Beer is like music.
Stay with me. This isn’t just a late-night, altered state of conscious postulation. It is a correlation, and if you understand and incorporate it, you can advance the way you create, and more importantly, update your beer list.
In fact, think of your beer list like a radio station’s playlist. They’re more similar than you may think.
Here’s a strategy from an adult contemporary radio station for preparing a playlist. It resonates with the way a beer list should be constructed, too. (The beer analogy follows each point.)
A. Power currents: top songs
(the most popular beers, lead mass domestic beers and lead craft beers)
B. Secondary currents: new songs going up/familiar songs going down
(new releases from up-and-coming or favorite breweries)
C. Power and secondary classics: top testing, very familiar popular songs
(think Sierra Nevada: this beer is a total classic but not a power current or an up-and-comer, rather like a golden oldie that will never go out of style)
This secondary classics list has a subcategory, too: surprise songs. These are reminiscent of the PBR craze, like when you hear that throwback jam on the radio and it brings back old memories.
Rotating the offerings is critical. If things don’t change, people get bored. Many won’t go back to establishments if they know the beer list never changes. Imagine if that one-hit wonder from two summers ago was still in heavy rotation. It would get a little stale.
Regrettably, beer can “wear out” for an enthusiast, just as music can. Even if it is your favorite band or beer, you don't want to hear or drink it all the time. People want something new. That's not to say they won't be first on the dance floor when their favorite jam comes on—nor will they reject a favorite IPA when they see it on draft.
Imagine putting together your all-time greatest hit playlist. With incessant play, you’ll eventually want new music even if it’s “not as good” as your favorite. The same goes for beer. It may not even be on the same level as some of your favorites, but variety is critical. Imagine how depressing it would be if you only drank the same six beers (or listened to the same music) for the rest of your life.
Even if it’s your favorite album, you can only hear it so much.
To further the analogy, beer is music and brewers are the bands. Visiting a brewery is akin to seeing your favorite band in concert. The brewery’s beers are like a band’s albums. Everyone has their favorite and may listen to a particular band their entire life—but you always like to hear new music.
When some bands make it big, certain fans call them a “sellout.” That’s unfair. When a craft brewer makes it big, their craft credentials come into question, even if their recipes and quality remain unchanged. This is an unfortunate aspect of the craft beer scene.
To combat this perception, bands need to release new music to stay relevant, while brewers need to release new offerings via seasonal, limited releases and collaborations. They can’t rest on their laurels.
Today’s beer drinkers are similar to music aficionados in several ways. Beer drinkers’ tastes are constantly evolving and they are always seeking that next, new hit beer. Similarly, music enthusiasts are never quite satisfied with their current playlist. Beer drinkers may have a mental list of classic favorites that they return to periodically, but they’re no more likely to repeat the same beer over and over than music fans are to listen exclusively to their favorite song.
Back in the ‘80s you might have made a mix tape for your object of affection. You’re doing the same thing for guests with your beer list. Excite them with your diversity and bring them back with your variation. Groupies will ensue.
Jason Stone is senior director of operations at MarkeTeam Inc., a sales promotion and marketing agency for the hospitality, food and beverage and leisure industries. He’s a Certified Cicerone and a certified Level One Sommelier.