Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday Weekly: The milestone of reforming a millstone.

Last week, the Publican (that’s me) came down with a mild cold, and the usual dreary symptoms, combined with a long overdue need to just stop for a few minutes, damn it, and take a deep breath … well, it seemed to suggest an opportune time to finally … at long last … after two or more years … sit down and go through the Pizzeria & Public House’s supposedly fabled beer list, item by item.

The goal: Tame it.

I’ve already explained where my thoughts have been headed of late. If the craft beer revolution in America is winning (it is), if NABC has invested heavily in brewing its own beer (it has), and if the company continues to seek to be serious about promoting knowledge and education (it does), then a rote renewal of our traditionally expansive, top-heavy imported bottle strategy makes very little sense.

Taken in concert with a continuing, unpredictable state of distribution in Indiana, one that seldom rewards planning and effort with consistent results (yes, there’s more than a trace of bitterness there, and I’m sorry; I’ve banged my head against the wall far to many times not to feel anger at not being able to get what I wanted, when I wanted it), and given that during hard times, there isn’t much money to spend on inventorying fantastic and fantastically priced imported beers, it just makes sense to pause, study the landscape, and begin the reinvention -- come what may.

So, I used my sick days last week to re-imagine the list.

In my first drafts, the main bottled beer list is organized not by country, as before, but according to Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) stylistic parameters.

You ask: Why the BJCP, and not various other systems?

Because the Cicerone program of server certification follows the BJCP’s categorization of beer styles. If our employees learn to think in the BJCP’s way, they’ll be a leg up on the Cicerone program if they desire to pursue it, and the message will be consistent for consumers. The BJCP’s categories are not perfect, because perfection does not exist in this or any other world. However, as a place to learn the rules before trotting off to break them, it is fine.

Consequently, many beers are coming off the menu, while others have been added. Some of the cuts are one-offs and special orders that sneaked onto the list, while others are items we’ve actually depleted long ago and haven’t bothered noting.

In almost all cases, my fundamental consideration for selecting a particular beer is whether it is available on an everyday basis from its wholesaler, year-round. I’m finished with vainly and forlornly hoping that a just-in-time, special order system can be achieved in beer, in Indiana. Making the everyday bottled beer list as consistently available as possible is the prime goal.

Next, I’ve tried to fit these beers into the BJCP style categories where they belong, with the goal of having at least one example of each sub-style, if at all possible. Only a handful of styles currently are eluding me, like Northern German Alt and Southern English Brown. Others, like Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced Beer (21B), obviously must be relegated to seasonal status.

To reiterate, the main bottled beer list must be a consistent, readily obtainable, everyday guide to the panoply of world beer styles as defined by the BJCP. This mission duly accomplished, seasonal and specialty offerings ranging from Oktoberfests (September) to Pumpkin Ales (late autumn) to Doppelbocks (March), and including Lambics, Ciders and Meads, can be drawn from the hundreds of other available brands to populate monthly, quarterly or purely whimsical side lists materializing on a rotating basis.

These will come and go regularly without the necessity of year-long, often futile efforts to receive product when we want it, and as importantly, without the accompanying inventory expense. I’m guessing that representative small lists for Lambic, Cider and Mead will be maintained all the time, with appropriate rotation of brands within each, and maybe selections to be reserved as “Something of the Month.”

Other decisions have yet to be made, and these are slightly more arbitrary, requiring staff participation.

Should a listed selection be the 750ml “share” bottle, or the 11.2 oz with a better price point?

Must we keep a beer in stock that doesn’t fit the reform effort’s concept because it still sells well at a ludicrously high price, even if I don’t like it personally (i.e., Corona)?

If two brands of the same style are available, should ease of procurement in glassware and wholesaler schwag be the deciding factor?

Shall we gradually seek to pare the import list even further by head-to-head contests and competitions?

I have another concept in mind, one that is by no means novel or unique, but which is sufficiently counter-intuitive (for us, at least) to merit fresh consideration.

Once the bottled beer list is finalized and composed of beers that will be constant, it may be time to launch a first-ever “drink all the beers and win a prize” competition. Such a pursuit addressed by style would be infinitely more educational than those “round the world golden lager” quests, as ours would be devoted much more to truly experiencing the range of stylistic possibilities.

If the staff can agree and think of a suitable award for those completing such a journey, perhaps we’ll take this rarest of plunges and get it going.

Eventually, NABC bottles (we’re within weeks) will take their places on the beer list, and the list surely will evolve.

It is way past time for such an evolution, don’t you think? I feel like a great weight has been lifted, and the new list will be an exciting change of pace. Let me know what you think.


johnking said...

A nice prize would be the opportunity to collaborate with Jared and create and name a beer after the first person to accomplish the feat.

Rob said...

Im seriously worried that you have a beer that fits bjcp category 1A.