At Bottleneck Management we love fresh beer, and we know you do too!
Which is why when I was first approached by Bottleneck ownership with the question, “How many beers do you think we can carry on tap?,” I was very hesitant to give an answer that would compromise the quality of the product we serve to our guests. You see, when a keg is first tapped, the clock starts ticking and the shelf life of any particular brand on tap generally ranges from 3-5 weeks, depending on the brand (compared to bottled beer that has a shelf life of months to years depending on the brand and storage conditions).
A New Focus
The previously mentioned question was posed to me in the fall of 2011, as Bottleneck’s activity began to focus on what is now Old Town Pour House. We wanted to open a restaurant that offered the very best in craft beer in its truest form, draft.
- After reviewing expected volume numbers and running comparisons to other venues we operate, my recommendation was initially no more than 60 beers on tap. I was challenged to go higher.
- So I did more research, gave this concept a lot of thought, and came up with a strategy to offer 90 brands on tap at Old Town Pour House. If we were going to succeed with this concept and remain committed to delivering the freshest tap beer possible, we would need to take advantage of high volume business, employee education, organization, product programming, and a commitment from suppliers to offer their brands in smaller quantities.
The first and major component to managing freshness with a list this robust is volume. You simply have to operate a high volume business to get through that much product. Once the guests arrive, however, then the strategy needs to take hold. With the opening of Old Town Pour House in Chicago, we’ve implemented a rigorous 60 question beer test that all of our bartenders and servers must pass to complete training. This commitment to learning beer is necessary to give guests a unique and genuine beer experience, but it also empowers our staff to be able to speak to the entire beer lineup and not just their handful of favorites. Our staff has to know and recommend the entire list democratically. If they only recommended their favorites, those brands would dominate, and the lesser known brands wouldn’t be called for.
Keg cooler organization is the next step in this equation. We have a “tap date” written down for each keg that we have online. The shelf life of a tapped keg varies by brand and there are many factors that go into how long a beer will stay fresh once tapped. Once we are aware that a beer is approaching the end of its peak freshness, we will introduce programming that will promote selling that beer at a faster clip. Flight programming, product features, and menu placement are all mechanisms we work with to help promote the sale of a brand that needs a little help.
Final Component – The Math
The final component of this strategy is the market trend and the commitment from our suppliers to supply us beer in smaller quantities. Ten years ago, when most keg beers came to us in 13-15 gallon vessels, this concept wouldn’t be possible. Now, most craft brewers are supplying their beer in 5-gallon vessels.
- When you do the math on 5 gallons, it comes out to just over 600 ounces, which equates to about 40-45 beers (depending on how large your glassware is). Let’s break it down even further…if a kegged beer is at its freshest for 3 weeks, that means we have 21 days to sell 40-45 beers, or roughly 2 a day. THAT’S IT! If we sell two beers a day, we can deliver our guests the freshest draft beer possible.
We are on the cusp of opening Howells & Hood, in the first floor of The Tribune Tower. This concept is our most aggressive to date, bringing together the best of all Bottleneck establishments; including but not limited to, the most craft beer on draft in the city of Chicago. We are going to house 114 beer brands, flowing through 360 faucets, spread across 3 bars! This selection is well designed to represent all styles of craft beer, and in my opinion, represents not just the best of craft beer available worldwide, but also highlights the great craft beer that is produced in Chicago. Over 20% of the lineup is dedicated to Chicago craft brewers. Chicago should be recognized as producing some of the best craft beer in the world, and this lineup represents that idea.
But we didn’t stop there. Corporate Executive Chef Paul Katz has hired one of the most talented Chefs in the city of Chicago, Chef Scott Walton. He and his menu will surely have people coming back for more! In fact, I often joke with Chef Scott on what will be a larger draw at Howells and Hood, the craft beer line up or his menu? If I were a betting man, which I am, I’d bet on the menu…but I think the craft beer will be a close second!
“A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.” – Anonymous