Draught Wars

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.

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5 responses to “Draught Wars

  1. Craft beer drinkers in the city have been waiting for this. Now let’s put our money where our mouths are and get over there. I’ll be there on the 21st.

  2. Hey Mike,

    As far as freshness is concerned, I can tell you a few things about the Loose Moose in particular that might set your mind at ease. As of last week, all of the craft taps are pushing 20 or 30 litre kegs. They typically purchase 2x20l kegs of Augusta Ale each week, indicating that they could probably toss a 58.6l in there without any concerns for freshness. Keep in mind the sheer size of the building. They have capacity for 900+ and push some serious beer volume, especially now that the NHL is back.

    Loose Moose has really hit it out of the park with this concept. I know it sounds like I’m really pumping their tires here, and yes I do recognize that it’s an account of ours so it probably smells a little fishy. But as a beer enthusiast and an employee of a small beer company, this type of shift in the restaurant business is huge. I think they’re ahead of the curve offering something other than the same old boring stuff served at every other sports bar on Front Street. The best part is that they haven’t alienated their old audience, they’ve simply added to it.

  3. I think it certainly raises the stakes for everyone. I was thinking about a nice bar like The Roy. Very timid beer selection with Tankhouse being the most interesting beer. I can’t see why I would go there right now even though I like the atmosphere of the place. It’s amazing how spoiled we are. I was at Sauce and had 3 pints I had never tried (Skinny Dipping with Friends, Wellington’s Imperial Brown Ale and I think Muskoka’s Mocha Porter). What a great list for a neighborhood bar.

  4. I had Liefman’s on tap @ Town Crier a few weeks back – I’m assuming it’s being brought in and distributed through one of the import agencies?

    Twitter-fuelled new-beer psychosis is manageable by getting thyself to a bar and drinking a new beer!

  5. I find it amazing that there are all these great beer places in Toronto but as soon as you go north of the 401 there isn’t anything. Like at all. Nothing in upper North York, Thornhill, Markham, or Richmond Hill… No one could name a bar that had local craft beer on tap up here. We all have to travel down south to get our fix…

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