The Rise of the Publican

The Mayor of Old Town

A View of the Bar at The Mayor of Old Town

Bars with expanded draft beer selections are beginning to pop up everywhere.  Falling Rock Tap House has long been a Denver staple but now we have new places like The Mayor of Old Town and Backcountry Pizza and Tap House jumping into extensive draft offerings.  The average number of drafts lines being installed at new restaurants is somewhere near double what it was just a few years ago.  The goal of these venues is to make their bar more of a destination.  “Having more beers on tap gets more traffic through the door,” says Rueben of Rueben’s Burger Bistro.  With the rise in beer tourism, venues like this offer everyone who has been taking brew tours all day a place to bring it all together and have some dinner.  It may surprise you that the US is the largest beer destination in the world, surpassing Belgium and Germany.  With local craft beer scenes flourishing, bars with the largest draft selections are able to provide an overall feel for the beer scene of a particular area.

The Brewers Association defines this style of bar with an emphasis on craft beer as a “Publican” or a “Better Beer Provider.”  To most people knowledgeable on the beer industry, one thing is certain, draft is king.  Draft largely outsells bottled beer and most customers walking through the door prefer draft beer.  By having an expanded draft selection, Publicans are able to offer flights of beers and a wider range of samples.  They’re able to appeal to every level of beer drinker whether they have an advanced, intermediate or beginner palate.  There will always be a selection on tap that each segment of beer drinker has never tasted.

Ale House at Amatos

Taps at the Ale House at Amato's

“Draft is the preferred medium for craft beer,” says Julia Herz of the Brewers Association.  Especially since many small brewers currently don’t offer bottled selections.  With more draft lines, places like the The Mayor of Old Town in Fort Collins are able to spread the love around without stepping on anyone else’s toes.

But at what point are there too many beers on tap?  Do the beers that are on tap get old?  Do the lines get funky since there are so many of them?  There are people out there who are skeptical of venues that sport tons of beers on tap.  We caught up with a few Publican owners and bar managers to get some insight.

New Belgium Clutch, The Mayor of Old Town

New Belgium Clutch at The Mayor of Old Town

Most places with a focus on draft have an extremely thorough cleaning regiment, (as they should) since it is a core part of their business.  The Mayor of Old Town, cleans their lines between every keg change.  Even if it’s the same beer going on.  In addition to this, a draft tech from the distributor comes every two weeks.  Many establishments even have a dedicated employee in charge of draft and making sure the quality is there.  As for the beers staying on the line for a long time, one month seems to be the industry standard.  After 30 days the keg is at risk of oxidation.  If a certain beer isn’t selling well, the bar owner has the ability to adjust price on the spot and offer a special on this beer until the keg has run out.

Having an expanded draft selection is also a huge marketing advantage in the present day beer scene.  Rueben’s Burger Bistro in Boulder is currently expanding from 12 taps to 42.  Rueben, the owner, expects this to increase business by about 10%.  Beer sales are a huge part of the business that Rueben brings in and he says it just makes sense to have additional offerings.  Another advantage of having beer on draft is the ability to offer samples before people make a commitment to any given beer.

With such a large draft selection, education of employees is crucial.  Some business owners are requiring staff to pass the Cicerone Certified Beer Server Exam, which is the equivalent of a level one wine Sommelier.  The more educated the staff is on the product, the better they will be able to serve the needs of the customer.  Frequent questions not only revolve around style and flavor but also why certain beers come in specific glassware and why prices tend to have a significant range.

The aspect that I like most about a Publican is you never have to drink the same beer twice.  I’m always looking for new flavors to try and I usually trust the bartender to find something special.

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