Beer Buzz: Food Trucks And Craft Beer

Food trucks provide new marketing opportunities for craft brewers.

Norfolk, Virginia's Birch Bar has partnered with local food trucks to offer flexible food options. The trucks, which appear at the venue during events, often pair their food with Birch Bar's craft beers.
Norfolk, Virginia's Birch Bar has partnered with local food trucks to offer flexible food options. The trucks, which appear at the venue during events, often pair their food with Birch Bar's craft beers. (Photo by George Culver)

In the film “The Chef,” released this spring, Jon Favreau plays a veteran chef who quits his job at a prominent restaurant and purchases a food truck so he can be his own boss. The film is just the latest example of the mobile kitchen phenomenon that has swept the country and permeated pop culture in recent years. Brewers have also become enthralled with the food truck concept, and they’re discovering ways to capitalize on growing demand while driving their sales in the process.

The Birch Bar of Norfolk, Virginia, which specializes in craft beer—particularly labels from Europe—first teamed up with a food truck three years ago as part of the bar’s annual 43 Hours of USA festival. At the five-day event, only American brews were served on draft and in bottles, so owner Malia Paasch invited a local food truck to visit and offer customers all-American food like burgers, hot dogs and fries (Birch Bar doesn’t prepare food; it only sells artisanal cheese, paired with beer). Paasch says the idea was so well received that food trucks now regularly appear at other festivals and events hosted by Birch Bar, where draft brews are priced between $3 and $9. One of the appeals of the food trucks is that they can change their menus frequently and provide partners with flexible food options, notes Paasch, who cites a recent tasting of Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien from Switzerland, at which a local food truck purveyor prepared food items designed to pair with the sour beer.

In Dallas, the Truck Yard takes the food truck theme to the extreme. Opened in September 2013, the Truck Yard is described as a “casual beer garden and adult playground featuring trailer park décor,” with 24 beers on tap. The indoor-outdoor space accommodates up to four food trucks, which rotate daily, allowing for varied food options. Owner Jason Boso says response to the venue has been “unbelievable,” with guest count typically reaching maximum capacity most weekends. Excluding sales from the independent food trucks, beer accounts for 75 percent of the concept’s revenue, with drafts ranging from $3 to $6 and 24 canned brews priced between $3 and $5.50. Boso—who also co-owns the 10-unit Twisted Root Burger Co.—calls the Truck Yard “a beer garden with multiple food options.”

Sitting on nearly three acres of space, the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market makes for an ideal location to host a beer festival, says Jonathan Colon, event producer for Armus Media Group. First staged in 2013, the city’s annual Taste & Brew Festival allows guests to sample a wide variety of beers and food truck items ($55 a ticket), along with live music and other vendors. At the most recent festival in March, some 1,500 consumers attended, while more than 100 beers were poured and 10 food truck operators showcased their fare. Colon says another Taste & Brew Festival is planned for 2015.

Last fall, the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts’ own food truck visited Western states over an eight-week period to demonstrate the culinary skills of its chefs in those markets. The FS Taste Truck visited such breweries as Santa Barbara, California’s Telegraph Brewing Co.—producer of 1927 Ale, which is poured exclusively at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara—and New Mexico’s Santa Fe Brewing Co. for the release of the brewery’s winter seasonal Black IPA. According to Guy Rigby, vice president of food and beverage for the Americas, Four Seasons plans another Taste Truck tour this year and more visits to local breweries are possible.

Beer merchants and brewers say the synergy between food trucks and beer—particularly craft beer—is a natural one. The Truck Yard’s Boso notes the strong overlap of beer connoisseurs and food truck enthusiasts. “With food and beer education so readily available, everyone is an expert these days,” he adds. And Brian O’Reilly, brewmaster at Pottstown, Pennsylvania-based Sly Fox Brewing Co.—which hosted an event that featured food trucks in May—says beer and food trucks are a perfect fit. “There’s a shared enthusiasm for taste and an irreverent attitude towards anything being done one particular way,” O’Reilly explains.

Indeed, on-premise operators like Boso and Paasch concur that food trucks are much more than a fad, but have staying power and can be an asset to beer sales. “The new wave behind food trucks is all about quality food,” Paasch explains. “That trend matches up with today’s focus on quality beer.”