Serving beer at a level far above frosted mugs and giveaway pint glasses is increasingly important, as craft beer fans get smarter about what beer costs and how it needs to be treated. At the upcoming 2017 VIBE Conference in San Diego, beer writer and consultant Stephen Beaumont will host a session on the beer experience and how best to keep beer in good condition, pour it properly, and present it to the customer at its peak.
Here’s a preview of what to expect from the beer-focused workshop, “The Beer Experience: Storing, Pouring and Serving the Kind of Beer that Keeps Customers Coming Back.”
VIBE: What’s one strategy you see missing from operations that needs to be employed in order for them to stand out?
Stephen Beaumont: In beer, it couldn’t be much simpler: a menu! The rule rather than the exception is still bars and restaurants that leave it to the server to recite the current selection of draft beer offerings, often incompletely and almost always without providing the customer with useful information, or with information that is simply incorrect. A printed menu, whether on paper, a chalkboard, or one of the new computerized displays, goes a long way to taking the guesswork out of choosing a pint for a customer, and stimulate sales for the establishment.
VIBE: What are some other pitfalls you see in bar and restaurant approaches to beer marketing and sales?
Beaumont: Failure to provide servers and bartenders with the knowledge they need. Few operators would charge a server with the selling of wine if they didn’t know the difference between a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon, yet those same operators send out servers and sometimes even bartenders who don’t know a pilsner from an IPA.
VIBE: Considering the many different types and styles of beers routinely served today, what do operators need to pay attention to in terms of storage environment?
Beaumont: Cold storage is something that is all too frequently overlooked. Beer is perishable and requires proper storage: At least at cellar temperature, but ideally at refrigerator temperature. Kegs left languishing in the room temperature hallway between the bar and the bathroom are the equivalent of a produce order left sitting in a sunny corner of the pantry for days on end.
VIBE: Has the status of glassware - variety, cleanliness, proper usage - improved much? If not, what are the easiest fixes?
Beaumont: Beer glassware is improving slowly, but a great number of bars and restaurants still default to the iced shaker pint no matter the sort of beer being served. Beer usually makes up a majority of a bar’s beverage sales, but often gets one glass as opposed to a minimum of three for wine and five or six for cocktails, and usually several more besides. The most straight-forward way to address this is to stock a pint glass (ideally something more elegant than the basic shaker), a smaller glass for bottled brands and people who might want to have two “halfs” of different beers rather than a pint of a single brew, and a snifter or tulip-shaped glass for stronger beers.
VIBE: When you walk into a bar, what tells you that it will be a place where beer is treated and served right?
Beaumont: When I see a beer list that boasts a variety of beer styles, I figure I’m on the right track. If the glasses are at room temperature and receive a spray of water before the beer is poured, that’s a further indication that things are going well. And when a bartender or server can speak knowledgeably about the beers they are serving, well, that’s the trifecta.
VIBE: And what will be the signs that things aren't right?
Beaumont: Frosted glasses, draft taps filled by a single company – which suggests laziness on the part of the person in charge of the beer program – and a bartender who pours off foam from one glass into another, and then uses that foam (aka flat beer) to top off a pint he or she pours a little later on are all signs that beer is not considered important by the establishment’s key players.