As a beer reviewer, I’m always a bit picky about the restaurants and bars that I seek out. I love trying out new places, but nothing ruins a night out for me more than finding out a new bar’s tap list consists of what I could find crumpled on the ground of my college campus after an all night frat party. Only slightly above that, in my opinion, is a bar in which they have a bigger craft beer selection – including the “macro” craft brews like Sam Adams – but nothing local despite the presence of some wonderful brewings in the neighborhood.
So I set out to define what, to me, would make up the perfect craft beer list at a bar. I have considered this long and hard (while visiting restaurants and drinking beer, of course) and come up with the following criteria. Most of these steps don’t take too much time or even money, only some conscious thought to consider the beer drinker.
- Manageable Quantity
Sure, if you had an unlimited budget, you could put more than 50 tap lines in and import the most amazing brews that the world has to offer all in once place. These places are shrines that I make semi-annual pilgrimages to, but wouldn’t qualify as my perfect beer list. What matters more to me than having everything at my fingertips is having a good small selection that makes sense. Humans become paralyzed when given too many options. If I had to pick a perfect number for craft brews on tap I’d probably ask for between 8 and 10.
- Local Beer
If you live in the United States, there’s a good chance there’s a craft brewer less than 50 miles from your doorstep. While having choices that you wouldn’t normally be able to find is exciting, I have seen bars that have totally ignored higher quality local brews at the expense of the hard-to-find imports or big time breweries. The key is balance – represent your local brewers if they make good beer, and offer up something that a regular beer lover wouldn’t be able to buy at Hannaford.
- Casked Beer
Having a cask engine in a bar is expensive, and is certainly an investment. But any bar that is serious about beer should consider this. The customer with a high level knowledge of beer will travel miles for an interesting selection on cask, and there are more and more beer geeks joining the rank every day. I’m usually surprised when I find casked beer at a restaurant or bar, and I usually return periodically to see what they’ve put on cask.
- Balance of Styles
Would you want to come to a bar every week if they only had one or two styles of beer? If a bar picks mostly pale ales and lagers, or ales, there’s little discernible difference between them. I love to go to bars with lots of styles, so if I’m educating someone about craft beer, I can feel out their particular tastes. A key indicator for me is if a bar has a porter or stout other than Guinness on tap.
- The Details
Providing information about each beer and brewery as well as serving the beers appropriately (throw out the frosty mugs, okay?) all add something special to one of my favorite beer bars. Have matching glassware for a brewery? Use it. Have lots of styles? Explain them on the menu. Also, keeping your beer list up to date is important. I have often been disappointed by seeing something on a list only to be told that it was either tapped out or hadn’t been tapped yet! Also any bar or restaurant that takes the time to suggest beer pairings, or hosts beer dinners is a step above all else.
Every time I go out to a bar I look for the criteria. Someday I know I will find my perfect beer list. I’d love to hear if you’ve found yours!
Note: This post was originally posted on Dr. Beer Love as a guest post – the content has been copied here for archive purposes.