You walk into a bar to have a beer. You look at the tap list, you turn the page, you turn it again, holy shit, this bar has 172 beers on tap. How could you possibly choose? We asked the Fervent Few what they do when they see an overwhelming number of taps at a bar. How has it affected the service and the quality of the beers they ordered? Is there a right amount of taps?
Nik Stevens: “The best beer bars and breweries I have been to have 12-20. You can hit every drinking genre (range of beers, ABV, and flavor profile), while still keeping it fresh and different every time someone comes in.”
Andrew Nations: “I'll take a dozen well-curated taps over a hundred every time. Churchkey is one of the rare exceptions for me. Even with so many taps, each selection seems like a focused effort and not just a box-checking exercise.”
Mike McCarty: “I think 12-20 is the ideal range. It allows for a good measure of variety in style and brewery. There's a real sense of diminishing returns when you're choosing one from 10 different IPAs. The rare exception for me was Mikkeller NYC, which has ~60 taps and nailed it.”
Jaron Wright: “A solid rule is don't have more taps than you do seats at the bar. Most places I've gone to with over 20 taps have so for the sake of having a large number as an advertisement of being a serious beer place. If your ad only works on my mother (who doesn't drink), I'm generally not interested.”
Quinn Thompson: “Generally speaking, tap lists that have 50+ beers scare me, because there's almost inevitably a number of beers that have been on tap far longer than they should. With good process and discipline this could be prevented, but I generally don't know enough about the establishment to have confidence that they're checking dates and rotating stock accordingly. One taproom that does really well near me with 99 (!!!) taps is Loyal Legion. All of the taps are devoted to Oregon beers and I know they take quality very seriously. Their tap list on their website is updated regularly and even allows you to sort by things like hop variety, region of Oregon, and even medal winners. They are an exception to the rule for me.”
Tyler W. Plourd: “When an establishment has over 20 beers on tap I grow a bit wary. I think the sweet spot is somewhere in that 10-15 range, but geographic location could support those willing to dip their toes in deeper waters. There's a pub in Simsbury, CT called McLaddens which boasts exactly 50 beers/cider on tap at this exact moment. Their website is always up to date and the menu is organized by style. I think they do a great job of keeping things fresh and I haven't had a stale offering from them yet. Simsbury is a pretty large town in suburban Connecticut with almost 30,000 residents, but one of only three craft-focused beer bars in town. In short, I guess it really comes down to competition and population size according your location.”
Nick Weber: “I stay away from any place that has more than 30 taps. If they have 20+ and it's a smaller place, I'll assume they're serving from sixtels and rotating often. More often than not, I'll let their dedication to beer guide me more than a concrete number. If they give a shit about their experience, I'm safely assuming they're cleaning lines regularly. I just can't bring myself to go to places with 100+ taps regardless—there's no possible way the beers I'm after haven't been sitting in those lines for a long time.”
John Conner: “Generally speaking, I find bars that have dozens and dozens of taps to be uninteresting. Most of the time, these establishments are more geared towards beer novices and the general drinking public, and their lists are usually filled with big macro brands, standard beers from large craft breweries that are now ubiquitous, and beers from all of the major craft breweries that have sold out to corporations like AB-InBev. While the service at these places tends to be fine from a hospitality perspective, my experience has been that the servers are not well-versed in beer knowledge, such as proper glassware, knowledge, and description of styles, etc. This is not to say that I think these kinds of bars are bad in any kind of general way. Rather, they tend to be geared towards a different consumer than me, and there is nothing wrong with that.”
Zack Rothman: “I am fortunate to live next to a Yard House. It’s an establishment that has a vast array of taps that rotate often and feature local brewers. The best part is they seek input from their consumers and adjust their large tap list based on what their customers want. They do a good job of curating their draft selection for drinkers of all tastes in order to satisfy every type of palate. I appreciate that they have the most basic of brews available as well as some of the rarest such as KBS on tap.”
Wayne Pelletier: “I’ve never given the total number of taps much thought. It only matters if they can’t move that much beer. If the beer list is comprised of mostly nationally distributed brews, asking how long something has been on is an option. However, I tend to avoid this dance altogether by ordering fresh local beers that are either rare/seasonal, or something from a brewer newly in distro in my state of Georgia. As long as they keep their lines clean and don’t gross me out by burying the tap an inch into top of my beer, we should be okay.”
Zak Rotello: “Our bar has 28 draft handles. Since I try to be smart about my purchasing, almost nothing lasts on tap more than two weeks—1/2 barrels of Imperial Stout or Barleywine might stick around for a month. Our restaurant also seats 280+ people, including the patio, so I feel we've got a good mix of styles and selection for the size of our crowd. Having 28 handles lets me keep about 10 permanent handles the same, while allowing plenty of flexibility for rotators. Seeing permanent brands is very few and far between nowadays, but having those brands on tap full time keeps our staff happy so that they have some fallback suggestions for guests, and our customers are happy to have fallbacks as well. If those new kegs on tap don't trip your trigger, you can always rely on a pint of Anchor Steam or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Full-time handles keep our favorite brewers happy, too.
I've also ventured out this year into tapping some straight whiskies, cocktails, and coffee. For straight spirits on tap, I'll agree that it's mostly a novelty purchase, but it definitely drives interest and gives the staff an easy way to begin a conversation about that brand. Hell, we sold almost 20 bottles of Few Bourbon in February. With that brand, we'd never get near that volume in two years. And for things like sangria or a pre-mixed cocktail, it speeds up service, increases drink consistency, and gives our bartenders more time to put a nice garnish on the drink.”
Nate Wannlund: “I feel bad for the beer bars with a boat load of taps. They built at the peak of the beer hype. Now they struggle to get 80% of those beers to move through the lines. As a customer, I go there still since you can usually find a ‘kill the keg’ deal for $2 to $3 a pint (of solid beer BTW). I cannot imagine it looks good on a P&L, though.”