Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What Makes A Good Tap List? (part 1 of ?)

One of the hardest questions to answer if you're a bar manager is what beers you should have on tap. Many simply go with the fan favorites (Coors, Stella, Blue Moon, Sam Adams, etc.) I'm in craft beer bars all the time and it's still a difficult thing for me to develop a sort of metric for constructing a balanced draft list. At Zeke's, I had a simple philosophy: one draft line per Minnesota brewery and try to make them all different beers.  Managing that was a full-time job in itself, so I'm not envious of other bar managers who are representing beers from around the country or around the world.  There are hundreds to choose from, but here's some guidelines that I think need to be there.

Firstly, the bar manager picks the beers, not the public. This may come off as counter-productive to the service aspect of things, but we need to keep that idea in mind. All too often, I hear "that's what the customers drink." It's a case of the tail wagging the dog.  If all I put on tap is Summit EPA and Summit Saga and I have lots of customers drinking them, then the data would imply that the customers like hoppy pale ales from Summit. That data is not wrong, but it is incomplete. Instead, realize that those customers may not have come to your establishment because of that beer. It may be that they came for the conversation and happened to order a Saga while they were there.  I, being a craft beer enthusiast, would come into a bar and find that I would pleasantly enjoy either one of those fine brews.  You would get my money, but I would be less likely to come back as if you had Summit EPA and Surly Mild for example.

My metaphor is this: If I were to walk around the streets (in a non-creepy way) offering people to choose between a red M&M and a brown M&M, I would find that almost everyone would be happy receiving one. That is absolutely not to imply the idea that customers only like the red & brown M&M's and I should not change out my offer at some point for a blue M&M. Proper protocol would suggest throwing the blue ones into the mix and seeing the customer response before making any claims about what your customers like and don't like.

This idea seems like a no-brainer, but once you scale that up to 30 tap lines, it gets muddled. One bar near my house has a good selection and I can always find something I like, but it's always playing it safe. The bar manager has told me that he has on 10 IPA's because that's what's trendy. He's right. However, if as an industry we are all reactive to the trend instead of proactively providing a balanced variety, then we have failed our consumers on the service end without either of us realizing it. A good bar will have that variety and offer beer styles that are not so trendy (yet!) which will allow consumers to find one that they may like even more.  Many early-stage craft beer drinkers are stuck in IPA-ville because they don't know what else there is and there is nobody who will guide them onward. It's our job as an industry to stay ahead of the curve and provide those options as well.  That being said, you should all go drink an IPA now, because they are indeed delicious too.

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