“Cocktail bars are where good beer goes to die,” according to Elayne Duff, global event manager-craft beer for Anheuser-Busch lnBev. During a July 20 panel titled Integrating Craft Beers Into Your Cocktail Program at the Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans, Duff noted that cocktail bars pay little attention to beer for a number of reasons.
Some operators may feel that they don’t know the beer category well themselves to put together a good selection, while other may decide they want to focus on cocktail fans vs. beer drinkers. That’s a mistake, Duff said, as craft beer is growing, plus having an impressive beer selection gives your entire beverage program credibility.
It’s better to be known for your cocktails and beer, said panelist Jackson Cannon, owner/bartender of The Hawthorne in Boston. “The [beer-drinker] demographic is too big to ignore.”
A proper beer program will complement a craft cocktail program and will bring in more people, according to panelist Rich Higgins, a San Francisco-based “consultant à la bière.” But an unsupported program—with inconsistent glassware use, a beer menu that’s out of date, dirty draft lines—will not work.
Here are some tips on how to integrate a craft beer selection into your drinks program.
Keep it simple. Less is more when starting out, Duff said. “Try three to five beers; if they’re not moving, switch them out.”
Avoid duplications. Make sure you’re not offering a lot of duplicate styles, said Michael Shain, general manager of Porchlight in New York. IPAs may be hot, “but if you have five beers, don’t make three of them IPAs.”
Stay consistent with your theme. If you specialize in barrel-aged spirits or cocktails, look at stocking some barrel-aged beers, Shain said. “Have your beer selection be in line with your spirits and cocktail identity.”
Include some unique offerings. Limited releases cost more and may not make you as much money, but rare and exclusive brews give you street cred in the in the beer community. Another way they add value, Shain added: “That’s the type of stuff we can post to social media.”
Add beers judiciously. You want to balance your beer menu with a little something for everyone, but remember that it’s always easier to add than to take away. For example, Cannon said that he didn’t offer Bud Light when he first opened. He has since added the brand, “but if I had started with it, I would never be able to take it away.”
Make your beer menu easy to navigate. The Hawthorne’s beer menu is organized categorically by beer style, while Porchlight lists the beer from lightest to darkest. The menu is a road map for guests and helps shave down server interaction time.
Don’t list beers by price from low to high. At some point, Higgins said, most consumers will hit a price threshold that they don’t want to go beyond. You want people to be drawn in by your beer selection, not swayed by pricing.
Use proper beer glassware. You don’t have to stock glasses for every beer style, Higgins said, but at a minimum, you need at least two: a standard beer pilsner and a nonic or tulip. Pilsners are great for both beer and beer cocktails. He does not recommend using a standard shaker pint glass, as those are more utilitarian for making cocktails, and they tend to be stacked so they get scratched up.
Maintain your draft system. Draft systems require storage space and maintenance—you should ideally clean your draft lines every two weeks, Higgins noted. Draft beer does offer something that guests can’t get at home, but if you don’t have the room and time to support a draft system, cans and bottles are just fine, he added.
Offer beer cocktails. Beertails have become a trend that on-premise operators have to have, even if they’re not bestsellers, Duff said. You can develop twists on classics to start, such as Mules and Mimosas that incorporate beer. For instance, one beer cocktail offered during the session was the Sofie-mosa, equal parts orange juice and Sofie Belgian ale.
Train, train, train. When it comes to beer, you can never educate your staff too much, Higgins said. Servers should know the beer’s name, style, producer, ABV, price, the appropriate glassware, any special ingredients and two to three descriptors (color, aroma, flavor).
Even arming staff with a few regionality tips on the beers you offer can help sales, he said. Local resources, such as beers vendors and brand ambassadors can often help with training, Duff added.
Another place to start: “Find that beer nerd on your staff,” said Shain.