As we’ve noted in the past, field trips are crucial. Observing those who excel within your niche (and searching for the patterns between them) is always a valuable case study, and observing those who excel in different niches provides indispensable perspective. Now that we’re only a few months away from opening, we’re working to finalize all of our plans for the brewery and taproom; thus, we decided to take a field trip to Washington, DC in search of some new ideas and inspiration. After visiting a number of really exceptional establishments – both beer-centric and otherwise – we’ve compiled our thoughts on what we believe exceptional beer service consists of. Note: this isn’t intended to be prescriptive. It’s merely a list of things that we saw being done well and wish to emulate.
In our opinion, exceptional beer service can be split into two distinct parts: objective, tangible elements and subjective, intangible elements. I’ll break these suckers down and provide a few examples from our trip.
Respecting the beer: the objective tangibles
The objective tangibles are the empirical components of optimal beer service. Things that can be done to ensure the highest level of quality from a purely scientific standpoint.
- The draft system is the middleman between what the brewer intends and what the drinker receives. Clean draft lines should be a default expectation. As noted by The Brewers Association’s 5 Cardinal Sins of Craft Beer Service, “skirting draught line maintenance is comparable to a restaurant only sometimes washing the dishes”. Meridian Pint (an excellent example of folks with a respect for beer, minus any pretensiousness) advertises their weekly line cleanings with a drink special entitled Beermergency – reduced priced drafts of the beer left in the lines prior to flushing them. This takes the mundane and unglamorous act of scheduled maintenance and turns it into something everyone can benefit from.
- Although our sample size of bars and restaurants wasn’t enormous, one thing definitely stood out at those that we visited: clean, proper glassware. Nearly every location we popped into had both a variety of glassware and a countertop glass rinser. And it wasn’t just the upscale places: from the high-intensity beer curator to the quirky dive to the boutique pizza joint, a wide range of folks were serving beer in its respective glassware. When we asked the staff’s opinions on the difficulty of keeping and utilizing a large inventory of specialized glasses, we got the same response each time: once you develop a routine, it’s just as easy as any alternative. Welp, we’re sold.
Respecting the drinker: the subjective intangibles
In our opinion, having the science taken care of is really only half the battle. The subjective intangibles are the above-and-beyonds that make the experience special.
- As the variety of available beer grows and style boundaries are blurred by experimental offerings, the ability to educate the drinker matters more than ever. Regardless of whether you’re a nerd or a newbie, craft beer is a terrain best navigated with the assistance of a knowledgeable staff and informative literature. Quite a few of the locations we visited had some degree of descriptions on their beer menus – usually no more than a few choice adjectives, but an incredibly helpful addition in an age where terms like “IPA” can mean any number of things. And combined with a staff that’s able to field questions and make solid recommendations, the drinker is capable of making more informed decisions. And the more the drinker knows, the more they’ll care.
- The quantitative benefits of proper glassware aside, beer obviously looks better in a vessel that’s been specifically designed to accentuate its beauty. A pink-hued hibiscus sour absolutely sings in a tulip glass, much as weissbier vase showcases its hazy glow. There are those who would argue that the beer should speak for itself, but if so much time and energy has been put into the contents, then an equal amount of attention should be paid to the aesthetics of its presentation.
- On the topic of aesthetics, interior design was something we paid specific attention to while on this trip. We visited a variety of spaces, each with its own personality, but the ones that stood out to us were the ones that clearly put a lot of thought into designing their physical spaces. One of the spots we visited that nailed this was B Too (pictured above), a strikingly gorgeous Belgian restaurant with a modern-yet-approachably-casual atmosphere and some mean moules-frites.
So aside from being a much-needed break from the brewery renovation and an overall jolly good time, DC confirmed the feasibility of a lot of the things we’ve been thinking about for our own space. Now it’s time for us to put that knowledge into making our taproom the best it can be. This is gonna be fun.
Thanks for coming along for the ride, family.