Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

June 30, 2014

Beer Diary:

Rule Number One: Don’t Run Out Of Beer

There are some craft beer bars out there that need to take a refresher course in running a good business.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
It’s that time again. No, I’m not talking about summer (which is actually here, in all it’s muggy, mosquito-bitten, sun-burnt glory). Instead, it’s time again to remind a few folks about how popular craft beer has become and to adjust the way they do business accordingly. It seems the people running beer fests got the hint over the last couple of years, but now I’ve got a new group of people integral to the craft beer scene that I need to yell at: craft beer bars.

Before I go any further, I just want to point out that at least 95 percent of bars out there dedicated to serving craft beer are pretty fantastically run establishments. But over the last year or two I’ve had the misfortune of running into that other five percent a little too often for my liking. Some of these places are relatively new (but not new enough, mind you, to still be working out the kinks of running a business). Others are long-established places that seem to be resting on their laurels. It’s a little puzzling these offending bars would let things slide considering how many new craft beer bars are cropping up in cities across the country.

Below is a short list of my dos and don’ts of running a craft beer bar nowadays, apart from the obvious things you need to do and know to run a decent beer bar (like know your beer styles, train your staff, understand your clientele, etc.) or just a business in general. And, to head off any pointed questions in the comments section, no, I don’t own a bar, know how to run a bar (or even a business, for that matter), or work in a bar. But I’ve spent countless hours (and, more importantly, dollars) in bars, so I’m pretty qualified to tell the world what I do and don’t want to see in my establishments of choice.

1. Don’t run out of beer
You’d think this’d be a no-brainer for running a bar, especially a bar that wants itself to be known as the best craft beer bar in a city/state/region. If I walk into such a bar and the first thing I see is plastic cups over a couple of taps, I’ve got to wonder who’s running the place. Really good beer bars have a list of “on-deck” beers on their menu and people assigned to working the cooler/cellar to bring brews online as needed. And well-run establishments—beer bars or not—will do something like plan ahead on weekends when a big event (like, say, a nationally known brewfest) is taking place in their area and have a few extra kegs in storage. And if you do somehow still run out of beer, I direct you to point number two:

2. Update your beer list.
There’s nothing more frustrating to me than spotting a beer I love or really want to try on a menu, then being informed they’re out of it when I order. If you’re featuring heavily rotating taps, like a lot of good beer bars do, then you should be especially diligent about keeping your beer list current. And by current, I mean up-to-the-minute. Probably the best beer bar I’ve been in is Bailey’s Taproom in Portland, Oregon, which has a giant flat screen monitor showing not only what beers are currently on tap, but how much is left in each barrel. Obviously, not a lot of bars can invest in that kind of tech, but how about a big chalkboard that can easily be lowered or reached for quick updates as the night progresses? For menus, a cheapo computer and a laser printer in the back office will run you a couple hundred bucks, tops, and you’ll be able to make new menus in a couple of minutes. Or, hell, just cross off the sold-out beers on the menu with a pen, anything to keep the menu correct.

3. Don’t get snotty.
No need to get impatient with me when I take more than a minute to pick out a beer. You’ve got a big beer list and I’ve got a limited amount of money and sobriety to spend, so excuse me if I take a little time to decide what I want. Then hold the bitchiness, please, when I ask for a sample, because if I’m going to spend six, seven, eight dollars for a beer, I’d like to ascertain whether I might like it or not—if I wanted to gamble, I’d go to a fucking casino. Finally, if, after I’ve been told you’re out of the first three beers I’ve selected, don’t get pissy when I ask what beers you actually do have available.

4. Spare us with the PBR.
I get it—you want to show how “everyman” and blue collar you are by always having PBR on tap or cramming the bottom shelf of your cooler with PBR tall boys. Maybe you even rationalize it by telling yourself you keep it around because you want non-beer snobs to feel comfortable in your otherwise top-shelf craft beer bar. All complete bullshit. Face it: the real reason you keep it around is because it makes you feel oh-so hip. There are plenty of so-called “lawnmower beers” out there that aren’t contract brewed at MillerCoors for a half-assed marketing company that owns just a brand with a little unearned cachet that you can proffer to your non-beer dork patrons instead. Besides, beer shouldn’t be about the image you think you’re projecting by drinking it.

5. Get Goose Island the fuck out of your bar.
Good beer bars are one of the few outlets where smaller and up-and-coming craft breweries can get the exposure they need to succeed. So a bar that chooses to put a keg of Bourbon County Stout on one of its tap handles or a row of 312 Wheat bottles in its cooler (hork) is denying that valuable real estate to a craft brewery that doesn’t have anything remotely coming close to the marketing power and distributorship leverage that AB-InBev-owned Goose Island does. The reason AB-InBev buys out craft breweries like Goose Island and New York’s Blue Point isn’t to grab market share or improve their bottom line, but to stifle our access to a wider range of craft beer by taking up tap handles and shelf space. So if you’re a beer bar dedicated to serving great craft beer and you’ve got some Goose Island on tap, I’ve got to ask, are you just willingly helping AB-InBev shut out small, independently owned breweries, or did you get a kickback from the AB-InBev distributor?

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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