Monday, July 13, 2009

Bloated Bars?

On Friday night Mrs Velkyal and I went out for dinner with a few friends of hers, after which we went to probably Columbia's most popular beer bar, the Flying Saucer. I was quite looking forward to going there because it had been my favourite pub last time we visited Columbia in 2007.

Although we arrived at about 9:30 at night there was plenty of space, Columbia is a college town and so pubs in the centre tend to be somewhat quiet when there are no students around. So we tucked ourselves into a corner of the bar - I am a people watcher and corners are the best place from which to do so and soon enough a barmaid, or "beer goddess" as they are called came over to take our orders. I had much about Harpoon IPA from my friend Kacenka, and sure enough it was a decent enough IPA, lots of blah blah blah - come on people, it's an American IPA so you know what I am going to say! Several other pints of various beer came and went, including an Oatmeal Porter from the Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, North Carolina which was very nice indeed. None of the beer I had in Flying Saucer though came near to the magnificent Stone's Smoked Porter I had to round off my dinner - what a simply fabulous beer that is, not too smoky, with delicate sweetness which rounds it all out nicely, wonderful!

The Flying Saucer however got me thinking about the issue of how many taps a pub has, in this case it is over 100 taps, and countless bottles on top of that. From the perspective of wanting to find a pub to call my local, the Flying Saucer probably wouldn't be in the running, simply because it has so many choices of draught beer. I am beginning to realise that I am simply not ticker material. assuming of course that "ticker" is the relevant American term, although I do love trying different beers, it is a question of trying new things rather than putting zythophilic notches on the bed post.

As some people probably already know, one of my aims in my new life in the New World is to set up my own pub, hence my interest in the number of taps, I think the ideal number is 6, set up as follows:
  • 2 permanent taps - a lager and a bitter for example
  • 2 semi-permanent taps - rotating between EPA/stout and IPA/altbier for example
  • 2 seasonal/specials
From the, admittedly not many, people I have spoken to here about pubs and beer, I regularly hear the same thing, pubs with 100+ taps are intimidating and they would like a pub where they can go in, ask for a beer and not immediately be ask "what kind of beer?". There is also the question then of having staff who know their stuff, but that is for another post.


  1. I agree that 100 is too many, but I might prefer a few more than 6... maybe 10?

    I think it's nice to have at least one beer from all the main styles on tap: lager, (american) pale ale ;), stout, IPA, some kind of belgianish ale, wheat beer, etc, and then a few other seasonal/specials.

    The good thing about starting small though is that you can judge the popularity of certain beers and/or demand for other beers. With 100 taps, I'm sure the flying saucer actually has beer that goes bad, whereas with 6 beers on tap you can ensure that the beer is fresh. And if later there is more demand for a few more beers on tap, hopefully you'll have the space to accommodate that.

    If you make it up to Philly this year we'll definitely have some great pubs to go to-- most have about 6 - 20 beers on tap.

  2. Variety more than just numbers is preferable. In a pub with dozens of taps, many will be fairly similar. A choice of fairly identical fair is a false choice. You only need one good example of a beer style.

    A more important feature is customer service. Something done better in your country than mine.

    Punters are not intimidated if in a friendly environment where there is no just thing as a daft question. Offer tasters to the unsure.

    Here in blighty you can go in a pub with dozens of pumps, all of which have daft names rather than detail of what style of beer it is, and bar staff that have no customer skills and expect the punter to be aware of every small micro, its products and treat the unfamilar punter like dirt.

    Be aware the product is a niche and welcome the unfamilar customer, and beer ticker alike.

    Best of luck with it.

  3. Cooking Lager, I like that. I've shown it to my staff and I hope we all learn from it.

  4. Jay,

    I originally thought about having 10 taps, but I think the amount of rotation in the 4 none permanent taps allows for a similar amount of choice .

    Cooking Lager,

    We actually share a country, I am British but living over here in the States after 10 years in the Czech Republic. So far I have been very impressed by the customer service in most places. I understand what you mean about the daft names you get in the UK, I remember the made up example the MD of Marston's used for an ideal ticker's pint - Knackered Old Cripple Cock!

    My aim when I have my place up and running is to turn every customer into a return customer. Not easy I am sure, but something to aim for.

  5. The typical restaurants and bars where I live provide the most false choice. It is not uncommon that all the beer served is from what is now two companies, and regardless their beers have always tasted the same. The "bloated bars" provide the other extreme and the opportunity to try beers that simply aren't available anywhere else including retail beer stores. None of them feel like a pub to me either. The pubs do tend to have 6 to 10 taps and mostly rotators. To me, the pub and the beer garden serve different purposes.

  6. We chose 6 handpulls of our own real ale, 4 rotating gas taps representing major beer styles, and a cider and a perry. Also two bottled German hefe's kept real cold. This has been successful in providing a workable variety, except for those requesting any of the macrobrewed sparkling rice water products. Too bad you're 3000 miles away.

  7. Al, so you are a british beer geek, huh?:)

    6 taps? are you missing Pivovarsky klub in Prague:)?

    Smoked Porter, HArpoon IPA, man, I am jealous:)

    We had discussion about how many taps can make you happy recently on my web site. I prefer bigger choice, but 100 is a bit too much even for me. 30-40 is perfectly OK.

    Maximum in Prague right now is 13 taps...


  8. Velky - keep in mind the ladies in the states usualy prefer some form of light pilsner/Ale or a Raspberry wheat (fruity beer). If the wives/girlfriends like your pub the boys will be allowed to come back on their own and be regulars. The way to the husbands wallet is through the wife! My czech wife and her friends avoided the NJ brewpubs that did not have those on tap. Pubs in CZ and UK are more a guy place in my opinion, in the US women are usually an equal part of the mix so you need one tap for that crowd.

  9. Honza,

    How could one not miss PK, especially when it was practically my local pub? I openly admit that their 6 tap system is one of the source of inspiration for my ideas with my pub, however I think PK suffers sometimes from a lack of choice regarding styles. It is great to have 6 different beers on tap but when 4 out of 6 a pale lagers it becomes a bit monotonous - hence my trips to Koala for Kocour (please, please, please find a distributor for your Samurai IPA in the US, preferably in Charlottesville, VA - Americans would love that stuff!).


    I am fully aware that for men to spend money they need their wife's say so! ;) I was thinking that one of the seasonal/special taps would be the more female friendly one - having said that I am blessed with a wife who likes her beer and can give her opinion with the best of them. I am also playing with the idea of have a rotating tap for cider and perry - you really can't beat proper cider int he summer.

  10. There's always been one thing that bothered me with the idea of so many taps (I think 40-30 are already way too many). The rotation of the kegs/casks.

    It's nice to have variety, but when out of, say, 60 taps, half are pretty much the same stuff and much of the other half is beer that is not in the best of shapes, then, what's the point.

    I think the "rotating" tap model works fantastic for everyone. For patrons, because everytime you go chances are you will find something new, and for the pub, because it will get repeated business from people who want to see what's new.

    But all in all, having a couple of fixed taps with "mainstream" stuff o session beers is a good idea. Sometimes you don't feel very adventurous and just want to have something you know you will like and that won't be very challenging.

  11. One final note, keep your taps clean. I have yet to send back a beer in Prague due to bad tap lines. In the US (brewpubs not included) almost on every outing I would run into a bad tap. When you experience this, send it back. My friends would argue with me but why destroy my tastebuds and my night on tainted beer. I often stuck to bottles in franchise restuarant bars because taps were like russian roulette. So make sure your staff keeps the tap lines clean or how many beers you have won't matter.


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