Light, clean beers have been a favorite with operators for some time. Especially come warmer weather these beers continue to get more traction on premise. Crisp, clean and refreshing flavors, from blonde ales to witbiers, are most popular among the summer seasonal beer styles, according to Kip Snider, “beer guru” and beverage director at the Yard House, the multi-tap chain headquartered in Irvine, CA, with 30 units in 10 states.
“During the summer, I think of wheats, wits and weiss,” Snider says. “American wheat ales tend to be a little less complex than Belgian-style witbiers and Bavarian-style hefeweizens,” yet all three styles are popular seasonal releases. Though customers will prefer one style over others, Snider says the Yard House doesn’t promote specific brands, instead focusing on “selling all styles across the board,” because with more than 100 taps, priced from $4 to $10, Snider says, “We would like all the brands to move equally.”
Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Boulder, Colorado-based Brewers Association, also believes that lighter, refreshing “session beers,” lower than five percent ABV, will be popular. Herz says, “Since 2010 was the summer of Saisons, I expect 2011 to also be laden with these food-friendly farmhouse ales.”
Seasonal styles are the best-selling category within the craft beer segment, according to 2010 yearend market reports from Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group. “Just as many winter seasonal beers focused on single hop varietals,” Herz says, “Summer will bring more single flavors of fruit ales, brewed with blueberries, cherries, watermelon or apricots.” Sometimes, the yeast itself provides notes of apple or pear, as in the top-fermented Kölsch style that inspires many summer seasonals from American breweries.
Fresh for the warm weather
Draft sales are vital to craft brands on-premise and increasingly important to established brands as well. “Millennial” beer drinkers are typically believed to want to “try before they buy,” sampling draft beer on premise.
This generation grew up watching parents who enjoyed tasting beer flights and sample glasses presented on paddles in casual bars and pubs. In fact, offering small tastes of a new beer is a sales technique used by many bartenders.
Heineken USA, among other brands, has tried to reach out to these consumers and will roll out more summer 2011 on-premise promotions targeting Heineken, Tecate, Dos Equis and Amstel Light. And with Anheuser-Busch’s recent acquisition of the Goose Island Brewery, as well as a majority interest in Kona Brewing Co., expect more variety in summer seasonals, such as the Beach Bum Blonde Ale (A-B) and Longboard Lager (Kona).
Be-decked with beer
One of the most visible forms of merchandising summer beer is an outdoor beer garden, deck or patio, to provide passers-by with enticing views of the crowd. Banners, tents, branded umbrellas for shading tables and chairs, all provide merchandising messages. Creative use of planters and hops trellises add greenery and shade, tying into the relaxation of enjoying fresh pints in the outdoors.
Even an alley can be pressed into service. At the Sugar Maple in Milwaukee, owner Adrienne Pierluissi installed a table-tennis beer garden with a seasonal structure in their alley. This lets beer drinkers take their pints outdoors, as well as enjoying friendly rivalry over table tennis. “People have a great time,” says Pierluissi, and because the court faces into an alley and closes early at night, there are few issues with the residents in the neighborhood.
Courtyards in urban settings can be transformed into outdoor seating. Vol de Nuit, a Belgian beer bar in Manhattan, “Draws throngs of drinkers out front in the summer,” says manager Kira McCarthy. “Because the crowd is so open and visible in the courtyard, more people join in.” As for summer beer styles, “some people still look for the strong Belgian gold beers, because we have Chimay and Delirium Tremens on draft [$7 to $8], but the Belgian witbier Hoegaarden [$6 for 12 ounces] is really popular too,” she says. Prices are reasonable for New York, with $6 drafts, and all brands—from 12 to 20 beers priced from $6 to $20—are served in authentic glassware. The upper level bar and lounge seats about 100, with couches and tables clustered in corners, with room for 50 more in the courtyard below.
At the Common Table in Dallas, TX, the outdoor patio has seating for 60, and on Thursday night, live music often means dancing. Summer seasonals fit into the rotation for the Tuesday “Brewsday” special, when 20-ounce drafts are $2 off and all beer flights are $3 off all day, among the 24 different beers on draft (another 30 to 35 in bottles, brands vary seasonally). Normally, 20-ounce drafts range in price from $7 to $9.
General manager Corey Pond says the Common Table features lots of Texas breweries, and he notes that, “We do a great job selling a local hefeweiss from Live Oak Brewing, as well as the Real Ale Fireman’s #4.” Served in 10-ounce glasses, drafts such as Dale’s Pale Ale are priced at $4, while 12-ounce bottles of premium brands such as Budweiser Michelob are typically $5.
Pond adds that witbiers and saisons are more popular styles of beer for summer, especially Avery Brewing’s White Rascal, Ommegang’s Witte and Saison Dupont (Brasserie Dupont, $19 for a 750-ml. bottle). “We do feature a lot of local Texas breweries, but we also have imported beer loyalists and beer geeks who want something rare and exotic.”
Make it festive
At the Common Table, seasonal beer fests add to the ambiance. “We planning a promotion with Paulaner for our Summerfest, with pilsner and hefeweiss on draft, giant pretzels on the menu, and everyone wearing lederhosen and dirndls,” Pond adds, “We often host launch parties for new releases from craft breweries.”
With total square footage of 3,800, the Common Table has seating for 94 patrons indoors and plans to expand its patio this year. Beer averages about 45 beer of total alcoholic beverage sales, but Pond prefers not to disclose his total sales. Yet special events such as the Paulaner promotion yield great results, Pond says, “During an event, the beer sales will account for 15 percent or more of our total sales for the week, which is impressive considering we’re open seven days a week for lunch and dinner and weekends until 2 am.”
Tap the great outdoors for promotions
Karl Strauss Brewery participates in the “Beach to Brewery” festival as a benefit for the Surfrider Foundation. The music and beer fest draws patrons to the Pacific Beach pub for the after party, where participants sample the seasonal Windansea Wheat Hefeweizen.
Or, participate in a local Beer Week: in July 2006, restaurateurs, bar owners, brewers and faculty from the hospitality school at Ohio University teamed up to produce Ohio Beer Week. More than 10 days of beer dinners, tastings and special guests. Since then, dozens of cities and beer distributors across the country have jumped on the Beer Week bandwagon, creating events linking thousands of accounts. Nico Freccia, owner of San Francisco’s 21st Amendment, says, “Every year, the SF Beer Week gets bigger and brings in more events, more business.”
Beyond Beer Weeks, there are locavores who throng to farmer’s markets and support local beer as an agricultural product. Regan Jasper, beverage director of Fox Restaurant Concepts (FRC), Scottsdale, AZ, sees summer seasonal beers as a chance to differentiate from other operations. “We’re fighting for those unique dining experiences,” Jasper says. “We have 14 different concepts among our 32 restaurants and the goal is to keep the experience fresh and edgy for our guests.”
One of the newest FRC destinations in downtown Phoenix, the Arrogant Butcher has 325 seats, both indoors and outside, and features many beers that are brewed in Arizona. Jasper says, “downtown Phoenix is all about hipsters and locals, so the focus is supporting the local business.” Seasonal selections from local breweries are served on draft, priced from $4 to $7 per pint. Jasper anticipates doing more tastings with breweries in the Arrogant Butcher’s private dining spaces that accommodate smaller groups from 12 to 60 people.
Making a splash
What would summer in Vegas be without a swimsuit-clad beer server? Look for several seasonal promotions to feature pool-themed beer marketers. For example, a national campaign from MillerCoors will hire female “Lite Guards” to patrol on-premise in their bathing suits and encourage patrons to become fans of MillerCoors via social media. And at the Encore Beach Club, a 60,000-square foot day-to-nightlife destination in Las Vegas, guests at the poolside bar can enjoy Budweiser Select 55 and other light beers.
Even if the beer brand doesn’t feature a cycle on the label, the bike culture demographic overlaps across the Millennial age group and makes an appealing promotion. During last summer’s Dayton Beer Week in August, A Taste of Wine Bar and Goose Island Brewing featured a beer and cheese tasting for bicyclists, tasting priced at $20 per person, with a bonus “312 Bike Fun Pack” which included a 312 T-shirt, water bottle and glass. “What a fun night that was for us,” says Kim Broomhall, co-owner. “We were packed to capacity and still carry the 312, despite being mostly a wine bar. We started with just a few beers and now stock close to 50, ranging from $4 to $9 at the high end—so the craft category is becoming a mainstay.” The combination retail/tasting bar has 50 seats indoors and 35 seats on the patio (plus room for bicycles).
And that’s how summer beer promotions should roll: easy and fun.