Hey there beer peeps, I’ve been kind of laying low for the better part of the last month after ACBW. I know I ruffled some feathers with that ACBW recap post, but it was good to hear from so many of you who told me that I wasn’t totally off base with my comments. Well, here goes another one that may ruffle some feathers…
Let me preface this by saying that I love supporting my local breweries. I want all of them to grow, attract new beer drinkers, and achieve success beyond what they thought possible when they were in their planning stages. I know the brewery taprooms are just a fraction of a brewery’s operations, but done right, they can and should be a profit center in addition to exposing people to their brand. So it baffles me when I see breweries that aren’t taking full advantage of their taproom.
You’re a brewery. Your taproom, first and foremost, needs to be about your beer. Not trivia. Not yoga. Not music. It’s about your beer. The best way to get people into your taproom is to make kickass beer that people want to drink. Sure, there’s a time and place for all that other stuff. But if you need gimmicks to get people to come drink your beer, then you’re not doing it right. Make great beer, and be excited about it. Here’s just a few ways to do that:
– Make kickass beer. I think I already covered this, but it bears repeating. Great beer sells itself. If you do this, you’re well on your way to having a successful taproom.
– Give me something different. I need a reason to come to your taproom. Beers that aren’t available anywhere else is the easiest way to accomplish this. Yes, you need to have all your flagship beers and the current seasonal beers on tap. That’s a given. But you also need something that I can’t get off the shelf from my corner grocery store, in order to attract me to your taproom. Whether that’s an entirely new beer, or a different version of some of your core offerings, you MUST have something different. This should be such an easy thing to do, but it baffles me that some places don’t do this. Dry hop that IPA with something different or with more hops than usual. Add some fruit puree to that wheat beer to give it a different character. Try a new recipe for what could become your next big thing. You have to differentiate yourself from the bar down the street, otherwise I have no reason to come visit and spend my money at your taproom. Make sure you have a beer that I can only get at your taproom and nowhere else.
– Let your brewers be creative! Invest in a pilot brew system and allow your assistant brewers to have opportunities to brew what they want on it. Not only will this give you some different beers to serve, it creates a sense of ownership in the guys and gals that brew the same ol’ same ol’ week after week, day after day. Let the guy in packaging come up with a recipe. Ask the bartender if there’s a style people keep asking for, and brew it. Make sure your pilot system is big enough to brew at least 10 gallons, preferably more. But you have to consider this as an investment in your brewery, one that could provide the next big seller for you. This is the perfect place for eager test subjects. Do you want to release a double IPA or a saison, but aren’t sure what hops or yeast is going to make your beer just right? Let your brewers make lots of different versions of the beer and get feedback from taproom guests.
– Don’t have empty taps! For the love of god, you should NEVER have empty taps in your taproom. There always needs to be something waiting to be tapped should you kick one of your specialty kegs. Always. You are doing yourself and your customers a disservice if you have empty taps. There’s a local taproom that I can always count on to have 30% to 40% of their taps empty. Why is this? Come on, put something on there. You can’t sell beer that you don’t have tapped. There should never ever ever be empty taps in your taproom. Period.
– Private events are great, but…if you’re closing your taproom for a private event every other day, then I’m going to quit bothering trying to figure out if you’re open or not. I understand private events can bring in a lot of money, but you also turn off potential customers who get frustrated showing up to a closed taproom. Balance is key here.
– Food is a big deal. I am much more likely to hang around longer at the taproom if I can grab a bite to eat. Food trucks are your friend here. Work on relationships with local food trucks and get them scheduled to come out on a regular basis. If people can count on quality food to pair with great beer, they will come (and stick around).
– Promote your new releases. This should be a no-brainer, but if you’re releasing a new beer, do it at your taproom and make sure everybody knows about it. Get people in there to buy your beer directly from you, then you can do a release at a restaurant or bar later on.
– Limit the gimmicks. I understand, sometimes you need to get people to show up on traditionally slow nights by offering something different. Maybe you can host a running group every so often, have a yoga class, feature a movie night, or have a trivia night (I know these are popular, but I hate trivia night). But don’t overdo it. Again, your taproom should be about your beer, not the gimmicks. You may need to bring people in with a gimmick every so often, but the beer should be what keeps them coming back. Don’t forget that. And read this list again, if you forget that.
– A comfy environment is important. Make sure your taproom has a comfortable, inviting environment. There should be plenty of places to sit, both at the bar and at tables. But make sure there’s room for people to move around, especially around the bar. An outdoor area is a nice touch too. If there’s music playing, don’t have it so loud that people can’t hold a conversation. A laid back, comfy place to unwind with a few beers is exactly what I want in a brewery taproom.
– Make sure your servers are informed. The people pouring your beer have to know your beer inside and out. Ideally, they should be beer nerds, but if not, they still need to know what hops are used, and what makes your blonde ale different from your wheat ale. They should be able to make recommendations based on a customer’s beer preferences. If not, you could lose valuable sales and customers.
– Connect with your customers. OK, so I’m adding this one too. The best taprooms also seem to be the ones whose owners and brewers are regularly around to get feedback from the people drinking their beer. Have a presence in your own taproom, and engage your customers. Be excited about your beer. Tell them what makes it special. If you can create a connection with the people who drink your beer, it will bring them back. When I see a brewery owner pulling a tap handle of their own beer and running the register, I know that their heart is in it. When the brewer pulls out something they’ve been working on from the back or even beer from another brewery to share with customers, it embodies everything that is right about craft beer. It’s about friendship and sharing and always trying new things to make your own beer better.
Remember, kickass beer gets people in the door and keeps them coming back. Give me a reason to come to your taproom time and time again with something new.
I know some of my brewery friends may take offense to this. That’s not at all what this is intended to be. It’s advice from my point of view. I would love to visit brewery taprooms more often. Give me a reason to do so.
What do you think? What gets you into a taproom and keeps you coming back?