gliding from table to table, gracing diners with Pinots and Cabs. But eventually, time comes for us all, and today's beverage landscape has shifted to include a world beyond the vine.

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A new wave of culinary pros have arrived, and they're looking to previously eschewed imbibables like beer with the same respect and admiration once reserved for only the finest fermented grape juices. And whether they're brewed on-site or funneled in from elsewhere, the drafts sold at these new beer-focused restos are chosen with the utmost care, each dish on the menu conceived with the tap list specifically in mind.

These seven stellar restaurants are changing the game, one perfectly paired pint at a time.

Almanac Taproom & Beer Garden

San Francisco, CA
When Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan started Almanac Beer Company back in 2010, it was just that—a beer company, and quite a good one. And even though the duo have been busy cranking out critically acclaimed West Coast-style hop bombs and delicate, fruity sours by the caseload, they still found time to open an honest-to-goodness restaurant. A former French bistro, the buzzy Mission District taproom is hipster elegant, with a central rectangular bar, warm wood furnishings, a spacious back garden and a large geometric mural stretching from wall to wall. Fifteen Almanac only and one guest tap pour fresh-as-can-be brews in several different sizes, including two-ounce flights (complete with an illustrated place mat-style guide), while the kitchen serves up elevated snackable fare like house charcuterie, fries dusted with hop-infused salt and the best damn musubi the mainland's ever seen (trust us on this one—artisanal Spam is no joke). Don't forget to pick up a couple of primo bottles from the back fridge on your way out, so you can keep the party going long after you've hit the bricks.

Photo: Courtesy of Almanac Taproom

The Arsenal at Bluejacket

Washington, D.C.
This award-winning Navy Yard destination is as big as an airplane hangar and, with a bounty of mind-blowing drafts piped straight from the tanks and a menu loaded with expertly crafted takes on American classics, has the appetite to match. A monstrous retractable glass garage door leads diners and drinkers into the gargantuan, multitiered industrial space, filled to the brim with gleaming brewing equipment, rustic metal beams, inlaid wood paneling and smooth concrete. Cocktails and wine are available, but the real star of the show is the beer, a full lineup of hard-to-find wonders—including sours spiked with fresh fruit, funky Belgian ales and hoppy heavy hitters—that routinely draws beer geeks from around the world out from their basement apartments and into the light. Food-wise, expect creamy burrata, made in-house and served with three different preparations of beets, pan-seared pierogi stuffed with charred onions and Boursin cheese in a chive reduction, and a 30-ounce bone-in beef short rib, rubbed down Kansas City-style and accompanied by crispy carrot slaw and enough Valentina hot sauce to keep you thirsting for pint after pint (after pint).

Photo: Courtesy of Bluejacket

Freret Beer Room

New Orleans, LA
If there's one thing New Orleanians love more than eating, it's drinking, and that unbridled passion serves as the inspiration behind this nearly four-month-old NOLA gastropub. Polished wood fixtures and poured concrete floors set the stage for refined Creole favorites like pan-roasted gulf shrimp and spicy house-made chorizo atop laminato kale and crawfish-laden spaghetti dressed with green garlic and English peas, while thinly shaved beef carpaccio and satsuma-glazed chicken confit served with kimchi fried rice and a soft-boiled egg exemplify beer's limitless pairing potential. Speaking of beer, Freret stocks quite a bit of it, its 16 taps representing a rotating cast of local and out-of-state brews from reputable outfits like Shreveport's Great Raft and Chicago's Off Color to complement each inventive dish. Leave the frozen daiquiris and plastic beads to the tourists—a cozy bar; a steaming-hot bowl of roast chicken, okra and andouille gumbo; and a belly-warming Bayou Teche porter is all the "adult entertainment" you need.

Photo: Courtesy of Freret Beer Room

Forbidden Root

Chicago, IL
If you're going to start peddling brews in a city as beer-logged as Chicago, you better go correct. That's why the brainy folks at Forbidden Root decided to take a markedly different approach when it came time to launching their West Town outlet last year. The neighborhood hangout considers itself not a brewpub, but a "restaurant brewery," focusing on a thoughtfully composed menu of upscale beer-and-food pairings inside a renovated historic theater. The dishes—house-made nduja sausage with pickled mustard seeds and Tokaji honey, 10-day dry-aged duck breast with pomegranate-pistachio relish, fresh PEI mussels steamed in Wildflower Pale Ale—are a far cry from the chicken fingers and cheeseburgers one might expect. And the beers, of course, are excellent, each with its own distinct character and inspired by a curious assortment of tinctures, herbs and food-friendly flavors. You can even complete your meal with a fernet-infused imperial black ale, the brewery's hoppy take on Fernet-Branca's ever-popular after-dinner drink. At the end of the day, this is beer for food people, not food for beer people.

Photo: BJ Pichman

The Cannibal Beer & Butcher

New York City & Los Angeles
As you've probably already gleaned from the name, each location on Cannibal's roster takes its meat very, very seriously. We're talking General Tso's pig's head, 50-day dry-aged rib eye, smoky confit lamb belly and the Chef's Tour, an epic charcuterie platter piled high with $85 worth of tartare, pâté, country ham, salumi and cheese. And, as luck would have it, these deliciously fatty proteins happen to be beer's best friend. The firstborn 29th Street spot, a narrow, old-school butcher shop and bar dotted with stools and lined with beer coolers for easy access, operates just eight taps, but each is tastier and more unique than the last. While beer and brats undoubtedly take center stage, that's not to say there aren't vegetables to be had—the shaved Brussels sprout salad makes for a memorable lunch, and the roast delicata squash with cremini mushrooms is entrée aplenty—but we probably wouldn't risk bringing a vegan past the fire-kissed suckling pig, waiting to be carved behind a deli counter teeming with fresh

Photo: Courtesy of The Cannibal Beer & Butcher

The Publican

Chicago, IL
With multiple locations and iterations—including a massive tavern inside one of O'Hare's busiest terminals—Chicago's Publican seems to be determined to stay neck and neck with the city's explosive craft beer scene. The airy, handsomely outfitted West Loop spot continues to set the standard with beautifully curated draft lists; a large, diverse bottle selection; and a meat-heavy, seasonally driven menu that runs the gamut from tender beets topped with fromage blanc, za'atar spice, crunchy pistachios and peppery red onions to specially aged hams and a hearty romesco fish stew. Feeling generous? Tell one of the servers (all certified cicerones, by the way) you'd like to order the "kitchen" off the beer menu, a $10 buy that sends the hardworking folks behind the scenes a well-deserved sixer.

Photo: ChloeList

The Hay Merchant

Houston, TX
If we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times: Houston is one of 2017's absolute hottest food cities, and judging from the ultra-creative, beer-driven joints like established restaurateur Kevin Floyd's Hay Merchant, the temperature just keeps on rising. The Montrose-area mainstay has been keeping H-Towners in suds since 2012, boasting 75+ hand-selected drafts (all craft, of course), alongside a full menu of updated bar bites from legendary chef Chris Shepherd, who also mans Underbelly next door. The vibe is decidedly casual—exposed brick, treated wood planks, bicycles inexplicably hung from the ceiling, set aglow by a series of neon beer signs and pinball machines. But while the digs may not scream innovation, the cuisine certainly does. Shepherd's beloved country-chic flavors reign supreme in dishes like crunchy, cornmeal-crusted dilly beans (aka pickled green beans for you, Yankees), flaky Cajun meat pies and, in true Texas fashion, an eight-to-10-pound roasted pig's head, split down the middle and served family style with tortillas, lettuce, kimchi salsa and house-made pickles. It's true what they say: Everything is bigger (and better) in Texas.

Photo: Julie Soefer Photography

  • Washington, D.C.: The Arsenal at Bluejacket

    The Navy Yard brewpub is as big as an airplane hangar and, with a bounty of mind-blowing brews piped straight from the tanks and a menu loaded with expertly crafted takes on American classics, has the appetite to match. Fresh fruit-spiked sours, funky Belgians and hoppy heavy hitters—not to mention a 30-ounce bone-in beef short rib, rubbed down Kansas City-style—routinely draw beer geeks from around the world out from their basement apartments and into the light-filled industrial space.

    Photo: Eric Laignel 

  • San Francisco: Almanac Taproom & Beer Garden

    A former French bistro, award-winning Almanac Beer Co.'s Mission District taproom is hipster elegance at its finest, with a central rectangular bar, warm wood furnishings, a spacious back garden and a large geometric mural stretching from wall to wall. Menu-wise, we're looking at fresher-than-fresh fruity sours and epic hop bombs, while the kitchen serves up elevated snackable fare like house charcuterie, fries dusted with hop-infused salt and the best damn musubi the mainland's ever seen.

    Photo: Courtesy of Almanac Taproom

  • Chicago: Forbidden Root

    This West Town hangout is not a brewpub, but a "restaurant brewery," focusing on thoughtfully composed beer-and-food pairings inside a renovated historic theater. The beers, each with its own distinct character, are inspired by an assortment of tinctures, herbs and food-friendly flavors. And the menu—nduja sausage with pickled mustard seeds and Tokaji honey, 10-day dry-aged duck breast with pomegranate-pistachio relish—are a far cry from the chicken fingers and cheeseburgers one might expect.

    Photo: BJ Pitchman

  • New Orleans: Freret Beer Room

    If there's one thing New Orleanians love more than eating, it's drinking, and that unbridled passion serves as the inspiration behind this polished gastropub. Refined Creole favorites like pan-roasted gulf shrimp and crawfish-laden spaghetti dressed with green garlic accompany 16 taps representing a rotating cast of local and out-of-state brews like Shreveport's Great Raft and Chicago's Off Color Brewing.

    Photo: Courtesy of Freret Beer Room

  • Los Angeles & New York City: The Cannibal Beer & Butcher

    As you've probably already gleaned from the name, Cannibal takes its meat very, very seriously. We're talking General Tso's pig's head, 50-day dry-aged rib eye and smoky confit lamb belly, and a heaping $85 charcuterie platter. The 29th Street old-school butcher shop and bar operates just eight taps, but each is tastier and more unique than the last.

    Photo: Courtesy of The Cannibal Beer & Butcher

  • Houston: The Hay Merchant

    Kevin Floyd's laid-back Montrose-area mainstay has been keeping H-Towners in suds since 2012, boasting 75+ hand-selected craft drafts alongside a full menu of updated bar bites from legendary chef Chris Shepherd. Don't miss the monstrous roasted pig's head, split down the middle and served family style with tortillas, lettuce, kimchi salsa and house-made pickles. It's true what they say: Everything is bigger (and better) in Texas

    Photo: Julie Soefer photography

  • Chicago: The Publican

    The Publican continues to up the beer-pairing ante with incredibly extensive tap and bottle lists overseen by a team of pros and a meat-heavy, seasonally driven menu. Standout dishes include tender beets topped with fromage blanc, za'atar spice, crunchy pistachios and peppery red onions; specially aged hams; and a hearty romesco fish stew.

    Photo: Chloe List

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