Building a better beer program has never been easier – and simultaneously more challenging.
Easier, because the selection of quality craft brews has never been better, nor the range of styles and flavors broader, nor the customer more willing to sample. Traditional styles like Kolsch and Stout are sharing tap room with super hoppy IPA’s, fruit-spiked brews and aged and potent ales. More challenging, because managing the ever-growing selection, keeping it fresh and making sure the final pour is interesting and frequently nging takes a lot of time and energy.
But the pressure from both beer-focused restaurants and pubs that have gone all in with beer is growing; the newly-opened Headless Horseman pub in New York City, with a food menu of ribs and wings, mac and cheese and fried pickles – took note of that with a draft menu of 20 different brews at opening, with a lots of emphasis on local and regional offerings. Anything less would have bumped up against the growing trend for casual restaurants to provide lots of different brew selections.
Taking on and championing brews from nearby only works in areas with significant brewing activity, but if that’s not happening close to where you operate, beer distributors are getting better about bringing in rare, unique and seasonal brews made across the country, especially as some of the larger craft brewers expand beyond their regions and into new markets.
Even the big guys know this: at the Yard House restaurant chain, beer enthusiasts now have in addition to the 100+ brews already served, the chain’s new Chalkboard Beer Series, which features a selection of five, limited releases from mostly craft brewers, and an equal number of large format bottle offerings. The draft beers are selected monthly, while their bottled counterparts boast limited, seasonal or hard-to-find rarities. Selections will vary from location to location and are available as long as they last.
One way to hype your selection is through the new beer-wine hybrids. Delaware-based Dogfish Head is adding a new one to its core portfolio, Sixty-One (6.5% abv), named to reflect that the beer is the company’s well-known 60 Minute IPA plus one ingredient: Syrah grape must coming from California. Dogfish Head has been producing beer-wine hybrids for a number of years—including the Red & White and Noble Rot offerings, among others. Company founder Sam Calagione says the brewery had estimated sales of more than 8,000 barrels of beer-wine hybrids in 2012. In Colorado, Odell Brewing is set to release Amuste, an imperial porter brewed with Tempranillo grape must from Colorado’s Western Slope. The beer-wine hybrid is then aged in red wine barrels and blended.
The options are endless. Of course, installing a modern and efficient multi-tap system is only the beginning – while beer geeks welcome large format bottles and rare treats in cans, they crave draft. The system needs steady maintenance, and bar staff will require training in types, serving styles, formats, etc. But the pay-off from draft beer especially is enough to make up for all the trouble, especially now that the country is awash in really good beer.