25 March 2010
The category of “Beer Bars” seemed to be the most polarizing category in our perfect beer world project. While people were mostly positive, it is clear that people have strong opinions about our local beer bars and unfortunately have had some bad experiences as well. While I do not intend to call anyone or any bar specifically, I think it is important to hear what people want and what people do not want, in order to make our local beer bars even better.
Our local beer lovers frequent our local beer bars, and probably spend more of their beer-budget one pint at a time than any other form of beer purchase. Because of this, the opinions were strong and the suggestions were abundant…
The first suggestion I’ll mention quite honestly surprised me. Not just by virtue of the comment itself, but by how many people of BOTH genders offered it up. Very simply readers want our local beer bars to have clean bathrooms. Seems simple, but you’d be amazed how many people sited specifically how disgusting some of the bathrooms were. Now I know you’re probably thinking who cares, but think again. You’d be surprised how many of the beer loving ladies said they’d never return to a beer bar again because of the bathrooms, and how many beer loving guys said they’re unable to return to a beer bar because their beer-loving-significant-other will not step foot in “that bathroom” again. Think about it…bad bathrooms can cost you business and clearly it matters to beer lovers.
The next suggestion was mentioned by about 25 people and was another idea I hadn’t thought of. A significant number of readers wanted to mix different beers in one glass. Whether in the form of half-and-half type beers, or simply adding a splash of one beer to another, they wanted to experiment. Let’s face it, many of us can’t brew a beer, but what a great creative way to experiment with beers and “create” your own new beer. This is an idea we’ve experimented with at Dugan’s in the past, but a concept I’d like to not only see our local beer bars approve, but also welcome and encourage. Perhaps special beer mixes or mix suggestions posted on the beer menu would encourage people to try it out.
The next few reader suggestions had to do with the beer experience. My readers loved how experimental beer bars had become with their keg and bottle choices and of course wanted more of the same. More rare beers, more staple beers, more unusual bottles and simply more, more, more! (It should be noted here that as much as people wanted to see more beers on tap, many readers expressed quality over quantity with comments such as, “I’d rather see a bar do 10-tap handles well and keep them fresh than run 50-handles and have old or bad beer that’s not selling well.”) As far as the experience of beer drinking, beer lovers also wanted more. Glassware was identified as extremely important by over 75% of people who commented on beer bars. The right glass for the right beer is important and surprisingly enough, many readers even complained about craft beers being served in Coors Light glassware. The common opinion was that they simply didn’t want people even thinking they were drinking Coors. Sounds silly I know, but much less silly when you hear it from 40+ people.
As far as complaints, there seemed to be one common deal-breaker among many of our readers. Bar staff need to know at least a little about good beer, BUT more importantly, bar staff need to be consistent, friendly and attentive. I heard lots of complaints about bartenders ignoring people while they text on their cell-phone or chat with friends, and even more complaints about bartenders being clueless about what beers are on tap or what style those beers may be. To sum it up, I think people simply want to NOT have to work so hard to get a beer they enjoy. I know how hard bartending can be, but I also see some really good beer-bartenders and I see how much more business they bring in. This is a beer-bar’s face to the beer-loving world and clearly important to the people sitting on the other side of the bar.
The last few suggestions were voiced in an overwhelming number of comments relative to beer bars. The first seems very simple. Everyone seems to want a hand pump/beer engine tap available. It doesn’t have to have a beer on it all the time, but it should be a staple of any “beer bar”, especially for rare and one-off hand-pump beers. I know they’re expensive, I know the selection of beers may be limited, and I know you waste beer with every pour, but people DO want it.
The second most requested item is one I’d agree with wholeheartedly…beer lists. One of the highest requests across all categories was to simply publish and update a tap list at the bar. Not only did people want to see what beers were on tap and what styles those beers are, but they wanted more. My readers strongly suggested that the tap lists also include the size of the glass (i.e. 8oz, 12oz, 16oz…) AND the price. All too often I heard complaints not so much of getting a small beer for a high price, but not knowing the size and price before hand. I’ve personally seen Arrogant bastard served in an 8oz snifter and Kasteel Rouge served in an Imperial Pint (and what a good pint it was), but even I’ll admit each time was a surprise, and this from someone who has a pretty good idea what size and price most beers are. For most readers this request also extended to the bottle list, although many admitted most bottles lists DO include size and price already. I think an up-to-date tap/bottle list that includes sizes and prices is a simple request and a request that beer bar owners should probably pay more attention to…and for those with less-than-youthful eyesight…please use a larger font so we can read the list in a dimly lit bar.
Bay FAR the most popular comment relative to beer bars was about tasting beers. Some bars allow it, some bars deny it, some bars charge for it and some bars simply monitor it for abuse…and readers simply wanted to know your bar’s tasting policy. Now I’ll be the first to say I’ve seen people abuse the privilege and I’ve also seen bartenders incapable of distinguishing who is and is not abusing the tasting privilege. I realize in a world of $8 12oz beers that the beer lover would want to try-before-they-buy, and the beer seller would want to not waste a single ounce, there isn’t an easy answer. In that vein, many readers had a common suggestion or two that I think will help. First many suggested selling a sample tray. Now I know this is a bartenders nightmare, but with the right glassware, I see no reason why a beer bar can’t efficiently pour five 2oz samples of tap-only beer for $5 or so…especially if it costs them no beer-money and in the end will gain them more beer income as drinkers find a beer they love. A second and even better suggestion came from quite a few readers. Why not offer different sized glassware and price the draft beer accordingly. I know this is done at some bars and breweries, but why not offer a 6oz glass for one price, a 12oz for another price and a larger glass for an even higher price? This way if you have 8 or 9 great beers on tap, I can drink a smaller glass and enjoy them all rather than killing myself drinking pints. This is especially pertinent in this day of big beers. I’ve also heard many of my beer-compatriots complain that they want just one more beer, but simply can’t fit another pint in their belly. What a perfect time to have a 6oz glass available. I think in the end the beer-drinkers will be happier and the beer-sellers will profit accordingly.
In conclusion to our series, I will say I do intend to follow up. In the near term I’ll encourage our local beer businesses to read our results and also encourage them to comment on any changes they may be making or any comments/questions they may have. I think this communication will benefit everyone, so I’ll go out of my way to encourage participation by everyone. In the longer term, I’ll also monitor any changes made at our local beer businesses as a result of our suggestions (and post that info up) and re-post a new “Perfect Beer World thread” next year to see where we stand a year down the road.
I thank everyone for participating and for reading and commenting. I seems so simple to me putting the beer-lovers in touch with the beer-businesses and I’m excited to see that continue. As I’ve said before, the mybeerbuzz mission statement is “Bringing Good Beers & Good People Together” and I can think of no better way than this to do it. Cheers and thank you to everyone involved…