Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Maximize the Taps

Saturday night when Stella and I went to Boozefish to drink some Chocolate Ale on draft (this isn't going to be about Chocolate Ale) I noticed something that really annoyed me. For those that don't know Boozefish, it's primarily a wine bar with wines by the glass and bottle available. They also have several taps of good beer available, including on that night the highly coveted Chocolate Ale. Yet, I see this guy, a couple of tables over, drinking a Bud Light in the bottle and hitting on a couple of fine looking young ladies that each had a glass of wine. I don't want to be snobby or anything, but I can think of nothing less appealing than someone who will spend $3 or $4 for a bottle of an inferior product. I was just amazed the girls were entertaining him and his friend (who was at least drinking a draft Bud Light or other macro beer).

I don't mean to pick on Boozefish, but I'm going to. I see no reason for a place that focuses on good wine and has good taps, to even offer Bud Light on draft or even in the bottle. I can understand not wanting to alienate those who have no taste, but I don't see any reason to give those same people valuable real estate and giving them a tap handle. That tap could be used for a higher priced craft beer that a discerning consumer can appreciate. And if you must, sell them a Bud Light bottle.

We're lucky enough to live in a town with a great brewery with beers available on tap at many price points. A bar could have 4 taps, sell Boulevard Pilsner, Pale Ale, Wheat and Tank 7 and satisfy 95% of their customers and squeeze more money out of their taps than your typical Bud, Bud Light, PBR and Miller Lite 4 tapper. I don't mean to be a homer and mention only Boulevard products, but it's pretty easy to sell Boulevard in town, if you prefer, sell some Free State, Great Divide, Tallgrass or New Belgium. The average Bud drinker doesn't really care if he's drinking a draft beer or bottle, why give him a choice when you could make more selling craft beers on tap? Tank 7 is perfect because even Bud Light drinkers would love it if given a glass and you can charge an even bigger premium for that tap.

Greg Koch, from Stone Brewing, makes similar points in the video below. He makes an assumption that bars can sell through craft beer kegs faster than macro beer kegs that I don't think holds up that well, but otherwise, it's a fairly honest accounting of the increased profitability of selling craft beer. This is a must watch video for bar owners, hopefully after watching they'll make a call to their distributor and ask to put some Tank 7 on tap replacing that pesky Bud Light keg that only brings in riffraff.


  1. Great video. I wish more places would do this.

    Makes me want to continue my dream of owning my own restaurant and serve great craft beer, or even my own homemade.

    One can dream, can't he?

  2. Yep, it's time. There are enough people who appreciate "better" beer that this should be a no brainer. Hell, just pick two (and Boulevard Wheat/Pilsner don't count). Pick something dark, and pick something hoppy. Or Belgian. Or whatever. Done.

    The irony of the tap issue is that a lot of divey places have 6 or 8 taps, and they're all devoted to identical beers. You could literally put a Miller Lite keg under the Bud Light, Coors Light, Michelob Ultra, Bud Select, etc. taps and no one would ever know the difference.

  3. I believe Boulevard Pilsner and Wheat are acceptable to have on tap, they're fine substitutes for the macro lagers.

    Michelob Ultra is so inferior of a beer I think anyone could tell the difference if any other beer was poured in its place.

  4. Let's say a place had 6 handles and I let you guys pick them out. What is wrong if they then add a 7th and put bud light on it? The vast majority of places in KC will sell enough Bud Light, even if Boulevard Pilsner or whatever other beer you would woo them with, is available to justify the cost of the tower and faucet.

    The only limiting factor on how many beers you can serve is cooler space so especially for places serving out of a walk-in I think Bud Light vs something else is a false dichotomy.

    I feel the same way as you guys about beer but most restaurant owners don't. If I owned a restaurant I'd probably serve coke even though I'm sure the guys at would tell me that Soda Vie is so much better. Sometimes you have to take a step back from beer geekitude and think about what a normal person will find reasonable. Several craft handles and a couple macro handles probably seems reasonable to almost everyone.

  5. Bull - Wheat & Pilsner are fine for what they are. To me, they're not substantially different from a Budweiser, which is why they don't count toward the two tap handles in my little imagined system.

    John - I agree with you, but on an even more "baby step" level. I don't agree with replacing all of the macro taps in every bar and restaurant. I'd just like to see a couple of interesting options to supplement the ubiquitous wall of macros, and I don't see why this couldn't happen in almost every establishment.

  6. If I'm a bar selling 10 kegs of Bud Light in a week, versus two kegs of Boulevard Wheat or Harpoon IPA or whatever, then I'll bet I'm making more off the Bud Light tap than the other two taps as it is.

    Craft beer doesn't have to be on tap everywhere. Not when craft beer has less than 5% of the total market.

  7. Bob, in your exercise, what if you took the Bud Light away and replaced it with a craft beer. How many kegs a week of that beer would you sell? Also, would the other craft beer taps start selling through quicker?

    My point is that Bud Light tap does nothing or next to nothing to bring business into a bar. Why not replace it with something that might? Why not put Great Divide Hoss on tap instead, tell anyone who wants a Bud Light draft that Hoss is the most similar to Bud Light. If the customer doesn't want Hoss, then they can have a Bud Light bottle.

    I don't think it's realistic to expect every bar to carry craft beer exclusively. I just don't get why places like Boozefish would even think about offering macro beers on tap. And I think that some small neighborhood bars can really distinguish themselves by having only craft beer on tap.

  8. Bob wrote,
    "If I'm a bar selling 10 kegs of Bud Light in a week, versus two kegs of Boulevard Wheat or Harpoon IPA or whatever"

    Bull's example is Boozefish Wine Bar, not The Stables Bar & Grill, for Christ's sake.

  9. While sitting at the bar at 75th Street years ago, my drunken angry friend looks in disgust at some bro ordering four Bud Lights. My friend leans in to the bartender and asks, "Doesn't it kill you to sell them that stuff? You shouldn't even carry it." The bartender replies, "If we didn't sell those, your beer would cost a whole lot more than it does."

    Some people who drink macrobrews will only drink macrobrews. (And sometimes only their macrobrew.) Any bar should sell it. If they don't, it's lost income. I don't blame them. If the douche two stools down is keeping my bar afloat on his fifth Coors of the night, awesome. It gives me a place to enjoy my fine crafted ale.

  10. Jimmywags: Please note the author and commentators did not propose an upscale establishment should not carry Bud Light. Rather they should not let BL take up valuable slots on the tap tower.


  11. Time to chime in... The key to success is not having every brand in every bar. The true key to success is to have the RIGHT brands in every bar.

    As a distributor of the very beers that we all discuss, Bouleverd, Magic Hat, Anchor, Sam Adams and more... Our responsibility is to not only our supplier but our customer. Reccomendations cannot be made to hamper the customers ability to be successful in their business nor can they be made for the sake of simple distribution that will not sustaine within the bar in which the brand is placed.

    To be truly successful in beer, you have to ensure that the customer in our case... the bar.... has just the right mix and the right brands. Magic Hat while an AWSOME brew is not going to serve well at Lulu's Noodle Shop as well.... A full bar of craft is not going to serve well in 90% of all bars.

    The true key to success in craft is to place the products in the bars which have the clientel to support the brands which they carry. If the distributor does not do this they are making three mistakes.

    A. Not being honest with the bar
    B. Not being fair to the brand
    C. Not being fair to the consumer who appriciates better beers.

    The last thing we want to do is have a retailer carry a product for the sake of carrying a product. Making the right decisions when placing the product and growing the brand long term is better than a quick point of distribution for the sake of saying that you have a handle in a bar!

    Jon Poteet

  12. PS.... I would love every bar in KC to carry all craft but at the end of the day it is not in the best intreast of the majority of our customers.


  13. Jon, can you comment on what kind of pressure distributors might bring to bear on a proprietor who insists they only want craft beers on their tap towers?

    I know they won't wake up to a horse's head in their bed, but could the proprietor suffer some retribution from the distributors, like missing out on discounts that may be offered to other bar owners who tow the line?

  14. I cannot speak for distributors other than Central States Beverage Company. That being said…the only pressure that any of our retailer partners would receive from anyone at CSBEV would be in the form of our sales team fighting for our brands to be represented on the tower in the establishment. We know we carry some GREAT CRAFT brands, we also know that our craft brands should be represented some of this retail space.

    We are all for total craft in bars if it makes sense for the bar to do so, but it has to make sense.

    To better illustrate my comments about “exclusive craft” not being right for every bar I will pose the following example.

    When I was in Iowa a couple of months ago, I went at a new and nice bar that had two craft brands on tap along with Miller Lite, Bud Light and Busch! While hanging at the bar, the Busch tap handle was used by the bar 7 times more frequently than all other brands. This use of Busch was attributed to a group of regular customers whom worked at the Alcoa factory which was located near this bar when I first walked in I was SHOCKED to even see this on tap. Why would the owner of this great bar have Busch on tap? Come to find out that hundreds of the workers at Alcoa come in daily and Busch is what they drink furthermore they prefer it in Draught form over a bottle.

    In this particular situation it would not be in the best interest of the bar owner and or the brands to move all of their taps to craft beer. A distributor sales team has to make a priority of knowing and understanding the customers business (Bar Owner) and the customers (End User) who frequent the business. Switching all of these beers to craft would eventually result in a high customer dissatisfaction for the bar owner, out dated kegs and poor quality of product for the person who may order craft thus ruining the entire craft experience. A distributor is obligated to manage rotation of product and quality. Part of quality management is working with our retail partners to find the right mix of beers for their establishment and ensuring that the right beers go on in the right bars.

    CSBEV has 2200+ customers, we respect them and in our business we cannot just go out and get a new one as liquor and beer are regulated on federal, state and local levels, and licenses which allow you to own an establishment that sells beer and liquor simply are just not given out to anyone and everyone. The ability to sell beer and liquor is a privilege, not a right!

    Our retail partners are the very people that allow our company to be successful in our business and they are treated as such.

    Any distributor whom chooses to treat a customer in the manner which you laid out most likely would not be in business very long.

    Jon Poteet

  15. Or a bar could just take the lead of Eulogy Belgian Tavern in Philadelphia. They charge five bucks a bottle for all the domestics they carry with the motto (printed on the beer list) of "If you're dumb enough to order these here, then you're dumb enough to pay five bucks for 'em."