Bar Tending & Beerspectives
by Matt Martinkovic
Brewsearch & Development - Northside Lounge, Manville NJ
Over the course of years one tends to notice a lot when being behind the bar. Of course, if you
are adept enough you know pretty much all the dirt on everyone and laugh as the great displays
of comedy/drama unfold. And, if you are smart enough you keep your mouth shut and ears
open so as not to get yourself involved. After all, when all is said and done at the end of the day
you really are a barstool psychologist. Professionally speaking that is all you should be doing.
That is a large sum of your occupation. Ears open, mouth shut. Unless we are talking beer!
The comedy/drama aside when you are working you tend to pick up on the little nuances that in
the grand scheme of things are really quite large. For example, the bar that I work in went from 8
to 14 tap lines and my boss and I decided it was time to carve a niche into the bar scene in the
little town we are located in. Before we made this almost seemingly ridiculous decision you would
have thought the town we are located in was owned by AB-INBEV. But never the less we made
that seemingly ridiculous decision and ran with it.
When we expanded and went, as I have referred to on our growler, AWOL I began to formulate
a method of conversion. My boss and I knew it was not going to be an easy task to convert our
bar from a $2 Highlife and mixed drink bar that had hip hop night every Friday into a craft beer
bar that held traces of its roots. I can only think of Bill Murray in What About Bob...baby steps.
For example, beers like Blue Moon and Shock Top were quickly and conveniently replaced by
Allagash White. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.
Then other subtle moves were made. Bud and Miller were replaced by Brooklyn Lager, which
eventually evolved into Brooklyn Pennant Ale. These are just two little examples of how we
began the conversion. The rest I will leave to the imagination. As well I should. It was brewsearch
& development that enabled this process to unfold. If you are considering expanding into the
craft world there is plenty of literature you can find to help guide you. As for our bar, my boss
had the courage enough to let me run and run with me.
The most intriguing part of the evolution was the change in peoples' tastes and preferences.
Any microeconomics 101 course will tell you 80% of your business comes from 20% of your
customers. It is true. You will also learn that understanding the tastes and preferences of your
customers is a major key to success. So while, years into our craft evolution, we have the macro
brews of Bud, Miller, Coors, and Heineken alongside Fegley's Always Sunny and Liefman's
Goudenband an intriguing factor stands out. Who is drinking what now as to what they were
drinking prior. Most of the customers that I have dealt with showed interest with our expansion,
but were also hesitant.
People who like Guinness, for example, were now introduced to other stouts that they had never
heard of or lacked the knowledge base to venture into. Being the go between does have its
advantages. With just a simple suggestion and a very basic description of a beer or beer style
can go a long way with most people. Why complicate an already complex world? In our case that
is all it took. Based on our recommendations people learned to trust us and take the leap into
craft. Watching them gain the knowledge and courage to keep truckin' is evermore exciting for
me being behind the bar.
Now-a-days most of our customers see something new on our beer menu, be it bottle or draft,
and have actually heard about some of these beers and decide for themselves to try them
without our encouragement. Knowledge truly is power and with that power our 20% has probably
become 30%. It has been an amazing voyage so far. So far because if you haven't noticed I
keep repeating the word evolution. It is an amazing feeling for brewsearch & development to be
a part of this evolution and that our work and dedication is not only paying off, but enlightening
our customers. I personally have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy the ever changing tastes
and preferences of our customers and hope to keep up with them. I also enjoy watching them
become more complex yet diverse and open minded about beer at the same time.
There are no beer snobs here at the Northside Lounge. Only people who are willing to expand
their tastes and preferences.
Matt Martinkovic is not only a recognized beer authority but a well known ecological writer whose
work has appeared in the The American Midland Naturalist (University of Notre Dame) among other
industry publications. He also has been an agricultural consultant on, of course, the growing of hops.