One of the unfortunate side effects of the growth of craft beer has been cynical attempts to ride the wave.
Every street seems to have a pub or bar claiming to serve “craft beer”. Many of these turn out to be “crafty” but in the worst sense of the word.
While some are just struggling pubs trying to lure in customers, others are engineered to exploit the rise in craft beer’s popularity.
The point of this isn’t to rail against people trying to make a quick dollar but to draw attention to the differences between these places and genuinely independent venues who are passionate about serving quality beer to their local community.
These “crafty” venues feel weird. There’s something uncanny, something “other”. It’s familiar but you can’t help but feel that something’s amiss.
You’ll see a few tell-tale signs that not all is as it should be.
All of these fake craft beer venues (for a lack of a better term) seem to share a few things in common. These are worth looking out for if you’d prefer to support genuinely independent venues and breweries.
Ice Cold Frosted Glasses
If you’re ordering a VB or Toohey’s in your street corner local, a frosty glass is to be expected.
But if you order a robust porter and it goes into a refrigerated glass, then you’re not the venue’s target market and they don’t really know what they’re doing.
Ice cold glasses are just out of place in beer-focused venues and signify that they don’t know how to serve beer properly.Ice cold glasses are out of place in beer-focused venues and signify that they don’t know how to serve beer properly. Click To Tweet
Airport Lounge Decor
These venues are all a bit too slick. There’s something familiar about the layout but it’s not comforting. It’s like you’ve been there before but can’t remember when. Like a hotel lobby or an airport lounge, there’s a lot of stuff but not much character.
Chances are you’ve been in another venue with the same furniture and fixtures. It was probably owned by the same group.
Slickly designed and printed in volume, ads appear at the entrance, around the bar, on the tables, in the toilets. These are generally promoting Christmas party bookings, oyster nights or Valentine’s Day specials.
If they’re not designed like a Hallmark greeting card, they’ll feature impossibly good looking people smiling and laughing. You might even see a similar thing in video format, either on wide screen plasma TVs around the bar or as a sponsored post on Facebook.
Taps That Never Change
A lot is made of craft beer drinkers searching for new and exciting beers. Whether it’s good for the industry or not, you’d expect venues to be switching up their beer list just to keep things fresh.
These venues always seem to have a pretty standard line up, which, come to think of it, probably has something to do with the next point…
Suspect Beer List
Fat Yak? Check.
Ruby Tuesday? Check.
They’re crafty, right?
There always seems to be a Lion or CUB presence. Perhaps there’s a full line-up of James Squire beers.
These are all great beers but you won’t find a variety of styles. It’ll be lagers and pale ales. Maybe there’s a token stout but the chances of an IPA or a saison-style beer are slim to say the least.
The argument is that these fake craft beer bars are serving a particular demographic. But if they don’t shift the hoppier beers, they sit around getting old, doing no favours for the brewery, the customer or ultimately the venue.
How much do the staff know about the beer they’re serving? Or have they even been told that they should know something?
This is the real differentiator between a good venue and a venue that’s chancing it.
My own experience in these venues, whether I consciously think about it or not, is that I’m compelled to point to the beer I want just to make sure they get the right one.
A Role In The Growth Of Good Beer
I have to concede that if these venues turn people onto better beer then that’s a good thing. But if the venue is a cynical attempt to cash in without doing anything to promote independent beer, then I’d rather see people support genuinely passionate venue owners.If a venue is a cynical attempt to cash in, then I'd rather see people support genuinely passionate venue owners. Click To Tweet
Sydney is served well by some seriously good beer venues but there’s still room for more. There’s a risk, particularly outside of the current craft beer hotspots, that the gaps might be filled by charlatans. And they’ll probably look a bit like what I’ve described above.