There has never been a better time for the world of beer than today. The choices you have when it comes to what you want to drink is limitless. This is a renaissance for the beer industry and one where craft beer drinkers help sway what breweries produce. Since the movement of craft beer is grassroots, it’s taken nearly 30 years for beer drinkers to have a choice in what they choose to drink. While choice remains mainly in liquor, wine, and spirit stores, many establishments are opening up that allow beer drinkers to continue to enjoy their craft beer in a public setting.
Enter beer bars. The typical bar has been in existence for over 100 years serving basic bar food and a slew of macro brewed crap (light lagers, pale color, no flavor, all fizz). With the renaissance of the beer industry through craft beer, the typical bar while still relevant is a dying breed. Beer bars are popping up left and right and giving your typical bar a run for its money. Not only are basic bars feeling the competition so are the large macro brewing companies, Anheuser Busch, Miller, and Coors who are losing market share to microbreweries.
So what is a beer bar exactly? At first look, it reminds you of any other bar but more than likely a step up in appearance and quality. While still a bar serving a plethora of spirits these bars differ from the norm because they specialize in beer. Not just any beer but specifically, craft beer. Craft beer is the other spectrum of beer in the United States, outside of light lagers offered by the macro brewing companies. Flavor is more important and expressed in very creative ways ranging from imperial ales, whiskey and wine barrel aging, and brewing with odd and rare spices. These are the beers offered by beer bars.
When you look for a place to try amazing craft beer a beer bar is what your looking for. They are popping up all over the country and it’s just a matter of finding them. So what are you looking for when your perusing for a place to enjoy a great craft beer? I spoke with Tony Maciag the General Manager of Euclid Hall Bar and Kitchen in LoDo Denver, and he shared with me what he looks for in a beer bar. “I want a place to go that serves great craft beer but doesn’t take themselves too seriously. You’re serving beer not saving dying children; have fun with it.” Tony opened Euclid Hall six months ago as GM, he has an extensive background not only in great beer but liquor and spirits as well. He’s been a bar manager, head bartender, general manager, and now moving into beer consulting for up and coming restaurants in Denver, Co.
Tony said, “My idea of a beer bar would have a variety of beer to choose from- not only on draft but bottle too. I actually don’t have a preference either way but I would like to see new beers added. If I come in twice a month I want to know something is new from the last visit to now.” Variety is key! Having the same beer on tap or in bottles and never bringing in new beer leads to stagnant drinking. Sure your regulars have their favorites but the need to explore the beer world and try every style, new and old, will come to a jolting stop. You need variety and constant rotation of great beers to keep your regulars happy and bring in new customers through the doors.
With a lot of variety to choose from at a beer bar, you need to get information to the public as easily as possible. I have seen a few different beer lists, some are easy to read and some will confuse the hell out of you. The very best beer list I have seen is that of Euclid Hall, once again the brain child of Tony Maciag; this is a progressive beer list. Tony’s list is done with mathematical headings: Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus, and Quantum Mathematics. The idea is to progress through the list from light easy drinking (arithmetic and algebra) and move people towards calculus and quantum mathematics (higher alcohol by volume – abv and more artisan style craft beer).
Fresh Craft, a beer bar down the street from Euclid, showcases their beer list the same way a steakhouse would show their wine list. A black leather bound book separating their beers by styles versus progressive. A section for stouts, one for IPA’s, another for large format bottles, etc. While it’s a nice presentation it will not help someone who doesn’t know a thing about beer, understand what they are looking at.
Another idea behind the beer list should be showing you all the information you need to know about the beer you’re looking at. The name of the beer, brewery, location, style of beer, abv, size of beer, and price should be apparent. You should know what you are purchasing, who makes it, where it’s from, what style of beer it is, how large is the bottle, and how much is it going to run you. Sounds like a lot of information but without having everything available, you won’t understand what you’re about to taste; that’s what craft beer is all about, taste.
Tony goes on to say, “A great beer bar should have not only a variety of beer to choose from but they should also have a few bottles that are expensive but worth it. If you want to throw down and celebrate then that option should be available to you. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend a lot of money but it doesn’t mean you can’t.” While most people have always viewed beer as being pretty inexpensive there are some that push the envelope towards the prices of wine. These beers are meant to be celebrated because they are typically very rare, very high in abv, and very unique which causes the high prices.
A great beer bar should offer a variety of food as well. Beer bars will typically hire people to run their kitchens and use the titles chef and chef de cuisine to backup their menu. The idea is to pair great food with great beer. An average bar will serve burgers, fries, and some fried food but won’t necessarily serve outstanding food. If your headed to a beer bar to enjoy great beer you also want great food to back that beer up. You need food that’s meant to be paired with each beer but the food needs to be presented with style and has exquisite flavor.
My idea of the perfect beer bar is very close to Tony’s’. I want a place where I can go and enjoy a beer from anywhere in the world. I want a slew of styles to choose from traditional and new. I want bocks, Oktoberfest, imperial ales (stouts and IPA’s), barrel aged beers, sours, Belgium, and French. I want to see craft beer and nothing but craft beer. I want the best breweries in the world showcasing their very best beer and everything is at my finger tips.
The bar should have a progressive beer list. If I’m with someone that doesn’t know anything about beer the list should help guide them to the right choice. The staff should be knowledgeable and have at least a Certified Beer Server or Cicerone, someone with enough training to reinforce one’s decision or help guide them further. The beer list could be separated by beer styles but within each category, it should be done progressively. Lightest at the top to the heaviest, highest abv, or most character at the bottom.
I would want the bar to have 15 + beers on tap, 30+ beers by the bottle, and 25+ beers on a rotation that is rare and highly allocated. I love the idea of large format beer (750ml) that’s meant to be shared and gives that feel of ordering a bottle of wine; even though it’s beer! I want to see something expensive and rare that only one percent of the world’s populace might have the chance to try.
I want a place where beer is taken seriously but the staff doesn’t take themselves seriously. My idea of a beer bar is a second home, a place where I can get away, join friends, celebrate, or drink solely by myself. That’s my idea of a beer bar.
Next time you head out to enjoy a beer, try your local beer bar. Bars are a dime a dozen but a beer bar, a place that truly takes the time to showcase amazing craft beer and craft food, that’s priceless. Try a beer bar for a great start to your journey of not only trying great craft beer and food but experiencing just exactly what a beer bar should be.