How many taps is enough?
I decided to write this post ater reading "Biggest isn't best for beer" on Creative Loafing. I think we generally agree - more isn't better. I saw it as an opportunity to pull back the curtain a little bit on how we think about beer and craft culture and was inspired to write this.
So, yeah. 100 taps is too much in my opinion. No qualifiers. Why? Does "100 channels and nothing's on" sound familiar? Humans have trouble picking one thing from a field of similar choices. In addition, we have an aversion to loss - you're only going to have so many beers, after all - so we only have so many slots to fill. There's some behvioral research on this topic, but more work needs to be done to get a clear picture.
Plus, and this was raised in the Creative Loafing article, lots of taps can lead to beer languishing well past its "best by" date. All the while beer stone and impurities build up in stagnant lines and faucets making for a nasty pour. It takes constant vigilance and a good cleaning regimen to keep good product coming out of each tap. And the work increases linearly with the number of taps.
Curation is cited as a potential problem. It can be difficult to keep 100 good beers on tap as opposed to a couple dozen. I see that more as a staffing issue than one due to the of number of taps. If your bar manager/buyer can't be troubled just to keep best sellers on tap and rotate selection on a regular basis, you've got the wrong person on that job. There is some number of taps that no human could effectively manage, but it's probably far more than 100.
For several reasons, we're starting with eight taps. First, that's how many I put on my walk-in cooler. More importantly, it's easier for a nano-brewery to put out a smaller number of brands and fill in with a guest tap or two when needed. We can only brew so much beer on the equipment we have.
Personally, I think that 8-12 range gives you a good variety without overwhelming people. We'll keep a range of beer on tap, depending on color, bitterness, alcohol content, and just whatever brewing whim strikes us.
Our tap lineup usually follows this formula:
1. Yellow, light, low ABV: Blonde, Hefeweizen, Kolsch, Pilsener, etc.
2. Brown to Copper, low ABV, maltier: Brown Ale, Munich Dunkel, Vienna Lager, etc.
3. Pale, Amber, hoppier, mid to high ABV: Pale Ale, IPA
4. Darker, roasty, maltier, mid to high ABV: Porter, Stout, Schwarzbier
5. Cider depending on mood
6. Soda (we hope)
7. Seasonal, specialty, guest
8. Seasonal, specialty, guest
That's a guideline more than a rule, of course, but that's generally how we think about tap line ups. How we fill in those buckets will vary depending on season, mood, popularity, and ingredient availability. As time goes on, we fully expect to expand that list with more taps up to around 16 or so.
In short, less is more. To a point. Will you go somewhere else because we don't have dozens of taps? Maybe. Will you go somewhere else because what we have on tap is infected, stale, or just doesn't taste good? Nope - because we'd never put that beer on tap.