It was kind of a joke at first, recalls Chris Genua, general manager of The Double Windsor bar in Brooklyn, NY, but the event was mobbed. “We ran out of Girl Scout cookies in a couple of hours,” he says.
Now that The Double Windsor’s Girl Scout Cookies & Beer Night pairing is in its third year, Genua makes sure to stock plenty of cookies.
At the event this past spring, customers paid $10 for a flight of four 5-oz. pours of Speakeasy ales paired with four cookies: Black & White Cookie Milk Stout with classic Thin Mints, Old Godfather Barleywine with Samoas, Tallulah Blonde with Lemonades, and Payback Porter with peanut butter Tagalongs.
“I wrote up some tongue-and-cheek tasting notes,” Genua says. “There were even a couple of Girls Scouts selling cookies outside the bar.”
Girl Scout night is The Double Windsor’s most-popular promotion, although Genua runs one or two tasting events every month. “Most of our beer events aren’t about making a killing on money, we just get to get people in here and have a good time,” he says. The payback is that many customers will enjoy a featured flight, and then stick around for a few more beers and dinner.
At the Four Points by Sheraton Los Angeles International Airport, a.k.a. the LA Beer Hotel, “The most fun pairing event was a mac-and-cheese night,” says general manager Phil Baxter. The sit-down dinner featured three variations of macaroni and cheese with three matching beers.
More casual flight tastings at the property’s beer bar, Brewster’s—a Beererie, explore matches for sweet, salty or smoked palates, such as Young’s Double Chocolate Stout with Chocolate Covered Strawberries, Duvel with Snyder’s Pretzel Rods and Stone Smoked Porter with Smoked Salmon.
“Now as guests get more sophisticated, the events have gotten more sophisticated, with more focus on food and beer,” explains Baxter. “We went from having really good beer in the bar to incorporating it into room packages and corporate promotions.”
At Four Points LAX, groups can take a break from their meetings to a hosted tasting of nine 3-oz. pours of a range of craft beers, for $30 per person. Hotel guests can opt for a Beer Club room package, which includes a well-stocked mini-bar and nightly turndown service—with a craft brew instead of a mint on the pillow.
Brewmasters are big stars today, and beer geeks want to meet them. That sentiment is fueling local craft weeks around the country, and bars are latching onto the momentum.
“It’s important to have events where customers get to talk with the people who actually make the beer,” points out Fred Crudder, beverage director of Tappan Street Restaurant Group. The Alpharetta, GA-based company operates and franchises 28 beer-centric restaurants under the Taco Mac name in the Southeast. During a kick off for Charlotte, NC, craft beer week this past March, for example, the Charlotte Taco Mac set up multiple tasting stations so that customer could sample and chat with local brewers.
A recent craft beer week celebration in Chicago was the nucleus for promotions at the Tavern at South Water Kitchen. Part of Kimpton Group’s Hotel Monaco, the Tavern just completed a decor renovation that also added three draft lines for a total of eight. Bartender Dan Rook revamped the beer program to focus on local microbrews.
“There is a lot of great beer being made here in Chicago and the Midwest,” notes Rook. He drives traffic to the Tavern every Thursday with half-price drafts and $5 burgers. “It’s one of our busiest nights, because you can’t find a better deal in town,” he says.
For beer week, the Tavern promoted craft beer buckets: Customers could mix and match five selections from the bottle list. And Rook worked with local brewers to put limited-production drafts on tap for the week.
Meet-and-greets were the focus for three events McGillin’s Olde Ale House coordinated for Philly Beer Week. Philadelphia’s oldest continuously operating tavern, McGillin’s hosted “Lunch with the Stoudts,” the husband-and-wife team that brews the tavern’s proprietary ales and lagers.
Another meet-and-greet put customers together with brewers and reps from Pennsylvania producers Round Guys Brewery, Susquehanna Brewing and Yuengling Brewing. Both were informal, pay-as-you-go events.
But the biggest face-time experience was McGillin’s full-day, three-brewery Pour Tour. Guests start their day with “kegs and eggs” at the tavern, explains owner Chris Mullins, then they board a luxury bus that loops around to the breweries with sampling and snacks at each stop.
The Pour Tour costs $30 per person, notes Mullins, who has conducted half a dozen of these tours, largely as a customer amenity. “We like to support our local brewers, and these occasions give our customers yet another reason to come to McGillin’s,” he says.
GET A REPUTATION FOR EDUCATION
These days, beer lovers are as thirsty for knowledge as they are for beer. Those who teach can earn their customers’ loyalty and patronage.
Four Points LAX garnered its moniker as the LA Beer Hotel back in 2000 with a regular series of beer appreciation nights, attracting many pioneers of the craft movement, says Baxter. Then the appointment of a beer sommelier put the operator on the front pages of The Wall Street Journal. That educational curriculum continues today, drawing students from all over LA as well as guests from nearby hotels.
A recent innovative program is the establishment of the Beer Advisory Board. Applicants submitted essays about why they deserved a seat on the board. There were 100 submissions—such an enthusiastic response that Baxter picked a board of 10 rather than the original three.
The Beer Advisory Board meets quarterly at the hotel. “It keeps our beer programs relevant,” says Baxter.
At The Tavern, which has limited space, Rook astutely selected a dozen bottles as “study buddies” to his eight beers on tap. If a customer enjoys the draft IPA, Rook can steer them to a bottle of the same style but different accent, an imperial IPA version, for example. “It’s a one-two punch,” says Rook, a chance to educate guests about variations of a style.
Education and promotional events tie in to Taco Mac’s “Brewniversity” loyalty program. Not only do enrolled customers get credits and rewards for sampling new beers, now they get extra credit for attending the many and various events the chain conducts. For example, Crudder cites a vertical tasting of ultra-geeky Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout. As they were seated, attendees warmed up with Founder’s new All Day IPA, for additional Brewniversity credit.
Taco Mac is also launching Two-Credit Tuesdays; when customers try the featured beer of month on Tuesdays, they receive two credits instead of one. “That will help us lift business on Tuesdays and help customers get more rewards,” Crudder says. Brewniversity has some 129,000 active members.
BREWING BRAGGING RIGHTS
Hand in hand with the craft movement is the burgeoning homebrew phenomenon, and some operators are tapping into that passion.
Four Points LAX regularly hosts meetings of several local homebrew clubs such as the Maltose Falcons and Pacific Gravity. The hotel also offers a new package enabling guests to work with professionals to brew their own beer (see “Something Borrowed, Something Brewed,” right).
Taco Mac also gave some of its customers a chance to brew their own—and brag about it to friends. Late last year, the chain hosted a series of tastings called the 12 Casks of Christmas. Atlanta brewer O’Dempsey’s produced 12 experimental IPAs, variously accented with additions such as Buddha’s Hand and Champagne grapes.
Customers who attended all 12 nights not only got 12 credits for tasting each firkin, but got to craft their own batch with O’Dempsey’s. That keg was then served at the customer’s home Taco Mac, so they could brag to their friends.
Crudder calls it the “water-cooler effect.” These innovative and educational events generate conversations: “Hey, did you know, I was at Taco Mac last night, and I learned about sour beer, they taste great,” says Crudder. “Enough of those kinds of conversations result in more people getting together at Taco Mac.”
Thomas Henry Strenk is a beverage-focused freelance writer who homebrews beer in his Brooklyn apartment.