Beer Knowledge, Training, and Seasonal Development

Beer Training | Beer tap pouring

Beer Training Program

Bottleneck Management internally developed a beer certification program for all our staff to follow. Upon being employed with us for 45 days, Bottleneck staff are required to complete the beer training program by passing a 60-question beer knowledge exam, with the goal of testing employees’ working knowledge of beer styles, beer ingredients, and the brewing process, and therefore training them to be better equipped to serve the needs of each guest that comes through our doors.

Additionally, we’ve adopted a “beer style of the week” program where every week during pre-shift meetings we highlight a particular style’s flavor profiles. With 52 weeks in a year, this extra beer training builds in-depth knowledge across great stylistic coverage, and we continually review across our entire staff with that program.

Beer Pairings

Our incredibly skilled chefs do a great job of working with the FOH team to create beer/food pairings that make sense. Once created, the methodology, synergies, and logic behind the pairing has to be communicated to the staff on a daily basis. As the seasons change and new beer styles switch into our lineup, we pair food items that go well with the flavor profiles of the beers. Generally speaking, we focus on lighter dishes in the summertime to pair with more delicate beers, and more hearty, robust food pairings in the winter months with more hearty, robust seasonal beer available.

One of the many luxurious aspects to beer is that the food pairing rules aren’t as stringent as they might be with wine. I love to taste a beer and find one particular subtle flavor characteristic that makes it pair well with a particular dish. Two Brothers does an absolutely fantastic job of designing their beers with food pairings in mind. I personally try to stay away from super hoppy beers (80+ IBU Imperial IPA or American Strong Ales) as I think the über-hopped beers bruise my pallet and take away from the culinary side of the pairing. With that said, that’s only my opinion, and 80+ IBU beers are certainly delicious; the acidity of the hop content cuts through fatty foods well and also pairs well with spicy food or rich desserts.

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Limited and Seasonal Beers

The process around seasonal special development is fun one and is really driven by the product available to us from our suppliers. Let me first start by saying that Chicago is, in my opinion, the best craft beer market in the country. What I mean by saying that is not only do we have great beer being made in Chicago (Revolution, Half Acre, Metropolitan, Two Brothers, etc.) but we also get the best of both coasts. Since Chicago is such a large market, most craft brewers who have the means to keep up with demand want to service this market. What that offers the marketplace is an incredible volume of “unique to market” and “seasonal” selections from local brewers as well as brewers from across the country.

With the seasons you see the traditional cyclical production of Spring and Summer Ales that are usually wheat based, lighter in body, and more sessional (meaning lower ABV). The late summer brings Oktoberfest styles and the hugely popular Pumpkin Ales. As we move into the holiday season we see seasonal beers that tend to be fuller bodied, generously spiced ales. Additionally, as we enter the colder months you’ll see more ambers, porters, and stouts in the marketplace. Since Chicago changes seasons so well, we certainly take advantage of the traditional seasonal model to add limited beer varieties to the beer calendar.

All the while we keep our eye out for unique to market styles (and hybrid styles) that capture our attention for whatever reason. Maybe it’s a brewing collaboration from folks that haven’t brewed together before, a firkin barrel that’s been dosed with a unique flavor (coffee beans for example), or simply something that’s so unique and fun that you just have to try it!

by Ken Hendricks

(Watch Ken share more details about Bottleneck Management’s love of beer in the brand new video, For The Love of Beer)