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I'm OK, But YOU Need A Beer
By Jim Anderson

Beer Mug This promises to be a hot summer. And when the mercury goes up, so do beer sales. This year, more than ever before, beer opportunities abound -- microbreweries are flourishing, brewpubs are springing up all over the place and imports are at an all-time high. Are you ready to accept the challenge of this brave brew world?

There's a heck of a lot of brands and styles out there these days. And anyone who thinks they can tell a good beer by its label is in for a surprise. Some beers are weak and thin, some are bold and brain-crushing. Some are dry, some are sweet, and some others are sour. Some are spiced, some brewed with fruit, others flavored with coffee or chocolate. Here's how to decide what beers to sell, and how to handle them once they're on hand.


It's the hottest restaurant trend since Chardonnay. But better beer has been around for thousands of years - ever since the first brewer decided that she could improve upon the status quo - but it's an idea that has been lost in America for most of the 20th Century.

The advents of refrigeration and long-range transportation during the Industrial Revolution created an opportunity to mass-produce beer and distribute it nationally. Unable to compete with these mega-corporations, regional breweries that didn't submit to takeover were killed by Prohibition, and American beer took on a single identity: pale, mild-flavored pilsner-style beers.

Happily, the import revolution of the late 70s and the microbrew revolution of the late 80s renewed Americans' interest in a variety of local beers. Today, with the craft brew market at nearly 2% of the $50 billion U.S. beer market, the industrial breweries are taking notice and beginning to broaden their portfolios in order to compete with breweries a fraction of their size.

So it's those same factors that stunted America's beer growth at the turn of the century that now enable us to enjoy craft-brewed beers from around the country and around the world right here in our home town. Here's how to take advantage of the best beer that's ever been available, and how to turn better beer into better profits.

Buy fresh, buy cheap, and only buy what you can sell

Beer It's rare to find one distributor who has every beer you need. After you decide which beers you want to carry, then you can decide how many distributors you want to write checks to every week. Different distributors who carry the same beer may charge different prices for it - it pays to compare. Often, distributors will buy beer from each other, then add a small markup. It's a good bet that a distributor with the lower price will be closer to the source of the beer. So for the sake of freshness (as well as price) buy your beer from them. But remember, there's more to a beer distributor than price. If you're paying for premium beer, you should expect premium service - reliable, knowledgeable and courteous.

If you are designing a beer list, give your selection some depth - pale lagers are still the favorites, but including pale ales, stouts, wheat beers and specialty beers will give your customers a choice of styles rather than merely a choice of brands. Too many of one style of beer will create a situation in which supply exceeds demand, and the slow turnover of individual brands will be too slow to ensure freshness. Also, if you have draft beer, don't steal profits from your taps by stocking the same beers in bottles.

Your taps are your biggest profit-makers. And since draft beer has a shorter shelf life than bottled beer, it pays to put your biggest sellers on tap. But the same rule of depth of selection above applies to draft beer, too. Many bars today, faced with a staggering array of draft beers to choose from, rotate one or more taps to feature different beers. This allows you to offer seasonal and short-run beers, keeping your customers' interest over the long haul.

Overall, try to match your beer selection to your clientele. The success of your restaurant or bar depends on appealing to the taste and sense of experimentation of your customers. And while exotic beer can help cultivate a new crowd, it can also alienate the old one. Introducing new products with a promotion or tasting is a good idea, and makes it seem like you are changing things for the benefit of the customer.

The three main enemies of beer are heat, light and age

Always store your beer in as cool a place as possible. Most kegs are unpasteurized, but unless you know which are and which aren't, keep them all refrigerated. Prolonged exposure to heat will make beer go bad, so keep your cases away from furnaces and compressors (such as those attached to walk-ins and coolers.).

Exposure to light will give beer a skunky flavor after a while, which is why most beer comes in colored glass. Store your beer in as dark a place as possible, keeping bottles in their case until they're needed. Fluorescent light is the most harmful to beer. Since most display cases use fluorescent lights, try putting colored paper or fabric around the bulbs.

Beer is a perishable product, so rotate your kegs and cases as they come in by putting new stock beneath or behind new stock, depending on your arrangement. Also, rotate bottles as they are restocked into display cases and takeout coolers. If you have brands that aren't selling very quickly, get rid of the remaining stock (reducing price, featuring it for happy hour, etc.) and get new beers that will sell.

Many high-end beers have a slight sediment of yeast on the bottom of the bottle. This is normal. These beers are "bottle-conditioned", which means they undergo a re-fermentation in the bottle, and have a long shelf life, from six months to in some cases 25 years! These bottles should be kept upright (except in the case of long-term aging), and care taken not to disturb the sediment. If the sediment is disturbed, allow a few hours for the beer to clear. The server should pour these beers for the customer, entire bottle at once, leaving the sediment (about 1/4 inch) in the bottle. The only exception to this rule is when pouring sedimented German beers such as hefe-weizen, when the sediment is a vital part of the drink.

Beer is our best friend - treat it kindly

beer glassThe better the beer, the more it will benefit from a glass that highlights its best qualities. Narrow glasses for lagers, something wider for the full head of ales, and wide-mouth goblets or red wine glasses for highly-carbonated Belgian ales. Your distributor may be able to locate special glasses if you can't find them at your supplier.

No matter which glasses you use, keep all glassware well-rinsed. Soap, oil and milk products not only affect the flavor of the beer, but also kill the beer's head - which may result in a legitimate customer complaint. Never pour beer into a frozen glass or pitcher. It causes four problems: 1) It freezes some of the beer; 2) It keeps most of the gas from being released from the beer, which leads to bloating and burping; 3) It robs the beer of its flavor (beer, like food, has less flavor at colder temperatures); and 4) it makes you look like a fool for causing the other three problems. Keep some glasses chilled in you beer cooler for your customers who prefer it that way. And always serve glasses with bottled beer - your customers shouldn't have to ask for it, any more than they should have to ask for a fork with their meal.

Beer Tap Whether pouring from a tap or a bottle, always leave a two-finger head on a beer. That helps release the beer's CO2, which helps release the beer's aroma and cuts down on the customer's gas intake. Plus, it looks good and helps maintain liquor costs.If a draft beer is pouring foamy, pour half of it, go do something else, and by the time you return the beer will have settled. Otherwise, you're pouring profits literally down the drain. There's no need to keep moving the glass up and down while pouring draft beer. Beer only comes out of the tap so fast.

Nitrogen-mix draft beers (Guinness Stout, Murphy's Stout, Pyramid DPA and some English ales) should be poured slowly and in stages to let the creamy head settle between pours. "Widget" cans (Guinness Pub Draft, Boddington's, Greene King Abbot Ale, etc.) should be poured 3 to 5 seconds after opening, the entire can at once. Sedimented Belgian and German beers should be poured slowly, the whole bottle at once. Remember not to pour the sediment into the glass when serving Belgian beers.

No one will buy it if they don't know you have it

There's no substitute for a well-informed staff. Many customers would rather ask a server than read a menu. And just as you'd expect servers to know what food they serve, they should also know what beer they serve. Post any changes, with price and description, for all to see.

If the bartenders know about beer, then there's always someone on duty who knows about beer. Besides, they're the ones pouring draft beer restocking bottles, changing kegs, washing glasses, and talking to customers about beer!

Show your customers what beer you have - displaying the bottles behind the bar or on a shelf in the dining room is a colorful compliment to a written list.

If you change your beer list frequently or offer weekly specials, try a blackboard or a light board. These are sometimes available through your beer distributor, and easily catch the eye of customers as they gaze around your establishment. Your distributor may also have other types of advertising signage, napkins or coasters which let your customers know about a particular beer or beers you want them to buy.

Show 'em a good time, and they'll come back again

The possibilities are endless: Microbrew or Import of the Week; matching a beer to a meal for a fixed price; offer ethnic food with ethnic beer; seasonal beers (Doublebock in the spring, Wheat beer in the summer, Oktoberfest beer in the fall, Holiday beers in the winter, etc.) - use your imagination and promote the specials on your menu and boards.

Your distributors may have promotional materials supplied by breweries. Use them to create a party atmosphere on a slow night - if your customers have a good time, they'll come back for that beer next time.

These are great ways to introduce your customers to new or unusual beers, and they can range from the informal happy-hour tasting to the structured classroom-type seminar. Educating your customers to buy your products in this way creates an opportunity to sample several beers without having to buy several bottles or pints - and marks your establishment as a cut above the rest. Even regular customers who drink the same thing every day get into it.

Many restaurants have good results by creating a menu around a particular style of beer or an ethnic menu supported by beers of the culture. Often, a guest speaker guides the customers through the dinner and the beers. Arrange your dinner well in advance, publicize it and sell it by reservation.


PALE/LIGHT ALESCream Ale; American Amber Ale; American Pale Ale; British Pale Ale; India Pale Ale (IPA); Bitter (including ESB)
WHEAT BEERSWeissebier & Weizenbier (including hefe-weizen, cristal weizen and weizenbock); Witbier & Biere Blanche; Lambic (including fruit lambic and gueuze); American Wheat Beer
STRONG ALESScotch Ale; Belgian Trappist, Abbey & Strong Ales; Bieres de Garde; Barleywine; Old Ale
DARK ALESPorter; Stout (Dry, Cream, Oatmeal & Imperial); Altbier
LIGHT LAGERSPilsner; Helles; Strong Lager; American Malt Liquor
PALE LAGERSVienna Lager; Marzen (Oktoberfest & Fest); Dortmunder (Export); Pale Bock (including Maibock)
DARK LAGERSDark Bock; Doublebock; Rauchbier

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