By Kerry Finsand
For the Oregon Beer Growler
What you have on tap matters. Your beer list is one of your best marketing tools, but with a new bar, restaurant, bottle shop or brewery opening every day, how does your new or established business stand out from the competition? These six tips will help curate the right tap list for your business.
1. Know your customers: Is your bar or restaurant focusing on people who pair food with beer? Do you run a dive bar that is transitioning into offering more craft beer? Maybe your customers prefer Belgian beers, or want a variety of local craft beers on tap. Ask yourself — and learn from your customers — what keeps them interested in your beer selection.
2. Leverage your tap options: If you have 50 craft beers on tap, you have a lot to work with. But if you only have five, you need to be more selective. For a restaurant with only five beers on tap, balance is crucial. You’ll need a tap list with a variety of styles to complement your food. Consider having a lager, a red or amber beer, a stout and an IPA. Think about how malty, hoppy, sour, bitter and other beer characteristics pair with your food.
3. Seasons turn and taps rotate: Seasonal beers are a great way to offer a refreshing variety to your tap list. They also tend to match the weather, which can impact what customers will gravitate toward. Summer brings lighter beers, such as pilsners, session IPAs and fruit beers, which sell much better in the warmer months than darker beers. When the colder, cloudy days return, bring stouts, winter warmers, barrel-aged beers or unique new styles into the rotation.
4. Go with local breweries: When it comes to Oregon, people in Portland — and the rest of the state — love to support local products. That goes for beer, too. Customers prefer local brews, and many people actively seek out beer from their favorite local brewery. If you have enough taps, try including a handful of obscure beers from smaller craft breweries. It shows your support for the local beer community. It can also set you apart from your competitors and lure the fans of that brewery to your establishment.
5. Emerging styles: Pay attention to new trends in beer styles. Session IPAs, Berliner weisses and geuzes are just a few of the increasingly popular beer styles that can be found on savvy Portland tap lists. A few years ago, Cascadian dark ales (CDA), also known as black IPAs, started showing up in more pubs and taprooms. Breweries often experiment with new styles of IPA, since it remains the dominant style of craft beer. More recently, restaurant and bar owners have put white IPAs and coffee IPAs on tap to meet customer demand.
6. Do your homework: Check in with your brewery and distributor reps to stay on top of new beer releases, and try reading industry blogs. Look at RateBeer for what is popular in your region or to see what is new. Also, use apps and sites like Taplister and Untappd to see what your competitors are offering.
Whether you’re bringing the most discerning foodies to your restaurant or offering a haven for happy hour hunters, your tap list matters. Use these ideas as building blocks for curating a killer tap list that suits your bar, restaurant or bottle shop.
Kerry Finsand is the founder of Taplister, board member of Portland Beer Week and a native Oregonian.