Eric's Beer Blog

My online journal for beer (and other drinks) tasting, brewing, tourism, and general musings.

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Location: St. Paul, Minnesota, United States

Monday, March 09, 2009

Beer Lists

I've been thinking a lot about beer lists lately. Since I dream of one day opening my own bar, I spend a rather large percentage of the time I'm at bars thinking about what the bar does well, what it could do better, what I'd do differently, etc.

One of the things I come back to over and over again in my musings is the beer list. I'm really talking about two different things here: first, the physical list (what information is given? how is it presented?), and second, the content of the list (what beers are on it? where are they from? how were they chosen?). I've decided to get down some thoughts about these subjects here.

The physical list:

As far as I'm concerned, a good beer list should be similar in appearance to a wine list. That is, it should have categories (geographical, style, or some combination thereof), and it should have descriptions. What kind of restaurant or bar would have a wine list which threw together whites and reds in one big unformatted list?

If I know that I'm in the mood for, say, an IPA, I should not have to scan through a long list of lagers, stouts, or Belgians to find the 2 or 3 IPAs on offer. Likewise, if I know I want to try something local, it should be easy for me to find the offerings that fit the bill.

As for descriptions, again, it just stands to reason. If there are some beers I'm not familiar with, I should be able to read a bit about them: where are they brewed? what style are they? what are the basic outlines of their taste profile? possibly even what foods would they go with? These things are all pretty standard on wine lists, but they are lacking for beer lists at even some very good restaurants and bars.

The beers on the list:

I'm a big advocate of local beer. It doesn't hurt that I live in an area with a superb beer scene-- I'd put the Twin Cities' local beer scene in the top 5, certainly the top 10, in the country. But in any case, local beer is better, and bars should support local beer. Here's why:

-local beer is generally going to be fresher, and thus taste better, than beer that has traveled a long distance.
-supporting local businesses is a good thing to do in general. It also makes business sense for a local bar (which is competing against national chains like Applebee's) to encourage its customers to think locally
-local beer is one of the unique things a local bar can offer. When I travel and go to a bar in some other part of the country, I'm much happier to see local offerings on tap, at least some of which I've never had before, than to see the same old beers everywhere.

All things being equal, therefore, a local bar should have at least a substantial number of local (and regional) beers available. For a Twin Cities bar, it's pretty simple: we have several wonderful breweries in the metro area, and more in greater Minnesota. Of course, there are even more great beers to be found in neighboring Wisconsin and yet more in the larger region of the Midwest.

My next criterion is variety. A good beer list should have a variety of styles to suit a variety of tastes. There's just no good reason to have, say, Heineken AND Corona. They are essentially the same (usually lousy) beer. It is for this reason that very long beer lists don't impress me much. The longer the beer list, generally speaking, the more space is taken up by duplicate beers. (And don't get me started on the greater difficulty of keeping a larger number of taps fresh and clean...) Nothing bugs me more than to see a restaurant with a small number of taps, most of which are virtually identical (and usually not very interesting) beers. I get that many people love them their American Light Lager. I have no beef with a bar or restaurant having some of these beers available. But will a Bud man's experience truly be ruined if he has to settle for Miller?

If a place has 5 taps, why not have one American Light Lager (Bud/Miller/Coors), perhaps a European Lager (Corona/Heineken/Amstel), maybe a nice local IPA (nearly every part of the country has a local/regional example of this style that is decent), something light and refreshing (a Wheat?), and something dark and complicated (porter, stout, a Belgian). Even for a place which is not catering to beer geeks like me, this seems like a reasonable list.

If the place is more of a beer bar and has a substantial number of taps, I'd like to see a good proportion of them taken up with local and regional beers, a few nationally available craft brews, and an import or two. There's no need for a huge number of imports-- the days when Americans had to feel bashful about our place in the world of beer are over. Most beer experts will tell you that the #1 country in the world for interesting beer is right here in the U S of A.

Of course, a bar gets major extra credit in my book if they regularly have cask-conditioned beer available. This beer is usually local, very fresh, and terribly yummy.

OK, enough about the criteria of a good beer list. Future posts will examine the lists of local bars and restaurants with a critical eye. If you've actually read this far, I'd welcome your comments and feedback.


Blogger Eric said...

Oh, and one other thing: a good beer list should change frequently. Seasonally, at least. But it's even nicer when every time you go to a place there are some new beers on tap...

6:50 PM  

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