The Loose Moose garnered a lot of beer geek talk last week for expanding to fifty-two draught lines, including a large number devoted to craft beer. That may not seem exciting, but this is the same area of Toronto (Front St, near both arenas, a convention centre, hotels, tourist areas, etc) that was a craft dead zone until Longo’s opened a bar in their new store a couple of years ago. (Bar Hop isn’t too much further, but definitely not as convenient for people looking to get a drink before/after a game.) I haven’t beer in the Loose Moose (either before or after the changes) but it’s a positive change and I’m happy to give them a little bit of free publicity.
This did get me thinking of how draught selection in Toronto has changed in the past couple of years. C’est What used to be the mecca in terms of selection, but now Bar Hop and Volo also have over thirty lines. The Only Cafe went up to the mid-twenties in the recent past. There are too many places to mention that have at least a dozen good taps. Having a large selection is becoming a necessity for bars, which makes sense on multiple accounts. A lot of beer drinkers are becoming flexible in what they drink, even in the course of one night. We jump between beers in different styles and from different breweries. The more selection a bar has increases my likelihood of ordering another pint because there is something else on tap I haven’t tried. It also allows you to cater to different audiences – the people who want beers that are easier to drink, those looking for a medium intensity pale ale, the cider or fruit beer fans and then the hardcore geeks who want one-offs or more eclectic offerings.
The rising number of tap lines should also bring more products to Ontario over time. A number of the places mentioned above (C’est What, Volo, Only Cafe) only carry Canadian products on tap, which had been a great way to foster an appreciation for local craft beer and help prop up the industry. However, that policy has limited the ability to bring in kegs from Belgium, the States or other foreign lands, though many newer bars are finding success with a mix of local and international. Bar Hop has been doing a great job of balancing seasonal and one-off products from Ontario with draught beers from Rogue or Maredsous (two examples from the past couple of months). According to the online beer menu for the Loose Moose, they have a Liefmans beer on tap – a first for Ontario as far as I know. As more bars increase tap lines, I predict an ever greater selection of beers to become available.
If that does happen, I’m not all too concerned about the effect on Ontario breweries. The industry definitely feels more solid and established than it did two or three years ago and a rush of new beers from outside Canada isn’t likely to cause people to abandon the local breweries they have come to appreciate (dare I say sometimes even love?). But that’s also because I think the best beers in Ontario are now becoming on par with their counterparts from other countries. If anything, I think a greater selection will help consumers better understand that Ontario is finally producing some truly excellent beers.
There are always a couple of big question marks for places with large tap lists. The big two are: 1) Do they go through the kegs fast enough? and 2) Do they clean their lines often enough? Based on how busy most of these bars are on a regular basis, I don’t see the first part being a problem for the dedicated craft beer bars. Only time will tell if the Loose Moose can sell the craft beer fast enough. The second question hasn’t really been an issue for most of the big craft beer bars either – they are serious about beer and that includes treating the lines well. If more mainstream places start jumping on the trend, we may see more red flags.
One part of bar service that becomes really important when you’ve got a lot of taps (especially rotating taps) is having servers with a breadth of knowledge about beer. They have to be able to know all the beers on offer and be able to at least give a cursory description of the taste. Servers do a lot of beer education and therefore need to be educated on beer themselves. If they can’t properly sell a beer, then it doesn’t really matter how many taps you have because people will gravitate towards what they know and leave all those interesting draught lines dormant.
The only problem to all these tap lines is that it is becoming increasingly harder to try a large chunk of all the new beers coming out. It seems that Twitter is telling me on a daily basis that there is a new beer on tap tonight at a bar somewhere near me. The selection is almost enough to drive a person to insanity, but that can only be described as a good problem.