Few readers of this magazine are likely to argue with the proposition that few things compare with the enjoyment of an ice cold draft beer, served in an establishment that lives by the axioms “freshness first” and “cleanliness is next to godliness.” So, as I was reading over the beer feature for this month’s issue, I began to ask myself, “What happened to draft beer?”
I know I’m showing my age, but as a kid I remember my father and grandfather bringing home paper containers of beer on a Sunday evening when package sales in New Jersey were still subject to blue laws. As a young adult my friends and I would often spend an evening sharing a pitcher or two of Schmidt’s or some other forgotten brand while shooting pool. But these days packaged beer is king.
Last year draft beer accounted for less than 10% of all beer consumption, down from about 15% in 1980. And every year the figure for draft in total and as a percentage of overall beer sales drops a little more.
Like everything else these days the reasons are somewhat complicated. We’ve become much more brand conscious and consumers perceive that carrying around a bottle of Heineken says something about them that a mug of unlabeled beer doesn’t. But it’s also a question of serving draft beer
properly. As the operators interviewed for this issue point out, delivering a good glass of draft beer takes work. The lines have to be clean, the temperature has to be right and the gas mixture has to be properly adjusted. And then there’s the glassware. Far too many on-premise establishments just can’t be bothered with having using the proper beer glass.
The most basic requirement for good draft beer service is a glass that is free of dirt, grease, oil or most importantly soap film. Any of those things on the glass will just kill the head. Unfortunately in too many establishments ordering draft is just too much of crap shoot. With bottled beer you can be pretty sure about what you’re going to get.
But this column isn’t about how great things used to be. We can’t but we can learn from it. In this day when bottled beer reigns supreme in the on-premise arena, there are numerous operators who are not only doing a good business in draft beer sales, they are expanding their draft selections with the aim of selling even more.
Yes a good draft beer program takes effort and attention to detail, but your customers will notice and appreciate it. And like everything else in your establishment, if you’re going to do it, shouldn’t you do it right.