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Beer Menu Meltdown

March 16, 2016

We’re extraordinarily lucky in the Capital Region to have such a vibrant beer scene. It’s true. I’m constantly amazed at the great stuff that’s available to drink here, both from close by and from further afield. That Includes hard to find beers from minuscule breweries that enthusiasts around the world can’t get ahold of for any price.

And we have some great bars and distributors who work tirelessly to put these tasty liquids in our hands. I don’t think they get nearly the credit they deserve. So, thank you. Truly. All of you.

Given a choice, I would rather our best bars spend their time and energy procuring great kegs, taking care of their equipment, and training their staff. And they do. But as much as I love these establishments, and respect their efforts, there is one place where almost all of them fall down.

The beer menus are a mess.

This post would be better with pictures. But most of the beer menus would be impossible to read in picture form anyway. Because even when they are printed on large format paper, I find them impossible to read.

Granted, I’m old. But my eyes are good, dammit.

The real gripe is a lack of meaningful organization. Most of our great beer bars seem to have their offerings printed up willy nilly. And I get that there’s a lot of different ways to put a beer menu together, and a lot of different information that needs to be included. So I’m not looking for some kind of brilliant Edward Tufte solution to the problem. I’d just like these lists to be put together in a way that makes a little more sense.

One of my favorite places to drink great beer is at The Bier Abbey. Especially on Tuesday nights when The Fuj is behind the bar. The bar has a printed menu with more details, but here’s a picture of the chalkboard that lists the draft options.

For comparison’s sake, check out this beer menu that Otis M. found on his travels

What I hope you’ll notice about the menu Otis found is how the beers are listed in order from the most delicate to the most robust. This is just one way of organizing a beer menu that makes sense, not just to me, but to the neophyte beer drinkers who might be completely flummoxed by a long list of unfamiliar beers.

Not only is a menu like this helpful, but it’s also educational. Sure, it makes it easy to find the style of beer that suits your mood. But if you are unfamiliar with a style, like Kolsch, you can walk away knowing it’s on the more delicate side of the beer spectrum.

I absolutely understand that it’s harder to manage a list like this, especially when a bar is dealing with a long and constantly changing inventory. But the beer market is growing. And new people are coming into the realm of craft beer all the time.

Beer menus can be overwhelming. Heck, I’ve learned a fair bit already, and it’s still overwhelming to look at a long list of unfamiliar beers arranged in no discernable order. Rethinking how these beers get presented to the public is probably the easiest thing beer bars can do to increase their business. Because making beer discovery easy and fun is going to encourage new patrons to return. If the experience is too overwhelming, people are going to go back to what’s familiar and comfortable.

Not me though. I’m going to power through the menus, no matter how nonsensical they may seem. And I’m going to be thankful that such good beer is on tap so close to home. Sincerely.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2016 10:31 am

    My beer menu was from Area Four, a geeky gastropub/pizza spot opposite MIT in Cambridge. I was looking for very specific beers and didn’t notice the mild-to-robust organization, but you’re mostly right. I ordered a flight of four beers and they were delivered in the same sequence they were listed on the menu. I decided to drink them out of order for my own reasons and realized I should have kept to the order in which they were served.

    However, the reason I posted the menu was that the choices are imaginative and go beyond the obvious and hackneyed. My sweet spot is IPA and I had my choice of a Stoneface American IPA or Grimm Lambo DIPA on tap. By comparison, most local places would just offer up a Davidson or Sam Adams.

    If you serve a burger or mac and cheese, you probably take some care to make it your own rather than exactly like what could be ordered down the street. So why not bother to do the same with the beer that accompanies it?

  2. March 22, 2016 10:36 am

    Heh. He said Edward Tufte.

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