Many Venture Cafe guests have inquired at the bar as to how we choose the beers on tap and how we procure them. It’s not always a straight-forward process, so I thought I’d enlighten guests on the byzantine world of craft beer keg retail.
In order to choose beers, we need to know first what our options are. Thus, we pursue many avenues of education so that we learn about local breweries and what they are producing. For example, the Craft Beer Fest – coming up soon the weekend of June 3 – has in the past introduced us to new breweries and brews. Additionally, Beer Advocate, the magazine and the website, produces helpful articles and lists identifying what’s good and what’s new. The website includes member ratings on beers that may influence us as to whether to buy a keg and what size to buy. The local breweries themselves also have websites that keep us updated on their seasonal beers and events going on locally. Finally, some local bars boast wonderful beer menus and are a great place to sample beers. These include but are not limited to Bukowski’s, Sunset Grill and Tap, Publick House, Lord Hobo, MeadHall and the Lower Depths. It’s a tough job to romp around Boston sampling beer, but it’s all in the name of research for the public good.
Once we know what’s out there, we can make the selection for the week. In selecting beers, we try to balance a few factors. We consider which state the beer is from, which brewery makes it, its alcohol content, and whether it is light or dark. Variety is key and the goal is to ensure there is a beer for everyone’s taste, and to support the local breweries. Before I make my requests for the week, I check with the Massachusetts Beverage Business catalogue to see whether the beer I want is available in a keg size that will fit in our bar, and whether the beer is distributed by a company that works with our retailer, Downtown Wine and Spirits in Somerville.
The next step is to talk to our friends at Downtown. They have been quite patient with my beer whims and are kind enough to deliver our kegs every week. Downtown also knows its beer – knows it well – and always has good recommendations when I am at a loss. Ordering from them often requires negotiation, however, because sometimes the local brewery is not producing what we want, or is temporarily out of the keg size we want, or forgets to send the beer to Downtown. So, Downtown has to do a lot of talking with the distributors and breweries, and I have to do a lot of talking with Downtown about what backup beers would work if the ones we want are unavailable. In the end, I get to learn a lot about different beers and channels of distribution, and Downtown gets the experience of working with a very unique client. Obviously, I get the good end of the deal!
Downtown then delivers the beer on Thursday before the cafe, and picks up the empty kegs from the previous week to be reused. Each tap has a line-up of kegs planned for it, so we arrange the kegs in the bar so that they will be easy to move around to tap and untap.
Finally, the kegs are tapped, and the beer flows into your cup.
It’s as simple as that.