More Can Be Less

Craft Beer Los Angeles


As a connoisseur of beer, I have been to many, many, many beer bars. Now that Los Angeles is finally getting the quality craft beer that the rest of the nation has had for a longer time, I am spoiled with choices of where to go. No matter what part of this sprawling metropolis I find myself in, there is a quality bar with something new to taste or an old favorite to order.

But now that the bar (so to speak) has been raised, and some places fail to measure up to my subjective beer geek standard for what makes a beer bar or pub worthy of return visits. Unfortunately, I have visited two places in this month alone that have failed to inspire me. In the spirit of constructive criticism, I will offer up my suggestions that will make these two establishments more beer aficionado-friendly and I suggest to you the loyal beer customer that you let your publican know what ideas you have. Don’t just make a snarky post on Yelp and hide. I may ask for a beer but the bar manager may not listen until he/she hears from 10 people.

The first establishment that I visited had excellent ambience. There were only a few televisions (all tuned to sports) but the volume level was not punishing. Immediately, I took a liking to the place. The bartender was lively and accommodating and even extended the happy hour a few minutes for me to check out the taps of which there were only a few, five or six tops. No matter, limited amounts of taps are not always a bad thing. I looked over their selections and they had solid, craft beers but there was nothing exciting and therein lies the problem with bars with space for only a few tap handles. You don’t take chances. If you only have five taps, that is precious real estate.

I glanced over the list again, thinking that it was just me. I was being too snobbish. Just because I had drank everything on the list before did not mean that it was a bad list. But even the bottle list was uninspired. And apart from a Stone IPA, there was nothing truly local or seasonal. Here is what they should do…

LIMITED TAP LIST SUGGESTIONS

1. Have a local beer. For us, in LA County that means get Craftsman, Skyscraper or Eagle Rock Brewing on tap. You don’t need all three but at least one.

2. Don’t always pick the most popular beer from a brewery. If you can get Stone, don’t go on autopilot and pick the IPA (not that it’s bad). Why not the Cali-Belgique or the Vertical Epic? Go deeper into the catalog.

3. Find an obscure beer and introduce your customers to it. Maybe it’s a loose keg from Oregon or Washington. Or something sour from
New Belgium.

Maybe invite a brewery like Hangar 24 in Redlands to bring kegs and have a meet the brewer night and just pour their beers.

If you are aiming for the beer geek audience, to get them to return you have to offer new choices and “I wish I had” beers. Going the safe craft beer route seems like it will only alienate the non-beer geeks and draw blah’s from the believers.

The next establishment was the proto-typical sports bar. Everyone from the hostess to the barkeep, to the waitress to the managers were top notch. I felt like the people truly cared that their customers were having a good time. The bar was beautiful with a gleaming, new 33-tap set-up.

When I hear a tap number higher than 20, I know we are in dangerous territory. It is usually the realm of the high output bar and this was no exception. 8 taps for mega brewed yellow water, 10 taps of lightweight foreign beers (none Belgian). The remaining taps included Sam Adams and Stone. My heart sank. All the cozy booths and great service couldn’t repair this list. Here is what they need to do with their bounty of taps…..

LARGE TAP LIST RULES

1. Limit the mega brewers. I understand that economics make Bud a
necessity for some. But make sure you have only 3 or 4 mega-brew
taps. There are so many good beers why waste taps on Golden Wheat.

2. Have a section of taps for Belgian, seasonal or California beers.
Have 5 or 6 great Belgian’s including a fruit Lambic. Have a killer section of California beers. Russian River, Drakes, 21st Amendment, Lightning. Set aside a few taps for seasonal inspirations. Now would be a great time to have some winter warmers on tap for when people come in from the cold.

3. Get a beer suggestion box. If you start getting multiple requests for a certain beer, try to get it.

4. Don’t get stuck in the what sells mentality. That road always leads to St. Louis. Challenge and educate your patrons without being patronizing. For every best selling industrial beer there is a superior beer waiting to be sipped.

My homework for all those in craft beer land is to make a point to get to know the people behind the bar at your favorite pub. All of us who want great artisan beer to succeed need to band together and spread the word about better beer.

The beer for the week is Hair of the Dog’s Doggie Claws. A great,
hoppy barley wine that really warms the cheeks. It is a lovely fireplace sipper.

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

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Sean Inman

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

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You can get bottles of Doggie Claws at Whole Foods.

GREAT article – you really hit it right on the money on exactly what I’d want from a beer bar. I think Verdugo is doing a good job of following these rules which is why I’m so thankful I have it close to me on the east side. Where can I get doggie claws in LA? Sounds delicious! Cheers!

Did they claim to be craft beer bars? Maybe I missed that part. Not everyone wants to be a beer geek and good luck with getting those sports bars Russian River when it’s tough enough getting it to beer savvy bars.

You should hire yourself out an an independent beer menu consultant. If I had the gumption, that’s what I’d do. I see people on the beer scene making money at that. At least I think they’re making money at it. Maybe they just get free beer.

The main reasons that I did not put the names on the table was because I was pretty sure that these spots were quite happy with A) the amount of beer being sold and B) their station in the beer hierarchy. At this point they are not going to change. As I mentioned, the people were all nice but their eyes glazed over as I mentioned more ambitious brews. So this was more of a pre-emptive strike at future as yet opened establishments whose minds are not yet made up.

i don’t think naming is too necessary, but i agree with the concept of this post for sure. thankfully we are (now) blessed to have some good spots in la, but i say bravo on calling some folks out…. and +1 on doggie claws. deeeeeeelicious

You’re obviously not talking about Naja’s. So what are the names of the two establishments you visited? Why not name them?

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