Crafting the Perfect Beer List

Craft Beer: Your Customers Really Do Want It, but They Need Your Help!

Craft BeerCraft beer isn’t just for the drinking elite anymore, so if you’re not offering a beer list with at least some of these trending brews, then you’re missing out on easy profits. Of course, your crowd may prefer light beers and domestics, or the higher cost of craft brews might deter you but having a few carefully selected beers on tap or in the bottle is a surefire way to differentiate yourself from your competition. Most establishments these days, from big chains to the independently owned watering hole down the street, are offering craft beers from all over the country. In fact, there are craft brewers in every state, and the higher price and multiple brands are actually a positive: both mean better margins and more opportunity for differentiation. Time to reconsider craft beer!

Market trends in beer have changed, and craft beer is the hot ticket. The latest figures released by the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association for the first half of 2010 show that while overall U.S. beer sales were down about 2.7% by volume sales, craft sales were up 9% by volume, and an impressive 12% by retail sales. Craft brewers said for years that craft beer was “an affordable luxury,” and it looks like they were right.
Paul Gatza, head of the Brewers Association, points out that it’s simply smart to play the odds. “Since there are still very few restaurants that focus and prioritize a beer list beyond offering light American lager, the estimated 13% of craft beer lovers — out of the 94-million beer drinkers in America — will and do seek out expanded selections.”

Not only that, he adds, 59% of those 94 million say they like to try craft beer and 51% would drink craft brews more often if they knew more about them. It’s the same as it’s been for years: the main thing holding craft beer back is visibility and availability. Wholesalers have already learned this, partly through the Craft Beer Distributor of the Year program, presented by the Brewers Association and the National Beer Wholesalers Association. With pull from the customers and push from the wholesalers, what are you waiting for?

More Money For All
How about bigger checks and bigger tips? Gatza provided some seriously interesting figures on that angle. The average craft beer customer’s dinner check is $60.16, while the average premium beer segment customer’s check is $44.18. It works for your servers, too; the craft beer customer tips the same percentage but off a higher base, meaning a high tip for your servers and more money for your business.

“Create incentive programs for servers to be ‘staffed to sell,’ not just ‘staffed to serve.’ Twenty-one percent of premium segment drinkers can be traded up to craft beer,” Gatza says. You’ll need to train your staff (and yourself), but the payoff is clear: better beer knowledge means more craft upsells. Remember, your staff can’t sell what they don’t know about.

The Brewers Association also offers a “Beer 101” course through the website. You also can train some of your servers more formally with the Cicerone Certification Program (, which is the beer equivalent of sommelier training. Applicants learn — and are tested on — serving beer, beer styles, beer flavor and evaluation, brewing process and ingredients, as well as beer and food pairing.

That’s not the only education available. The Brewers Association also offers a gold standard “Draught Beer Quality Manual” (, a free download) that will ensure trouble-free draftline maintenance. Chefs will find tips on beer pairing and cooking with beer at (the pairing chart is great for putting pairing tips on your menu). And coming soon from Nightclub & Bar: beer knowledge, service, operations, pairing and merchandising training in one location via an online program.

Setting the Stage
Now you’re ready to pick some beers, so start by building a solid base on brands that are nationally recognized (and available). Samuel Adams is a “go-to” choice, with its Lager and especially with its constantly changing line-up of seasonal beers: Octoberfest, Winter Lager, Noble Pils, Summer Ale and more. Gatza’s figures show that “seasonals” are the best-selling category of craft beer, which emphasizes the fact that people’s favorite beer style is always “new.”

StoutOther national brands out there include Widmer’s Hefeweizen, a gateway to craft beer and Redhook’s ESB, which is still winning medals after almost 25 years. Stone Brewing’s solidly loyal fans have demanded their Arrogant Bastard Ale and Stone IPA, and you’ll find them almost everywhere; a can’t-miss choice for hopheaded fans of bitter beers. Moylan’s has some hoppy beauties as well in Racer 5 IPA and the spicy Hop Rod Rye. Moylan’s distribution is a bit thinner, but it just makes finding the beers more attractive to the customer.

Solid regionals add variety to the line-up. In the West, drinkers will expect to see beers like Deschutes Black Butte Porter and New Belgium Fat Tire, and they may want a more local BridgePort IPA or Alaskan Amber in the Northwest. Texans will expect Shiner Bock and St. Arnold Amber Ale while in the Midwest, pick out Bell’s Oberon in the summer, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout in the winter and Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale all year long. In the East, you’ll want Victory Prima Pils for the lager lovers, Harpoon IPA in New England, and Brooklyn Lager or Saranac Pale Ale through the mid-Atlantic. The South is still up for grabs so do some beer bar reconnaissance to find out what’s popular in your town.

Now pump up your draft system — craft drinkers love draft — and place those stylish craft taps right out front. “Profits from craft beer,” Gatza notes, “are maximized when craft handles are placed in the most visible spot at the bar.”

Don’t start too slow, though. You don’t want too many of any one style or brewery: variety is your best bet, and it can’t be overemphasized. The more you sell, the more you’ll learn. Work social media and your website to make sure people know what you have on tap, and keep it up to date; the returns can be great on just a bit of work.

If you’ve heard that too many choices overwhelm customers, then you’re behind the times. People are constantly in search of the next best thing and expect something new every week. Craft beer offers a variety whirl of choices, but don’t look on it as a tornado; it’s a merry-go-round, and your customers will certainly enjoy the ride. NCB

Nose, Sip, Meet & Greet

Get up close and personal with an array of craft beers and their brewers at the Craft Beer Pavilion on the Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show floor, March 7-9 in Las Vegas.

Among the craft brands participating are:
Stone Brewing
Firestone Walker Brewery
Lagunitas Brewing
Sudwerk Brewing
New Belgium Brewing
Moylan’s Brewery
BridgePort Brewing
Spoetzl Brewery
Cerveza San Vicente
Alaskan Brewing Company

And on the main exhibit floor,look for:  
Kona Brewery
Redhook Brewery
Boston Beer Company
Widmer Brewery
Deschutes Brewery


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