The explosion of the craft beer market means beer has become big business for restaurants. Beer lists across the country carry domestic and international brews for diners who are more educated about what goes into a good beer. For beverage managers, knowing what to add or exclude from a list can be tricky.
“It’s like putting together a mixtape for your girlfriend when you were in high school,” says Matt O’Reilly, owner of Republic in Minneapolis. “You don’t want to have any bad songs on there.” O’Reilly manages the beer list at Republic, a restaurant and beer hall with 100 tap lines of domestic and international offerings.
“You have to strike the right balance between what you like and what your guests expect,” he says. Crafting a list with that balance can be difficult since there are so many beers on the market, says O’Reilly, but there are a few things that beer buyers can do to make sure that they getting as close to that balance as possible.
Below, O’Reilly walks us through how he has created the beer list at Republic and what advice he has for other beer buyers.
Add variety within categories
It’s impossible to carry every single beer type that’s on the market so it’s important to choose styles carefully. “It starts with having a diverse mix that is representative of what’s out there,” O’Reilly says. There are tons of I.P.A.’s available, so O’Reilly works to bring in really good examples within that category. “I want to make sure that I’m balancing different versions of the category for our guests to try.” On the Republic beer list there’s a section of I.P.A.’s that are from Minnesota which allows him to narrow down the choices of what to add to the list.
Have a few options to appeal to macro beer drinkers
“When you’re building a list there’s more to it than just having popular beers,” O’Reilly says. At Republic, there are no macro beers, or beers that are produced on a large scale, on the list. O’Reilly says that was a conscious choice. “It requires us to be more thoughtful and help people through our list.” If a guest comes in and asks for a certain macro beer by name, O’Reilly and his staff try to find an alternative on the list that offers the same flavors. “We really want to give people comparable, craft versions of those beers,” he says.
Invest in education
Maintaining a rotating tap list of 100 beers is quite an undertaking, and it requires O’Reilly and his staff to be knowledgeable about what they have on the list. “We work on education with our staff so they can offer our guests something that they’ve never had but they’re going to like,” he says. To keep everyone up to date, he and his management team do daily overviews of changes to the beer list and new servers and bartenders go through an extensive training process. “We cover the history of the company, the ABV (alcohol by volume), where the brewers come from, history of the style of beer, things like that,” he says. “I want to make sure our team feels comfortable enough with this information so that they can pass it on to the guest.” It also helps the team get on board with the list. If they’re able to learn and try the beers, they’re able to have their favorites that they can get excited about and talk about with guests. “Your staff has got to be on board with what you’re doing or it won’t work,” O’Reilly adds.
Keep an eye on consistency
One mistake that O’Reilly sees managers make when it comes to picking beers for their list is not working with breweries that can produce quality brews consistently. “When you taste a beer from a new brewery, you want to make sure that they can deliver that same quality of beer over and over again. That consistency in product is important.” Before adding a new beer to the list, be sure to taste it on several different occasions to make sure that the quality is the same each time. “You don’t want a guest to come back for a certain beer and have something that’s completely different than what they had at first.”
Stick to your guns and have fun
“If there’s a commitment to quality over popularity, your beer list will get better. Just try to be thoughtful and highlight the best versions that you can find,” O’Reilly says. It’s taken him a long time to learn to not change the list “just for the sake of change,” he says. Today, he stays true to his mission of providing quality beers and tries to have fun with it. He encourages other beverage managers to do the same. “It can be overwhelming to manage, but it’s a lot of fun. Take some risks and see how it plays out.” You’ll know you’re doing a good job by how your guests respond to it. “If your crowd is responding well to what you’re doing then you’re doing a great job.”