Belgians, Dunkels, and Budweiser: How We Created the Von Elrod’s Beer Menu

Fifty cases of German and Belgian beer samples rolled into my office the other day. Yes, you read that right–50 cases! When I saw all that beer, I knew developing Von Elrod’s beer menu had gone from project to obsession. I realized how important it was for me to pick the perfect beer selection for this new restaurant project, which would be unlike any other.

A craft beer menu is always a living, breathing animal–especially when you take into account brewing schedules, distribution, seasonality, popularity (and, of course, personal taste). Then there are all the colorful characters between the brewery and our guests: brewers, brewery reps, distributors, managers and bartenders, all with voices and opinions. But the international nature of this project has added a whole new dimension to my decision-making. I think through questions, like:

Have I adequately represented the spectrum and eccentricity of Belgian beer styles?

Is one German hefeweizen enough?

What’s the best way to represent Pilsners, between their storied European history and so many good ones being made locally and regionally?

How many Oktoberfest/Marzen beers should I have represented as Fall approaches?

This was going to take time. And beer…lots of beer.

So, how best to create the beer menu? Where to begin? The first order of business is to create some basic parameters, or I’d have every good beer in the world on the desired list. Here’s how I made my decisions:

  • If we’re from Nashville, and for Nashville, we’d better be of Nashville, at least in part. So some of the best local breweries should be represented: Jackalope, New Heights, Black Abbey, TN Brew Works, etc. Not to mention Little Harpeth and Bearded Iris are within spitting distance of Von Elrod’s. Is Southern Grist making enough beer to sell us some yet? Who’s tried Yazoo’s Fall seasonal? Have any new breweries opened in Nashville in the past 10 minutes? The questions begin.
  • A real beer garden has to have lots of beer, and originally I thought 24 taps would be enough. But then…we want an excellent and diverse beer selection, incorporating some of the best beer from across the pond, but we never want to compromise the freshness of the beer by having too many taps. Where’s the sweet spot? 24 won’t cut it if you count the must-have Germans and Belgians. Maybe we can squeeze all the wonderful selections representing 2 continents into 36 taps. 36 seems like a number I can hold myself to, right?
  • Now, we know we want German, Belgian, and other old-world beers represented on the menu, but how can we ignore all the incredible American craft beer? In short, we can’t! So we’ll aim to allocate 20%-30% of our taps for stunning old-world beer and keep the rest for our nationalist tendencies (in beer only). Sounds good!
  • Some other mind-blowing beer needs to be represented, like a smoked German helles or a Belgian quad. But because they’re not quite as popular, they might not make sense for the tap. So we’ll need to save some room for bottles.
  • Finally, if you’re walking out of First Tennessee Park, where the Nashville Sounds play 72 home games every year and which just so happens to be right across the street), you’d better feel comfortable walking into Von Elrod’s. So we’ll make room for some “ballpark” beers too. If you’re more comfortable having a bottle of Bud with your hand-cranked hot dog, have at it. We want to offer and share the best beer we can find, but we’re not here to shove it down your throat!

So there you go. That’s at least the beginning framework to contain the pure joy (and agony) of trying to fit a world of beer into 36 taps and a few more bottles.

Check out our “How the Sausage is Made” blog to follow along as we make final selections before opening day! And be sure to come out and see us in October!

Cheers ‘til we meet again,