Archive for the ‘Bars’ Category
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the chronic short-pouring that occurs in the Vancouver bar scene. From CAMRA Vancouver‘s rather public Twitter shaming of craft beer bars to the Vancouver Sun‘s (slightly) more scientific survey of a variety of pubs, craft or not.
The results? Yes, pubs are short pouring and yes, it’s a widespread issue. When you consider the absolute, letter of the law on the matter, ordering 20oz of beer must net you a glass that contains no less than 19.5oz of actual liquid beer. Given appropriate head levels for properly poured beer, that basically means that it’s not possible to fulfil a beer order in the same sized glass as the volume of beer advertised (aka 20oz of beer cannot be properly served in a 20oz glass).
However, having said all that, I think this whole glass-vs-pour size thing is a distraction. Most bars are not short pouring to increase profits, but rather incidentally are short pouring due to a variety of other factors: common industry practice, competitive pressure around advertised size, etc.
Yes, it’s not legal and yes, pubs should all get on board but, deep down, most pubs weren’t truly aiming to rip the consumer off.
Say you run a pub. Say a keg costs you $200 to buy and holds 120 14.5oz pours of beer. Now say you want to make a (perfectly reasonable) 150% gross profit on that beer, before expenses. You’ll sell that 14.5oz of beer for ~$4.25. Hey, running a bar ain’t cheap.
Slide over to the pub next door, and they’re selling a real pour of 16oz, but still paying $200 to get that same keg. Only now it holds 110 pours because they’re actually serving 16oz of beer. In order to stay open, though, the gross margin still needs to be 150%, so they sell that sleeve for ~$4.50.
A third pub, for whatever reason, sells their 16oz real pour for $5.00. Maybe they have a view. Maybe they’re all fancy-like and clean their glassware between uses. Who knows. The result is ~175% gross margin, but the short pour level of 0% shows that they’re not cheating you, they’re just expensive.
However, go to the next pub down the line and the real motivation in advertising a larger pour is to gouge the clients. In this case, that 14.5oz pour is listed as “16oz” on the menu and priced at the same $4.50 as the real 16oz down the street. Bam, that’s 170% of gross profit, and that combination of short pour and high profit margin becomes a tell.
Those of you who’ve read my blog for a while know where I’m going with this. If I had a list of short pour levels plus price levels for a variety of pubs I could then find the ones that are actually ripping off clients. So, I took the Vancouver Sun’s reported pint pour sizes, pint prices, and researched the raw cost for the beers they’re serving. I then applied the magic that is mathematics to see if the short pouring bars split out into two groups: those that short pour without profit increases in mind and those that do.
The result? Yup, they do. The folks that short pour for reasons other than deceiving their clients have almost no correlation between short pour levels and profit. However, a different group emerges from the numbers; a group that has quite a strong correlation between the level of short pour and profit. Strip out the bars with zero correlation between pour size and profit and you get this graph of short pour percentage vs profit margin.
Basically, the trend is that for every 10% of a short pour (e.g. 18oz instead of 20oz) these bars’ profits go up 100%. That guy on the top? Shortpouring 30% for over 300% gross profit margin. Note that there were other bars with 300% margin. However they were selling you what they advertised and, as such, I don’t consider them dishonest, just expensive. All told, though, just under 50% of the bars surveyed by the Sun wound up fitting the trend line very nicely.
Next up, I took it a step farther. If there’s an entire sub-section of the pub industry dedicated to ripping off clients via short pours, wouldn’t it reason to follow that there’s a support industry out there? I mean, they’re not simply selling you 14oz in a 20oz glass and hoping you won’t notice. Nor are they placing a 14oz glass in front of you and banking on you shutting up and taking it. Nope, they’re using deliberately misleading glassware.
On the top is the standard “shaker vs sleeve” debate. One of those glasses holds 16oz while the other holds 14.5oz. You can tell the difference by looking at the bottom. This, plus a 16oz sleeve being delivered when a pint is ordered, is what you’re most likely to run into in the wild.
The bottom, though, is a singular piece of mastery. Meet the Anchor Hocking 1170U. This monster of a glass is praised for its large size, its heavy weight in the hand and, above all, its ability to help with both “portion control” and “profits.”
Oh, you thought they’d call it “helps you rip off customers?” Nope. When you’re dishonest, you need a euphemism to hide behind, and the dishonest pub has latched onto “portion control.” That monster glass? It holds 10oz. 10 freaking ounces. In a glass you could knock out a horse with. Those divots on the bottom deliberately hide the fact that the bottom inch of this sucker is pure glass. Those sharp angles likewise conceal just how thick the glass is on the side. There is only one possible reason to make a glass in this fashion, and it’s not about being fair.
Don’t worry about being limited to 10oz, though; they almost make virtually identical glassware in 16oz, 14oz, and 12oz. Same height, width, style, and weight (when full of beer). They don’t specifically say so, but these glasses are basically designed to enable slowly lowering pour size as your patrons get drunker so as to maximize profits/fraud.
Forget the glass vs pour size debate. Education will solve that on all sides. It’s these bastards we need to go after.
There was a whole flurry of keyboard-warrioring going on this weekend over a recent CAMRA effort to raise the issue of endemic under pours in the local craft beer pub scene. Like their style or not (and I did not like their style) they at least got us talking about it.
One thing that immediately became clear from the discussion is that there’s plenty of confusion out there regarding what, exactly, is meant by the phrase “16oz of beer.” It might seem trivial upon initial inspection, but two camps quickly emerged: those that feel 16oz is the beer alone (head is extra) and those that feel 16oz is the amount of beer–including head–that fits in a 16oz glass.
There’s no official line on this matter, either. The LCLB Policy Manual helpfully suggests that “quantities” must be displayed as part of a price list, but never clarifies what a certain quantity of beer actually is. Thus, we must infer from the policy. The point of listing quantities is to allow patrons to appropriately gauge their consumption (although curiously listing ABV is not required). It would reason, then, that the LCLB intent is to specify the volume of the liquid itself excluding head, since head contains very little alcohol.
UPDATE: Measurements Canada has since explicitly confirmed that stated volume for beer sales does not include head. No ifs, ands or buts.
With that out of the way, we can talk about making it all better. Clearly all we have to do is get out the ladder, climb up to the chalk board, cross out the “16oz” before “Fat Tug, $5.00″ and then write in “~14oz” right? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Sure, everyone reading this would see that, congratulate the bar on upping their standards, and then order a properly poured ~14oz drink and tip big. Other folks, especially those not vested too heavily in craft beer, will see the now-lower “14oz” size next to the just-the-same $5.00 price and say “What the bloody fuckin’ ‘ell?!” (Everyone has a cockney accent in my examples).
That person would likely then walk out the door and into a pub that’s still selling their 16oz (glass) of Fat Tug for the old price of $5.00, despite the fact both pubs are serving him the exact same amount of the exact same beer in the same glass, and charging the same price for it. Only now he’s very mad at one of them.
Basically the logic is “we can’t afford to be honest because then the dishonest folk would profit at our expense, so we’ll just be dishonest too” or more frequently stated “it’s common industry practise.” Sure, it’s common, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Bar owners either know full well that they’re playing fast and loose with serving sizes, or they manage to convince themselves that “16oz” actually means glass size, and everyone should know and accept that. Sorry guys, as a beer consumer, and a regular reader of that epic tome, the Licensing Policy Manual, that dog don’t hunt.
Sure, there are other options. The bar could buy 18oz glasses, and actually pour the client 16oz of beer. Of course, this has two added expenses: the new glassware plus the extra 2oz of beer the client is now getting for that same $5.00. Your rep is saved, but your profits are down. As a business that’s no good.
Can’t raise the price of that 18oz glass/16oz pour of beer either, since that just puts you right back in the scenario of directly competing with the dishonest places down the street, only this time the size stayed the same on the board but the price went up.
So that’s the corner we’ve painted ourselves into. The bars have been short pouring people for so long that it just seems like the only way to do business, and giving the competition any slight advantage in terms of perceived value just isn’t palatable.
What do we do? There’s no easy solution. I’ve thought on this long and hard, and I don’t see a way around ripping off this band-aid. We have to go cold turkey and give up the addictive profits of short pours. The pubs should pull out the ladder and change their pour sizes. They should also post a sign explaining what’s happening, and what’s happening down the street.
Consumers are smarter than you give them credit for; they’ll figure it out. Yes, it brings up the awkward conversation around honest vs dishonest prices and which of those you were charging before, but it lets you frame that discussion and prepare your staff for it. Best do it now while you have control.
Either you lead the charge, or slowly, folks will start to wander into your pub, look at your board and ask “is that pour size or glass size?” Trust me: you don’t want to be honest because your clients figured out you were lying, and demand it of you.
In the long run, move away from the “~14oz” pour and into actual marked glasses. These are more expensive, but when you hear people talking about places with marked pours you hear phrases like “fancy as shoot” and not “what’s with these weird markings?” (Okay, some of the people in my examples are actually near-illiterates from Alabama). Fill lines remove all doubt about what’s in your glass and allow your patrons to ask other bars why they, in turn, don’t have fill lines.
Make no mistake, moving in this direction won’t be easy, but I also suspect it won’t be as hard as bar owners fear. In the long run, it’s simply the right thing to do. Might as well get a head start.
So, I’m home. My epic journey to Europe and back concluded last weekend, but it took me another week to catch up at my day job. Yes, I have a day job. Until you lot pay me enough to quit and swill craft beer full time, I’ll have to occasionally take time out to punch my dot com salt mine timecard.
Where did I go? A lot of places, but let’s keep this beer-themed, shall we? In order to do that, our story begins not in the fabled beer mecca of Belgium, but an awful lot closer to home: New York City. Famed for both its salsa and neurotic filmmakers, the Big Apple is something of a market draw for the regions’ craft beer producers, on account of its being New York Fucking City.
New York itself features relatively few breweries, but the 8ish million residents ensure that there are hundreds of establishments with respectable tap lists. I didn’t have time to visit them all during my two days there, but I did manage poke my head into six, and that’s enough to make broad, sweeping generalizations about the city’s beer scene as a whole.
I generally stuck around Manhattan, on account of my staying there. My buddy Jer (@blprnt) was kind enough to come over the bridge from Brooklyn and lead Sharon and me on a guided tour of decent brew spots, so they’re not exactly a random selection. Therefore, I guess this article beats Googling “bar” for finding spots to drink good beer. Read on for my thoughts.
Tucked into an unassuming snug near Chinatown are some of the best sandwiches you’ll ever have, paired with five tightly curated taps and a respectable east-coast bottle list. I had the Six Point Nelson Sauvin IPA paired with an outstanding pork belly handheld (itself braised with the Six Point). There were no fries served with this sandwich and honestly, I liked it that way. Fries are empty filler and a distraction. Without them, I could give the pig the attention it so richly deserved.
Verdict: Come here and eat the food. Have a pint. Move on.
Yes, you read that address correctly. Just across the street (Delancey St, for those crafting a NYC beerourism map at home) lay my next destination. If the theme of Black Tree is delicious, locally sourced food and a welcome environment, the theme at Top Hops is beer: plain, simple and good.
Top Hops both is and isn’t a bar. You see, outside of BC the liquor laws are relaxed enough to allow businesses to blur the lines between different types of establishments a bit. Want to run both a bottle shop AND a bar? Go for it. Sell bottles in the back and pints in the front like Top Hops.
Buy a pint. Buy a bottle and open it to drink there. Or take home. Heck, buy a growler and be similarly flexible with your consumption options. The atmosphere is a bit down scale (it is a beer store, after all), but the beer most certainly is not.
Bottles are organized in fridges based on region of production, with the expected heavy focus on the east coast. Kegs are meticulously maintained and curated, posted on a chalkboard showing all the key beer stats, including when the keg was tapped and when that line was last cleaned.
Verdict: You could easily blow a whole night here, given the vast selection. However, the atmosphere is that of a beer store, and there are very few seats.
Another block, another bar. How about a traditional pub to close out my first night in NYC? No? How about something that looks like a traditional pub but pours 30 taps of outstanding craft beer? Okay, that’s more like it.
The selection was less impressive than Top Hops, but the presence of actual seats capable of supporting your ass off the floor was a huge plus. It’s hard to describe One Mile in a current Vancouver-analogue, but maybe I’ll risk showing my age by saying it reminds me of the old Rose and Thorn (now the Kingston). Nooks and crannies with old, worn seats, and a lively, crowded atmosphere.
One Mile also taught me an important distinction between the beer scenes on either side of the coast. Whereas a bar in Vancouver with this sort of tap list would play up the beer above all else (think Alibi Room or Portland Craft and how you perceive those places), One Mile is a pub that just happens to serve great beer. It’s subtle but interesting.
Verdict: Cosy with comfortable seating. This place does get a bit slammed but, honestly, so does everywhere good in this city. If you can find a seat, hold on to it and stay a while. End your night here like I did, even.
Stuck out by the park and want some good beer? The Jeffrey is a short 15m walk away and you’ll be glad you made the trek (or the 3m cab ride). A tiny bar opens to a small room, which opens to a medium sized, private patio. 20 taps showcase local brews but also a few less exotic more mainstream brews (De Ranke, Ommegang, Dogfish Head all are on the current list). Even some Firestone Walker found its way across the US to be poured here.
One thing the Jeffrey is not, though, is cheap. Beers are typically 14oz or 16oz and range from $8 to $10. Throw the unfriendly exchange on the table and you might do a double take at your VISA statement. However, it is absolutely a worthwhile destination for spending a sunny afternoon consuming some great beer.
Verdict: ORDER THE ANCHOVIES. SCREW EVERYTHING ELSE. OH MY FUCKING GOD THOSE ARE GOOD.
We’ve all been there. You’re at some sort of depressing event out in the boondocks, staring in a cooler brimming with ice water and Molson, wondering to yourself: “What did I do wrong in my life to end up here?” Now imagine the opposite. What did I do right in my life to deserve a table at Luksus? Yes, it’s that good. In short, if the entire NYC leg of this vacation was nothing but skinny jeans and slamming PBRs at stoner art shows, Luksus would single-handedly make the whole thing a win.
Where to start? Out front is probably best, at Tørst. Tørst (pronounced “tirst”–it’s Danish for “thirst”) is the brainchild of Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. Some of you know immediately who that is. Some of you recognize the name but can’t quite place it. Some of you just said it out loud in the style of the Swedish Chef. Jeppe is the guy behind Evil Twin Brewing. His twin brother is the Mikkel in Mikkeller Brewing.
Those are some serious craft beer credentials, and if you’re now expecting Tørst to be epic, you’d be right. The Evil Twin-heavy menu offsets a beautiful, wood clad room seating 45 thirsty beer fans (and no less than 20 beards). Tørst is worth the trip alone, but it’s not why I’m here.
Nope, the reason I’m here is the unmarked white door at the end of the bar. Soon, we will tapped on the shoulder and whisked through that magic door into Luksus, and it will be as if we’re in a different country. Tørst is everything a beer bar should be: busy, well laid out, and bustling with the noisy energy of dozens of conversations. Luksus, is a secluded quiet realm of a dozen seats and a kitchen.
In that kitchen is Chef Daniel Burns. If you thought Jeppe’s beer cred was impressive, Daniel’s food cred trumps it ten fold. His resume includes stints at The Fat Duck, as head of Momofuku’s food lab, and most importantly time at the widely-reknowned-as-the-best-restaurant-on-the-freaking-planet Noma. And we’re not talking about Noma in the “hey, I might once have been in the kitchen at the same time as “René Redzepi” way that many chefs do. Nope, Daniel built then ran the pastry section there for three years.
The experience that followed was the best meal I’d ever had in my life. The $90 menu and $60 beer pairing price tags can’t possibly prepare you for how extraordinary–how perfect–this meal was. That the flavours paired exceptionally with the dish and the beer was a given, as was the fact that every dish was prepared and delivered with meticulous detail to attention. The aspect that set this meal aside was the character of the dishes. Each course was presented in a way that invited you to explore the dish and combine flavours in a way that, as cheesy as it is, can only be described as fun.
Crack a wafer to uncover the course lying underneath, compare and recombine the elements of your dish a dozen ways, try first one thing and then another with the beer and discover how it changes everything. Above all, talk about the food, the beer and enjoy yourself immensely.
Verdict: The highlight of my NYC trip. Make a reservation today for three months out and do whatever horrible, unspeakably twisted thing you need to do in order to afford it. Although, to be honest, that price for a meal of this quality is basically free.
Blind Tiger 281 Bleecker St
w: blindtigeralehouse.com — t: @blindtigernyc
I’ve written extensively about the Blind Tiger before (BC Craft Beer News, Vol 1 No 4 Pg 10), so go read that article instead of requiring me to just blather on again.
Verdict: A can’t-miss for any trip to the east coast. Unfortunately, the menu was at a low ebb when I was there (in that it was merely great). Two days later it was mostly Maine Brewing Company. Fuck. Guess I have to go back.