The beer market has undergone enormous changes in the last 10 years, but in far too many cases you wouldn’t know by looking at most beer menus. That, Stephen Beaumont pointed out during his VIBE Conference session “Crafting a Winning Beer List,” is something that operators need to address.
In the old days, creating a winning beer list was simple said the renowned beer expert and author: just list 2 to 4 draft beers, add a half-dozen bottles under the domestic heading, carry a few premium beers (basically a catch-all term for more expensive but similarly styled beers, add some imports, and there you had it - a solid beer list.
Those days are long gone and today, when considering your beer program, a host of different factors must be considered. Operators need to ask themselves several questions. Should they include local beer, and if so, how much should they carry and how good should they be? Should they take on some nationally distributed craft brands? Are a dozen taps enough? Will 2 dozen taps be better? Should they go all out and become a beer haven with 6 dozen taps? Mainstream brands still move, but how many should you carry? What about popular imports versus more niche imported craft brands? Do the beers you select make sense for your menu? And arguably the most important question of all: Does your staff have the tools to sell all of your beers?
As Beaumont pointed out, very few current wine lists would be filled with a dozen Napa Valley Chardonnays. Instead, they would include more varietal selection. But it’s quite easy to find a local restaurant or bar with a list that includes the top 5 selling domestics, lights and imports, even though they are basically variants of the same light lager style of beer. And things are no better, Beaumont argued, when an operator goes long on the latest fad, like finding a list that includes 9 or 10 heavily hopped domestic and imported IPAS, beers that are tough to match with food and too assertive for many customers, even if the category is hot with beer geeks.
To better sell beer, Beaumont recommended among many other things, that operators familiarize themselves with various beer flavors and characteristics. Some are light and refreshing while others are bold and satisfying. There are some that are sweet and malty, while there are others that are hoppy and bitter. Knowing the basic flavor qualities and basic beer styles allows you to create a broad and accessible menu, and train your staff on what beer provides which flavors. This is essential to building a profitable, logical and enticing beer program.
Even the so-called can’t-miss trends of the past few years (like barrel-aged beers and sour beers)must be viewed through the lens of your operation, food and clientele. Beer list balance is critical to success, and since brand loyalty is dead, diversity is what counts.
Along with other guidelines, Beaumont recommended that operators approach their beer program by taking the following into consideration:
- Balance the weak with the strong.
- Approach your beer list as you would a wine list.
- Listen to your sales reps but also taste, think, and consider.
- Ignore the mainstream beer drinker at your peril.
- Support your draft beer with bottles and/or and, and vice versa.