The craft beer industry has seen a steady increase in both brewery numbers and overall sales since 2010. While cities such as Denver and Grand Rapids are waiting for the imminent bubble to burst, other towns across the United States are seeing the same upward trend as craft beer takes a continuously larger share of production. This increase means that tap lists are no longer a mindless compilation of domestic beers. While beer has followed other recent American trends that value “craft”, such as coffee, this industry has a unique culture. From the most on-trend microbrewery, to the dive bars of college towns, beer drinkers will always come in many shapes and sizes. This is the reason many love beer – it creates a sense of community and emulates the intangible camaraderie of English pub culture, where everyone is welcome. While homebrewers and self-proclaimed aficionados might dub themselves “beer snobs”, any successful bar must cater to all beer drinkers to seize this cultural aspect of the industry.
Your approach will differ depending on the type of business you run. Microbreweries and specialty beer bars will have more craft enthusiasts, while a regular bar or restaurant will lean towards a more traditional audience. In both settings, you will deal with a vast landscape of patrons. Here are four of the most common profiles of beer drinkers, and how to serve them.
1. “What do you have that’s light?”
Microbrewery/Craft Beer Bar – This is a domestic beer drinker who is too polite to admit it. This customer wants something with low bitterness, low ABV, and no added flavors or ingredients. It’s crucial that even self-producing microbreweries have something for this patron. Try having a kölsch, blonde, or any type of lager on tap. These patrons will likely be seeking a price point that is more in line with domestic brews, so serve this one in a pint at the lowest price option. Ensure that your bartenders are thoughtful with this group, rather than making them uncomfortable for enjoying domestic brews. You just might help them find their new favorite beer!
Restaurant/Bar – You probably won’t get this question much if you are not at a specialty beer bar – these drinkers are generally loyal to one domestic beer, and will order it without much thought. If you only have a few taps, choose the 2-3 macro beers (Miller, PBR, etc.) that are most popular in your area of the country.
2. The self-proclaimed “Beer Snob”
Microbrewery/Craft Beer Bar – The benefit of this patron is that they generally know what they like. If you are a microbrewery, this group is your bread and butter. This is the clientele who will seek out and rate beer on UnTappd, so make sure your bartenders are knowledgeable about your products.
Restaurant/Bar – This patron will require the most thought when it comes to designing a tap list. They are also your most valuable asset – they do the research for you. Ask your bartenders to make note of what these “beer snobs” are asking for. If you see a trend in requests, you know what to put on tap next. Don’t choose anything too mainstream here. If your town only has one local brewery, branch out from this selection so your beer-loving clientele can try something new. The current trend is all about New England IPAs, so always have at least one on tap. If you have room for another craft beer, sours are another trendy option.
3. “Do you have any dark beers?”
Microbrewery/Craft Beer Bar – There will also be someone, no matter what time of year, who wants a dark beer. If you have a small tap list, you may only be able to accommodate this ask during the winter months, when dark beers move faster. In general, dark beers are less popular than other styles, so don’t go overboard. If you can only make room for one, try alternating between a more approachable style, such as an Irish stout, and something more complex, such as a barrel-aged style. This will appeal to the dark beer seekers while also allowing for some variety.
Restaurant/Bar – Guinness is the best option if you want to have a dark beer on tap, go with this old favorite rather than a craft beer. While this is certainly a mass-produced macro beer, it often appeals to both craft lovers and non. If you have room for something crafted, choose an approachable style such as a flavored porter.
4. “I only drink wine”
Microbrewery/Craft Beer Bar – Cider is a great stand in for wine lovers. Dry ciders in particular appeal to a wide variety of beer/wine consumers. If you are a self-producing brewery, making cider requires a different license (winemakers), so you may need to go another route. Fruited beers are another great option if you cannot have cider on tap. These styles add fruit purees or flavoring to blondes and other light beers, making them more approachable for someone who may not generally reach for a beer.
Restaurant/Bar – As with craft beer bars, ciders and fruited beers are a great option. Ciders also have an additional benefit – they’re gluten-free, a hugely attractive selling point for those who cannot drink beer.
At the end of the day, the most important takeaway is to not alienate any of your patrons. Having a tap list to accommodate every type of beer drinker is an important first step. Having knowledgeable staff to help guide customers is just as critical. It is helpful to have cheat sheets behind your bar for each beer on tap. These sheets can include basic descriptors for each beer, such as “hoppy”, “mild”, or “citrusy”. When in doubt, let patrons sample a few beers and make the decision for themselves.