Bottom Line, the goal of any craft beer bar should be to maintain a draught beer menu that has variety of styles and flavor. This concept is specifically for businesses that market themselves as Craft Beer Bars/Restaurants. What I advocate for in this post wouldn’t be applicable to a chain restaurant like Chili’s or Outback Steakhouse.
The Craft Beer movement in America can be described as a renaissance of sorts. In the 1980’s, only a handful of breweries produced non-light adjunct lagers. Slowly this movement caught on because the public was introduced to flavorful beer and demand continually exceeded production capacity. This led to the explosion of brewery growth in the 2000’s and now the market place is flooded with so many craft beer options that retail establishments are drowning in Stock Keeping Units. All too often I run into establishments that lack any system or forethought behind their draught list. Sometimes this manifests itself into having too many draught lines dedicated to a single style. The goal is to have a diverse enough draught list that will appeal to the widest possible audience (assuming that fits your business model). From my experience, 16 is the minimum number of draught lines needed to cast the widest possible customer net. That is not to say you cannot achieve variety for your customers if you only have 4 or 8 draught lines, just that you will have to make tough decisions.
First, let’s talk about Alcohol by Volume (ABV). I recommend having half of your lines with an ABV of less than 7% and half with an ABV above 7%. I have seen a 16-tap draught list that had 80% of the taps above 9%. Once you get above 10% ABV, most customers will limit their beer intake to 1-2 beers. If you split your draught list with half of your taps under 7%, your customers can have one strong beer and stay for 2-3 more lower ABV beers.
Now let’s look at the Standard Reference Method (SRM) to break up your draught list by beer color. Try 25% of your list dedicated to light colored beer (straw-light gold) 2-6 SRM and 25% of your list dedicated to dark beer 25-40 SRM (deep brown-black). The 50% that remains encompasses 6-25 SRM (deep gold-light brown). Breaking the draught list down by SRM, provides unique flexibility to have a rotation of different styles in a way that will keep customers coming back. While maintaining an amber color beer on tap, I could conceivably rotate through an American Amber Ale, German Marzen, Irish Red Ale and a Belgian Dubbel in succession on the same tap. Another reason I like using SRM is it allows for the same style of beer to be showcased across a color range, like an IPA. You could have a pale gold session IPA, an amber IPA and a black IPA on tap at the same time.
The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) has over 110 styles catalogued, which is why I don’t think a business should use styles as a means of planning draught menus. How do you boil 110+ styles down to a 16 tap rotational menu? While I firmly believe the SRM concept is the best way to utilize rotational draughts, it is vital every business owner understands their customer base. Most retail businesses that market craft beer as a selling point would quickly lose patrons if they didn’t keep at least one India Pale Ale (IPA) on draught. So, if you are going to use the SRM method that I am advocating, be sure to pay attention to your customer base and keep familiar styles on the menu while simultaneously providing variety. There are 10 different IPA styles listed on the 2015 BJCP style guidelines. By using the SRM method, you can rotate through those IPA styles by color instead of just dedicating 4 taps to the overarching style “IPA”.
Styles are not the best way to break down your draught list; however, there are some styles of beer that you almost have to have on draught at all times. In my professional experience, most people seem to self-identify their tastes into 3-4 basic style categories: IPA, Stouts (or simply dark beer), Wheat Beer and Light Lagers. I have never encountered anyone asking what kind of Brown Ales I currently have on draught? The goal of a diverse draught list is to take a customer that only knows about one style and introduce them to other unique styles that they wouldn’t have otherwise known about. Let’s use the American Brown Ale as an example. If someone is a hop head and doesn’t like dark beer, an American Brown Ale is a perfect gateway into darker beer because it has a noticeable hop presence but doesn’t have an overwhelming roast malt flavor profile. So, while I think it is most beneficial to break your draught list down by SRM, you would be wise to keep at least one draught line dedicated to the styles your customer base seeks. For me that would be an IPA, blonde/wheat ale and a Stout. These are the beers that get your customer in the door. Having a draught line dedicated to a style can still provide you flexibility. If you decide to have one Wheat beer on draught for example, it still allows you to have flexibility by switching between German, Belgian and American style wheat beers.
The last criteria you should incorporate into your draught list is having a blend of traditional/big name producers and local options. I define local as within the state you live, but you can vary your definition based on location. You may live in an area that has amazing and diverse local craft beer, allowing you to have a 50% split of your taps between local and larger producers.
Below is an example draught list that I could pull off in North Carolina. You can use this as a template and modify it to your local area.
Example Draught List
Tap # SRM/Color Style Brand ABV
1 2/Straw Cream Ale Southern Pines Duck Hook 4.3%
2 4/Yellow Session IPA Evil Twin Bikini Beer 2.7%
3 5/Gold Saison Boulevard Tank 7 8.5%
4 6/Gold German Wheat Wiehenstephaner Hefeweissbier 5.4%
5 6/Gold Belgian Triple Unibroue La Fin Du Monde 9.0%
6 8/Amber American Pale Ale Founders Mosaic Promise 5.5%
7 10/Amber Triple IPA Stone RuinTen 10.8%
8 17/Copper Belgian Dubbel Haw River St. Benedict Breakfast 7.2%
9 18/Copper Sour Ale D9 Viking Fraoch Scottish Sour 5.0%
10 18/Copper American Barleywine Sierra Nevada Bigfoot 9.6%
11 19/Brown American Brown Ale Brooklyn Brown Ale 5.6%
12 19/Brown British Brown Ale Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale 5.0%
13 20/Brown American Strong Ale Arrogant Bastard Ale 7.2%
14 35/Black Sweet Stout Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout 5.7%
15 40/Black Russian Imperial Lynnwood Putin Tang 8.8%
16 40/Black Russian Imperial Prairie Bomb! 13.5%
Average ABV = 7.1125%