For those of you that visited Aleheads.com yesterday, I hope you came away with something more than just an understanding of what we merry Aleheads would have in our bars if we only had 4 taps to work with. In this “Fantasy Draught”, I hope you saw that so much joy and pleasure can be had from simplifying a draught list and offering quality over quantity. I’m not saying that I don’t want to drink quantities of quality brews, what I’m saying is that I want quantities of quality brews from a tap list that stands for quality and isn’t simply awe-inspiring due to its quantity. Make sense? Who cares if that makes sense – My point is that I fucking hate bars that feel the need to line 100 taps end-to-end with no measure of quality in place. If you want to know my irrational thoughts on this, then read on. If you like dirty tap lines and poorly poured brews, then thanks for your click and please move on.
Oh good, you decided to stick around. Look, I like variety in everything from beer to friends to books to just about anything I love in life. “The more the merrier” sounds a lot better than “The less the more sorrowful and bland”. I get that variety brings in customers and variety keeps those same customers coming back because they have something new to choose from on most occasions. At some point though, you have to look at your draught list and wall of taps behind the bar and say to yourself, “Do we really need this much beer?”. I’m not talking about a beer bar that has 40 taps, hopefully with 20 at the main bar and another 20 in their upstairs/downstairs overflow bar. I’m okay with that as long as they can support the turnover and actually have a few servers on hand that know how to pour a good beer. If you can’t pour a proper Guinness, then get the fuck out of the bar or at the very least ask someone for a bit of training to get it right. If you have the clientele that can rip through 40 different kegs on a regular basis or have a good enough relationship with your distributors that they’ll take a keg off your hands when it goes past its prime, then by all means keep doing what you’re doing. For everyone else though, the rest of this rant pertains to you.
I’m not here to name names because in reality, most massive Alehouses are the same as the next. Here’s the criteria of these Halls O’ Suds:
#1 – 100 taps, give or take, all lined up with tiny tap handles that sit end to end to end. Usually these taps are protruding from a dirty mirrored wall behind the bar and the scene looks like some bastardization of the lower depths on Mario Brothers. I feel like I have to wait for the venus fly trap to duck down so I can see what’s coming out of the plumbing. I know draught lines really come down to plumbing, but there’s only so much plumbing that I need to see in front of the bar space.
#2 – Buxom Vixens – Woh there, before you peg me as someone who doesn’t appreciate the curvatures of the female form, let me explain myself. A nice rack does not a bartender make. Sure, it helps, but at least learn to pour a beer and maybe, just maybe, learn about what you’re pouring. When I order up a burger at T.G.I. Fridays I don’t expect the server to know if I’ll be eating ground chuck or ground sirloin. I know what to expect from a place like that. If I go into Ruth’s Chris and order up a filet though, I expect that the server will at least know what I’m getting into and be able to suggest the doneness and sides that will compliment the cut of beast. If you want to run a well respected beer bar, you need to hire people who appreciate their craft. If said server happens to be blessed with a curvaceous upper-deck to go along with their massive beer knowledge, who am I to judge?
#3 – Too many clunkers – I’m all for a beer bar having a local tap of something sessionable but not exactly award-winning. I also don’t mind if they have something like PBR or Yuengling on tap. Sometimes you have to appeal to the masses and/or those that want something cheap and quick. The problem I have with putting out 100 taps is that you have to appeal to both the masses and the massive beer geek. I’ll admit that I’ve never been to a giant 100 tap complex that doesn’t have at least 20 remarkable taps that deserve their place in most any bar. What tends to happen though is that they fill out the rest of the taps with beers that have no right in a proper beer bar. For example, I was just in one of these places last weekend that had 5 taps of Great Divide next to 5 taps of Left Hand. I’ve got no problem with that at all. Wanna hear what else they had on tap? Bud/Miller/Coors, all in their regular and light splendor, as well as the entire lineup of Lienklugel brews. Smatterings of Amstel, Moretti, and others that need not be mentioned. Just too many bad beers to fill out the list in most cases.
#4 – Old Beer – Do you have any idea how much beer it takes to fill out 100 taps? I understand that many of the cooler taps on hand are probably hooked up to a 5L keg, but there’s still just so much beer sitting behind the bar that eventually some of the kegs will go stale. Whenever I’m in one of these places I try to stick to beers that I hope others would be drinking. Imperial Pilsner from Iowa? No thanks, I’m sure that thing’s been sitting there for months. Also, never order anything on “Special”. If it’s on special, it’s because that bitch has got to go. You ever go out to dinner on a Sunday night and see the Haddock on “Special”? Well, they bought that fish when the market was open on Friday so it’s trash by the time Monday comes. I don’t want old fish, I don’t want old beer, plain and simple.
#5 – Bad Beer – This goes hand-in-hand with old beer, but I’d like to take it one step further. 100 taps = 100 tap lines = 1,000’s of feet of tubing that needs to be cleaned on a regular basis. From what I’m told, that stuff sucks to clean. If I’ve got a clunker of a keg sitting on a line for 3 months, you think I’m cleaning it? No chance. Dirty lines kill head retention and in the end they just kill the beer. I’m not saying that a 20 tap beer bar doesn’t have dirty lines, but the odds simply stack up the wrong way with the more product you have behind the bar.
Those five points are the main criteria that I’ve found in common with every massive beer establishment I’ve been in. Like so many other things in life, maybe I’m completely wrong in my critical assessment of gigantour Alehouses. I used to think that a tap house with 100+ offerings would be a great asset to anyone that wanted to expose a neophyte to the wonders of the beer world. The truth is, you can do that just as well if not better at an establishment that stocks any good array of brews. Honestly, are you going to expose someone to better beer by setting up 100 pints in front of them? You’d be better off bringing your friend into a place that serves 20 beers, hopefully from a few different styles and regions, so they can try the best of the best in the proper environment.
So, what’s the perfect number of taps that an establishment should shoot for? I don’t think it’s 4 like we discussed in the Conundrum, but I know it’s less than 100 and hopefully less than 50 as well. I’m going with 33 as my nice round number. If that number was good enough for Larry Legend, then it’s good enough for me. After all, it’s not like I even have a kegerator in my house so I’m the last person you should listen to on this issue. Hope that helps.