So what makes a Great Beer Bar?

Posted on May 21, 2010


So you want to go to a pub for some beers? is a common question you get asked all the time in whatever country or city you live in. But the real question is do you want to go to a shit bar with crap beer or a bar with good craft beer?  Being too far into craft beer realm, I can’t drink mainstream beer anymore so I only attend bars with drinkable suds.

But now as we become more accustomed to seek out good beer, it gets harder and harder to choose where to actually drink. Yes you can call me a beer snob, dweeb, and sometimes worse (I’m used to it) but  now before going to a new pub I have to look at the potential beer list online to see if I can actually go. I’m sure on more than one occasion I have been un-invited due to people knowing I’ll be a beer snob.  Good don’t invite if you think I will offend as I likely will.

So what is a good beer bar? What is a great beer bar? well the only way to actually know is by drinking your way around the country, and it is not only what taps are on, but the people, the owners and location of the bar.

1. Rotating Taps (Less than 30)

On the West coast of the US there are tap houses with large selections of beers in triple digits. Yes 100-160 taps are available in some Seattle and Portland bars that do have amazing craft tap handles. But there begs the question does this make it a great beer bar? NO.  IF they were turning over the taps regularly it might make sense, but if not then even great beer goes stale. Having had a stale Lost Abbey beer recently it almost made me cry that I had to send it back. There are certain bars with 100 taps of which 80-85 are craft beer taps, with 15-20% that are macro. But when you watch what people order, you can soon tell which taps are poured more than others. When Bud, Coors & Corona bottles are the major seller, it does make you think; why bother with craft taps?

Some of my favorite bars have between 10-20 taps, along with a selection of bottles that can be ordered. Part of the excitement is not knowing what is coming up next on tap, or the fun of knowing a keg has blown and waiting until the barman comes up from the cellar. The excitement of new beers is part of the joy of the craft beer movement.

There is  good movement of bars using Twitter & Facebook to update on what taps are either coming up soon, or have just blown. Social Media Technology helping business is a growing trend that is a definite advantage and its free.

2. Exciting Craft Taps

With over 1500 craft breweries in the United States and several hundred in Canada there is no excuse to be serving shit beer on tap. Bars that say they can’t get the craft beer in, or its too expensive are just not trying hard enough. Taps of seasonal beers that would include lighter, fruitier beers in summer with darker more intense stouts  and porters in the cooler months. Some bars use the excuse they can’t  change their taps because the locals would have a riot, well most locals wouldn’t be able to tell the difference if you poured them the wrong beer.

Bars that are taking risks in the US with sourcing beers from hard to reach places, or sourcing locally made beers are growing in popularity, and now its not just 1 Toronado bar in the US that is the premier bar for beer. There are many bars that now compete for interesting taps that attract beer loving faithful from far afield on either side of the coast.

The major trends in beer can be shown that Imperial Stouts, Imperial IPA’s and Belgium style beers are what is making the rounds with craft brewers and beer lovers. Bars need only pick up a free Brewers News magazine to read some articles on what is hot to workout how to attract better beer. The beer websites Beer Advocate and Rate Beer are great sources for attaining information on beers, or beer reviewers thoughts on beers. Some bars rely on the handouts received from major brewers to keep their taps pouring macro beers.

3. The Locals – Feeling Welcome

This factor cannot be forgotten as the locals at the bar with their interaction with the bartender are one of the great parts of beer bars. Aside from bar tenders giving you the time of day, in which sometimes they can’t when super busy, but the locals are the ones that help make the day/night.

A recent afternoon in a bar called Beverage Place in West Seattle was a great experience with a rowdy bar maid from Philly with attitude but knew her beer, and a group of locals that were more than willing to talk all afternoon. The locals in a beer bar will guide you to your next location whether that is food, beer, or a cheap hotel, with some even offering lifts when you know they shouldn’t.

There is one element of exchanging contact details when your drunk, as you think you have found your best new friend, when infact it was a drunken moment that should be kept there, as you are unlikely to meet again. Though I have found some fun facebook friends through meeting locals at weird beer bars.

4. Location

This is a tough part of finding bars for me, as I tend to always drive to cities, or fly there, so while there I use the public transit that exists. Some American cities it doesn’t, so Cabs are used. But where the bar is located plays a large part in who is attracted to the bar.

Some will call this an irrelevant factor as if there is good beer you will go, but this is a major factor that needs to be considered as why have a great beer bar in the middle of a suburban shopping mall area? transit and location are major factors why some bars are better than others in terms of beer turnover, and clientele.

5. Learn something new every visit

With every night out you should come back with a new beer that you tried, or a new piece of knowledge. This is one of my favorite parts of nights out in new cities is learning about something that no guidebook or beer website could tell you. You experience beers that you love and hate, and that’s the joy of the beer bar experience.

Though you may know about beer, sometimes its good to ask for a bartenders opinion on a beer selection. A good beer bar should have a barman/woman who knows their stuff, and you might just learn something.

Remember nobody knows everything on beer, everybody is learning in this craft beer experience!

My CURRENT Top 5 Beer Bars –

This is a tough question that I get asked all the time, in that what is your favorite bar? or favorite beer? I cannot answer either that easily, but if I was asked about certain bars that I would enjoy spending more time in then the answer is quite easily answered. The following bars are quite distinct in their own ways, some rougher than others, but these are my current favorites.

1. Baileys Tap Room – Portland OR
2. Toronado – San Fran CA
3. Brouwers Cafe – Seattle WA
4. Uber – Seattle WA
5. Saraveza – Portland OR