First things first: we owe gratitude to any bar or restaurant that carries a decent selection of beer. We all know that the number of establishments that carry nothing more than a tiny handful of pale lagers far outweighs the number of establishments that dare stock an IPA, a brown ale, a stout and maybe even a Belgian or two, in addition to the standard domestics. The simple act of having 20-plus taps that aren’t entirely devoted to mass-produced lagers (or having a couple dozen bottles of craft beer) is worthy of honorable mention. Thank you to all of the bar managers/owners who have put forth the effort to stock real variety.
But I have to be honest with you: variety alone is not enough. You need to respect that beer.
Let’s start with glassware. First of all, at least ask before you serve your patrons that beer in a frosted glass. I know there are folks out there who want that, so I won’t tell you to stop freezing all of your glasses (even though I wish you would stop), but you might be surprised how many of us don’t want that frozen glass—if you’d just ask. You’ll have to (re)train your bartenders on this point. Just have some room temp glasses on hand, and when someone orders a draft beer, quickly ask “Would you like that in a frosted glass?” It takes just one second, and you’ll stop pissing off people like me who hate the frozen glasses. I know I am not an oddball on this point.
Second, no business has any business selling a beer with 10 percent alcohol in a 16-ounce glass for five or six bucks. That’s just ridiculous. It’s likely many of the folks who buy that beer don’t realize that by the time they’ve finished off one pint, they’ve consumed as much alcohol as three bottles of Bud Light. They may be accustomed to drinking half a six-pack of domestic light lager over the course of an hour, but when they down that pint of double IPA in 30 minutes, that’s three times the alcohol in half the time. And they may order a second before they know what hit them. We’re talking serious inebriation.
The solution is to use smaller glasses for high gravity beer. If you really want to gain the admiration of your customers who love beer, you could stock a handful of different styles of glasses and use stemware for Belgians and some American high-gravity beers, nonic pint glasses for Englishstyle beers and shaker pints for everything else. You already stock three different glasses for different types of wine (red, white, and sparkling); why not give beer the same respect? At a bare minimum you need a 10- or 12-ounce glass of any style that allows you to serve smaller portions of beers with higher alcohol contents.
Also—and is this huge—your servers need to know something about the beer. I have found beer knowledge among the members of Birmingham’s service industry to be woefully inadequate. That’s not their fault, as the situation will never change until bar and restaurant owners require their employees to know as much about beer as they do about wine or mixed drinks. It starts at the top. The distributors selling you the beer should be able to offer staff training on their products, or you can tap into the considerable resources on the internet. An excellent place to start is the Brewers Association’s consumer education website, craftbeer.com. Click on “style finder” to see an introduction to beer beyond standard pale lagers.
And finally: You need beer menus. If customers can’t easily browse a list of which beers you offer, you won’t sell through anything other than a couple of well-known brands. Wondering why it took you a year to sell one case of that high- gravity Belgian ale you ordered last year? Because none of your customers knew you had it. And your servers forgot to mention it because they couldn’t speak intelligently about it because you didn’t train them. Stock a decent variety of beers and then print out a simple insert for your menu. List the beers and their prices. This small effort can sell an impressive amount of high-margin beer.
Alabama’s brewing scene is exploding, with more small breweries popping up all the time. Birmingham can become a destination spot for craft beer, but not until our bars and restaurants really respect the beer.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and coorganizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to email@example.com.