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Who's Serving Your Beer?

Alberta is in the middle of a beer revolution unlike anything it has ever seen before, with so many breweries and soon-to-be breweries (present company included) opening shop, that no single list is able to account for them all (although they come very close) because the numbers seem to change daily.

Many have asked us, “does it still make sense to build a brewery now? Isn’t the market flooded?” The simple answer to that is yes it makes sense and no the market is not flooded. The more in depth answer is that the CRAFT segment of the beer industry only accounts for approximately 12% of the total market share. That means 88% of the market is dominated by big beer companies like Molsen/Coors and Anheuser-Busch Inbev, providing the light yellow lagers most of us in North America grew up on. What we understand as we work our way into this industry is that we have a LOT of room for growth. Critical to that growth however is getting our beer to market and who serves up the beer matters more than you think.

Last week, while enjoying an evening free of filling orders and driving kids to sports, we had the chance to go out for a pint in town and were happy to see two solid Alberta craft beers on tap there. What we didn’t know however, was which beer style was on each tap so we asked, “Can you tell me which Fahr beer this is on tap?” Not long ago we thoroughly enjoyed a pint of "Fahr North Dunkleweizen" at the National on 8th in Calgary and were hopeful that we were going to be able to have it again. The server responded with, “I don’t know which one this is…all I know is it’s very hoppy.”

Now, knowing Fahr beer well, we knew this was not going to be a hoppy beer and were immediately confused. Absolutely unsure of what was on that tap, we asked for a taste. Without even tasting it, we could immediately smell the sweet, banana/clove aromas coming from Fahr’s extremely well brewed Hefewiezen…not a hoppy beer on any level whatsoever…and that worried us.

There is a stigma that comes with craft beer and that stigma is that "all craft beer is hoppy”. Remember the bitter beer face commercials back in the day? That ingenious marketing strategy has stuck and the beer drinkers of today still believe that craft beer = hoppy/bitter beer. And although it CAN be hoppy and bitter, like the IPAs and Pale Ales we now have good access to in Alberta, it doesn’t come close to being the only beers coming from the craft beer industry. Stouts, Reds, Hefs, Belgians, Pilsners, Saisons, Fruit Beers, Porters, Wheat Beers, Browns, Kolschs, Lagers and so many more that do not typically have a hop-forward flavour/aroma nor any noticeable bitterness are CRAFT BEER, so the assumption is they too are all hoppy.

What most don’t realize is that craft beer is defined as beer that is brewed in “small, independently owned breweries”…that is it…nothing nefarious and certainly isn’t defined by hops…because ALL beers (even the mass produced lagers) have hops in them.

Craft brewers are supplying a selection of beer to Alberta that has traditionally only been available as imports (with the exception of the few who paved the way…Big Rock, Wildrose and AllyKat come to mind of course) and they are being made right in our backyard…with local supplies, equipment and trades people, that supports the growth of more than just this industry but of our economy, while providing us with the freshest beer within our reach.

Why then would we jeopardize growing our economy and having access to the freshest, local brewed beer that is as good as import beer, by leaving the front line staff without the tools they need to promote it? It's time to educate our front liners so they know exactly what they're serving so they can make recommendations that both suit the consumer AND support the industry and the economy's growth.

Learning the language of beer is not rocket science but it can leave many of us tongue tied trying to find the right descriptors. There are however a few things you can do to ensure your beer is being served up the way it was intended…

1. Formally introduce each new beer on tap to the servers…sit down, try samples, talk about the beer and provide tasting notes. Servers have to remember the daily specials in a restaurant in a way that romantically conveys the ingredients, flavours and methods for cooking it, so assume the same consideration to beer. It will help guide patrons to trying more by knowing what they’re getting into.

2. Hire Secret Hoppers…ever heard of secret shoppers? This is exactly the same thing but for the beer industry. Send in a secret hopper to ensure the servers are providing the tasting info that actually describes your beer. If they fail, get back in there and re-introduce your beer so they know what they are serving.

3. Consider Cicerone Server Certification for your staff. Besides understanding the importance of clean glassware, a proper pour and knowing how best to handle beer, your servers will learn some of the critical vocabulary needed to have a BEER dialog with customers that can revolve around beer styles and flavours because the more they understand, the better they can recommend the perfect beer for everyone.

These are only a few ideas to helping avoid the situation we experienced but the sure fire way to resolve beer misinformation, it is to ask questions and open yourself up to new beers and new experiences. The next time a server tells you, "oh that beer is pretty hoppy," ask for a taste and decide for yourself.

If you have any other ideas, feel free to tell us about it. We're in this together!

Happy Brewing!

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