What do I look for in a beer tap list? #BrewedAwakening

By / Wine + Drinks / October 20th, 2017 / 10

As a certified Sommelier and long time beer writer and beer judge, I see a lot of similarities between a well designed wine ‘by the glass’ list and a beer tap list. My common complaint is that many tap lists these days have too few beers under 6% alcohol and too many IPAs/DIPAs. So, what makes a good draft list? I have three requirements: Variation, Dedication, and Moderation.

Variation: I want to see new beers, particularly from local breweries, on a regular basis, and I want to see several rotating taps dedicated to this. That said, I also want classic beers represented. I dislike bars calling themselves “craft beer bars”. You should represent all beer, not just small breweries. Some of the best beers in the world are from large breweries. Maybe have something interesting from a classic European brewery to compare to the locals, but rotate that tap, too. Yes, focus mainly on small and local, but it might not be wise to turn away prospective customers by having no mainstream beers. Just don’t play the big brewery games. Choose the beers yourself, take no freebies/tap installations, etc. from brewery salespeople, and, if a beer doesn’t sell well, take it off the tap and try another.

Dedication: Although I love trying new beers, it is also very important to be loyal to good suppliers, and to customers who come regularly to drink a specific beer. If you started up with a specific beer, like a pale ale from a local brewery, and it does well, then keep it all the time (unless there is a very good reason to drop it – quality issues or a bad relationship). If you have a bunch of regulars that always drink a certain brand, and then you start rotating that tap, you will anger your customers and the brewery who depends on that regular account. Keep a few core taps that rarely change and cultivate the relationship with the breweries.

Moderation: Alcohol level is VERY important. Many of us who go to pubs have to drive. We want to drink a couple of beers and still be legal. I have often gone to beer bars, particularly in Toronto, where there are no beers on tap under 5.5% except perhaps an oddball sour beer. Every bar needs ales and lagers at 5% or less. And I don’t mean super hoppy Session IPAs. Those are well intentioned, but they are way too hoppy for session drinking, or to have with basic pub food. Always have a basic pils/lager and pale ale/bitter that is not overly bitter. Balance is important.

beer tap list at Battery Park Beer Bar in Dartmouth, NS

This week I went to Battery Park Beer Bar in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and I was pretty impressed by their tap selection, in terms of variety: a 5.5% Vienna Lager from Lunn’s Mill, a 3.5% Liesse (Belgian inspired table beer) from 2 Crows, a 6% Farmhouse Saison from Big Spruce, a 4.7% Porter from School House, a 5.5% milk stout from North, a collaborative Gruit from North/Boxing Rock, a DIPA from Roofhound in Digby and a few IPAs of various shapes, colours and sizes.

What was this list missing, from my standpoint? I think their list would be balanced out by having a local bitter/pale ale of 5% or less, plus a pils or lagered ale, either local or European, and perhaps a regular strength wit or weissebier.

Variety is the spice of life, and beer.


Craig Pinhey discovered good drink circa 1985 at Ginger’s Tavern/Granite Brewery in Halifax and has been writing about beer, wine and spirits for 25 years. A Certified Sommelier and BJCP judge, Craig lives in New Brunswick where he runs his own writing and consulting business and is the beverage columnist for Brunswick News. He is the only person to have judged all of the national wine, spirits and beer awards of Canada.

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