By Charles Whitting

For all the hype about craft beer, most pints poured are still mainstream lagers. So what can operators do to introduce people to the larger variety of beers out there?

Craft beer is an exciting category, full of variety in taste, aroma and texture, but while the sector is growing faster than any others, it still holds a relatively small percentage of overall sales nationally. Australians started brewing craft beer largely because they wanted to drink beers that were different than what was on offer in the majority of pubs and hotels in Australia. But it should be remembered that the majority of venues were probably selling those core beers because the majority of people were happy drinking them.

As a result, when it comes it introducing craft beer on to your taps, it is important to remember these customers, so that they don’t feel ostracised or overwhelmed. There is no need to ditch your most popular beers at a stroke – this can alienate people immediately – but you also shouldn’t let their tastes restrict what you can put on your bar. Instead, craft beer should be introduced gradually. The most popular styles of beer – lagers and pale ales – are the most popular for a reason, and that’s where the greatest output will be found. It’s about offering something familiar, but that still brings that point of difference in flavour.

“If you don’t think you have a market, why not just offer a craft beer special of the week?” recommends Chris Deale, publican at Dove and Olive, Sydney.

“Have it at a regular price rather than competing with your existing beers, but then have a Crafternoon special. If you have a happy hour from 4-6pm, why not have 6-7pm be a happy hour for a craft beer and customers might try it? It’s about staying true to your existing market but looking for a way to take them on a craft beer journey that doesn’t take them too far out of their comfort zone.”

However, for all the importance of having approachable beers on your bar to continue to attract your core beer-drinking customers, operators should also recognise that craft beers have the potential to bring other drinkers into the beer sphere. For one, there are the craft beer aficionados who are searching for the latest launch or a beer from the local area. Craft beer is growing because people are interested in it and want to find and try it. Don’t be surprised if you put on an unusual beer if it gets drunk before the week is out.

“Don’t underestimate the customer,” adds Luke Saturno, owner of The Gilbert Street Hotel in Adelaide. “Everyone wants to learn, and especially about beer.”

A wider customer base

It is also worth thinking about how craft beer has widened the potential beer-drinking demographic. The variety currently available within the beer category has started enticing whole segments of society who had previously decided that they didn’t like beer. A few different styles on tap can change minds and attract even more customers, especially if your staff can provide a few tasters and encourage customers to try to before they buy.

“It’s amazing how many women drop in and then say they don’t like beer,” explains Michael Rosenstein, co-owner at Stein’s Tap House in Barossa.

“We always suggest a couple of tries to see if we can’t find something that will change their minds. More often than not the first beer is a super easy drinking golden ale (think citrussy and light hops). Most women say they don’t like it, so the second taste we offer is a full-bodied IPA and a large number of the women reply with phrases like ‘That’s quite nice – very fruity’. We’ve come to realise that many haven’t tried a beer in 20 or more years, but they’re not recognising that their tastes have changed over the years. Now they like bitter and rich styles – a far cry from the sweet drinks of their youth. A lot get on board again and say they really enjoy beer now.”

There is also always scope to get involved in beer and food matching. Some venues might go all out creating the perfect match for each beer, discussing recipes with chefs and brewers or even building events around where the customers themselves can weigh in. But there is no need to necessarily get so detailed – as long as you have a style that will pair with a certain dish, like at the Dove and Olive, then you can make recommendations that will lead people to try different beers with their food.

“We don’t pair our menu with the individual beer, we pair up with the family,” says Deale. “So look for an ale, look for a lager, look for a stout. We go to that level. There’s always a range. What we’ve done is we’ve gone for ones where we know the style will be available all year round.”

An inclusive experience

Much of the responsibility for bringing craft beer to your customers will fall on your bar staff. If they are educated and enthusiastic about the new beers you’ve introduced, they’ll be better suited to discussing them with customers and encouraging further sales. If you can train your staff to treat your craft beer list as something that customers can explore together with the bar staff, rather than a snobbish barrier to a different world, then you may well be surprised at the results.

“Any customer that feels excluded is a customer you’re probably not going to get back in to your venue again,” says Ryan McLeod, venue manager at Clancy’s Fish pub in Fremantle. “Make sure the customer always feels welcome. If you’re someone who usually drinks a macro beer, a craft beer tap list can be quite intimidating. The best way around this is to ask your customer what they usually like to drink and look to match them up with a couple taste tests of something similar. You never know… you may have just kickstarted someone’s craft beer journey and changed their life forever.”

“We trust our staff,” adds Kieran Yewsall, co-owner of The Catfish in Melbourne.

“We have a great bar manager. She knows more about beer than me and my business partner. And then we go and look into it. If a staff member says ‘Have you tried this? It’s awesome’, then we’ll look into it.”

Vanessa Cavasinni

Vanessa Cavasinni is the managing editor of Australian Hotelier and Club Management, trade publications for the pub and club sectors respectively. Vanessa has been at the helm of Australian Hotelier since...

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