The Difference Between A Bar With Beer And A ‘Beer Bar’

Beer is popping up everywhere.  More and more restaurants and bars are now serving craft beer in many shapes and forms.  However, a ‘Beer Bar’ is a special place and differs from just a bar or restaurant in a variety of ways.  These practices can be implemented at any place trying to run a good beer program.

So, what makes a good beer bar?

1. Tap Quality, Not Quantity, Matters

Bar XYZ has 100 taps, so it must be a beer bar.  Wrong.  Some of the best beer bars have as few as 10 taps but utilize them far more successfully than bars with over 100 taps. 

Take those 100 taps, and eliminate anything from Budweiser, Miller, and Coors.  Now eliminate stuff you can buy every single day of the year at the gas station or grocery store1.  What does that number look like now?  The tap list at a beer bar looks different every time you come in.  Local one offs and seasonal beers are not the exception, they are the norm.  If you can’t try something you have never had before (either in a bottle or on tap), you either are not in a beer bar, or you are and just have a drinking problem.

2. Beer Is The Main Attraction

Serve wine, serve liquor, serve food; I like them all.  But beer is the star of the show here.  It is called a beer bar, after all.  The staff should be educated about the offerings and be able to make recommendations to novices and seasoned veterans alike.  There is a manager dedicated to the beer offerings that is in frequent contact with local breweries and distributors.  And if food is served, pairing recommendations are a must!

3. There Is Always A Fresh IPA On Tap

Americans like hoppy beers.  Beer nerds like hoppy beers.  Keep a good, fresh IPA on at all times.  Just in Ohio alone, there are around a dozen very good IPAs brewed in state.  Add states touching Ohio, and that number jumps even higher.  Keep them rotating, variety is great!  And the more local, the better!

4. Seasonality Matters

In the winter, Belgian Strong Ales, Stouts, Porters, and Barleywines dominate the taps.  In the summer, Saisons, Pale Ales, IPAs, and Pilsener are the star of the show.  Does this mean there are no barrel aged Barleywines in the summer and no sessionable Saisons in the winter?  Of course not!  But there are beers styles associated with seasons for a reason.

5. It Looks More Like A Pub Than A Club

Music is in the background.  Did you hear that, I said BACKGROUND.  T-shirts are perfectly acceptable attire.  There is not a dance floor.  The ratio of girls to guys does not matter.  The jukebox contains more Bob Dylan than Pitbull2.  You get the idea.

6. There Is Some Effort Input

If you take the effort to stock hundreds of different beers, why be lazy and not print them onto a list?  Update social media with your tap offerings.  Collaborate with local vendors, musicians, and artists.  Get involved in the community.  Organize fun events.  Little things like these pay big dividends.

So, what do you think defines a good beer bar?  Did I miss anything?



1: I am not saying there aren’t great everyday beers available.  Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald, Bell’s Two Hearted, these beers are staples at great beer bars.  But there also has to be some effort put forth to keep things fresh and interesting with at least portion of the taps.
2: No offense meant to Mr. Pitbull.

In response to “Women, Don’t Fear the Beer (Part I)

[After the Bew Prof’s “Women, Don’t Fear the Beer”  started a good conversation on gender and craft beer, I was contacted by Andrea to do a guest post in response. Like the earlier mentioned article, this one will be split into two parts. The first will address some issues Andrea found in “Women, Don’t Fear the Beer”, while in the second you will find an good analysis of women and beer and some recommendations of her own. Andrea, thank you so much for putting this together and welcome! -J]

A recent post on this blog caught my attention, since I’ve been thinking, reading, and writing a lot lately about women and beer. I’m a woman who genuinely loves beer, and I don’t do it to “be one of the lads,” or to show off, or to look cool in front of guys. I’ve loved the beverage ever since I can remember. As a kid, I begged for sips of my dad’s beer (he only ever let me have the tiniest sip of the foam); as a teenager, I visited the Czech Republic, where my mom is from, and reaffirmed my love of beer. Now, I trade feats of connoisseurship with my husband, who is only too happy to while away hours poring over the selection at our local emporium and spend entire holidays in Belgium with me. I love beer so much that when I meet someone who doesn’t care for it, I sort of want to convert them. So I understand the impulse behind “Women, Don’t Fear the Beer.” I believe it was a well-intentioned missive that came from a good place and had an honorable goal – to see more women get into craft beer. Still, there were a few missteps that rightfully irritated some of the commenters, and I wanted to address them here in a little more detail.

First off, The Brew Professor admits that his post contained “generous helpings of broad assumptions and stereotyping. Most of this is observational ‘fact’ that I have experienced personally.” This weakened his argument upfront, which is a shame, since literally two minutes of research would’ve yielded some statistics that might have strengthened his position. Let’s take a look at a recent Gallup poll for starters: the alcoholic beverage most consumed by men is, by a wide margin, beer (55%); for women, it’s wine (52%), followed by a fairly even split between liquor (22%) and beer (23%).

[Click to open a larger copy of chart]
[Click to open a larger copy of chart]
So instead of throwing out some nebulous anecdotal evidence, he could’ve started with something a little more concrete, and then maybe we could’ve had a real conversation about those numbers, and what they mean.

Secondly, he chose absolutely the wrong wording in the wrong forum. On this blog, you’re dealing with a constituency of beer drinkers, male and female. To speak to this audience from the position he took, e.g. that women need instruction on the ways of beer, was somewhat poorly thought out. Granted there are some spaces where this might be appropriate, but this blog wasn’t one of them. Furthermore, statements like “The problem with experimenting with real beer is that the selection process can be extremely intimidating” are in no way gender specific. It is no more intimidating to women just getting into craft beer than it is to men just getting into craft beer, which many commenters pointed out.

Finally, and this speaks again to the issue of research, The Brew Professor says:

“Okay, ladies. Why is the craft beer movement mostly driven by men? What is holding you back from trying more beer? In my experience, it is inexperience.”

Hmmm, wrong. The craft beer movement isn’t where the women aren’t (if you follow me). There are plenty of female brewers, sellers, journalists, and drinkers in this milieu. There is still a small imbalance to address, granted, but advocacy groups like the Barley’s Angels and Girl’s Pint Out are working to educate and empower women to buy, drink, and order beer with confidence. On the consumer side of things, it’s the macro brewers who have much, much more of a gender problem than the craft beer world.

But. (There’s always a But.) The idea that introducing gender into the conversation is inherently unnecessary or somehow offensive is a little off the mark. And this is where I have to stop taking issue with The Brew Professor’s post and see where he’s coming from.

Come back tomorrow to catch the second half of Andrea’s piece!

Andrea Janes lives, drinks, and writes in Brooklyn, New York. When not trying new beers, she writes horror stories and leads ghost tours of the city. Her story collection, BOROUGHS OF THE DEAD, is available on Amazon. She can be found on Twitter @SpinsterAunt and on Untappd (Andrea J).

BrewProf – “Women, Don’t Fear the Beer” Part I

BrewProf – “Women, Don’t Fear the Beer” Part II

Andrea Jane – In response to “Women Don’t Fear the Beer” Part II

Why Rivertown Brewing Frustrates Me So Much

This piece is written by me and reflects my own opinions and not that of Queen City Drinks as a whole or its other authors. – J

I’m going to just go ahead and get this out. Rivertown Brewing is so frustratingly inconsistent with their offerings and it’s strange to me that there has been no pushback whatsoever from the beer community. I’m going to air some grievances and give a little of my own pushback and then explain why these issues are so darn frustrating to me outside of the issues themselves.

1. Pestilence: The bottled version of this beer should never have been released to the shelves for sale. When reviews attribute olfactory qualities such as “candied walnut, blue cheese, and vomit”, “stinky cheese and fatty yogurt”, and “funk [that] is stomach-churning”, there is something seriously, seriously wrong with the finished product. I opened one of these bottles (of the four I bought) a couple months months ago, hoping my bottle would be different, and it went down the drain. The taste isn’t bad, but I’m not of the school that I should have to plug my nose while drinking a beer. I’ve heard from many people who had this on draft that it did not exhibit these problematic features. Since they’re people whose palates I generally trust, there obviously was a bottling issue. I have no idea what I’m going to do with my other three bottles, but I’m not looking forward to drinking them.

2. Sour Cherry Porter: This beer I was very much looking forward to. Coming hot off of 2010 (stellar) and 2011 (good) Rivertown Lambics, I was ready for more of their sours. I picked up a bottle from The Party Source, where it is, to my knowledge, exclusively sold. Got it home, cracked it open and poured a completely uncarbonated beer into my glass. I tasted a sip just to confirm and though quite tasty, there was not a speck of carbonation. Danny Gold was gracious enough to swap out my bottle which I opened yesterday and, to my sadness, poured another completely uncarbonated glass of beer. I’m sure I’ll be able to swap this out for  another bottle, but at this point I’d frankly just like to stop wasting my time and get a refund on the not-insubstantial $13 I paid for a single, flat bottle of beer.

3. Uncommunicative-ness: One of my favorite things I enjoy about local businesses is being able to interact with their owners and managers. That goes double for local breweries. Mt. Carmel, Blank Slate, and Listermann/Triple Digit (not so much Moerlein) do a great job of interacting with their customers, answering questions and the like.  Rivertown seems to use social media (Twitter/Facebook is what I’m speaking of here), when they actually use it, as a one-way tool. I’m not sure who is running their accounts, but I have a much, much better success rate in getting a response when contacting Jason Roeper directly than when contacting the Rivertown accounts. Social media, for successful businesses, is not just a platform for free advertising, but a way to engage your current and potential customers.

Now, why did I even take the time to write this post? Frustration over wasting money? Yes, partially, but only very, very partially. $20 isn’t a lot to waste in the grand scheme of things. I’m writing this because Rivertown has the potential to do a lot better than this. They have made some amazing stuff (there’s a reason Beer Advocate rated their Lambic a perfect 100 score) and their normal lineup while not amazing, is solid (outside of the weird fake vanilla-tasting Roebling bottles). They have one of the most creative and talented head brewers in the Cincinnati-area and they are one of the few local breweries who are doing really, really fun, out there stuff. While their highs are high, there lows, as can be seen above, are still quite low.

Maybe this is just a new brewery thing, and it will all blow over in time. I hope so. As silly as it sounds after all my complaining, I’m going to continue buying their releases because they are a local outlet of “beer geek” (sour, barrel aged, etc.) beers. I’ll continue to reward creativity, but at some point being creative is trumped by the quality of what you are producing. The execution is every bit as important as the idea is. It’s the whole “fool me once… fool me twice” bit.

A Short Rant On Growlers

Growlers have become pretty commonplace in the craft beer world in the last year or two.  They have their disadvantages (you have to drink the beer within a day or two upon opening the growler), but they give customers access to many more offerings, and give local, small breweries a chance to get beer in front of customers without the hassles of label approvals and bottling lines.  They are also environmentally friendly.

However, it seems as if many local places are missing the point.  Growlers are supposed to be cheaper than bottles.  Always.  No exceptions.   There are no label approval fees, no packaging materials, and no bottling lines.  Kegs are also cheaper for a bottle shop to buy than individual cases.  Yet there are several stores in town that price growlers of a beer higher than the same beer in the bottles.  In some cases, this is true when both are in stock!!!

We can change this by not supporting silly pricing and gently asking stores to adjust to a reasonable dollar amount.  Ready, set,  go!

Rant over.