Beer Buzz: Going Native

Some on-premise operators eschew national beers in favor of local brews.

The Los Angeles restaurant and bar Mohawk Bend embraces a local ethos by only serving food, beer and wine sourced from California. Thanks to the craft beer boom, local brews abound nationwide.
The Los Angeles restaurant and bar Mohawk Bend embraces a local ethos by only serving food, beer and wine sourced from California. Thanks to the craft beer boom, local brews abound nationwide.

When The Old Fashioned Tavern & Restaurant opened a decade ago in Madison, Wisconsin, the beer offerings were a typical selection of mainstream domestic and imported brews, general manager Jennifer DeBolt recalls. But a year later, she decided to scrap all beers from outside the Badger State and began serving only locally produced brews.

The Old Fashioned Tavern isn’t the only on-premise operator taking a local stance when it comes to beer. Craft Pride beer bar and bottle shop opened in Austin, Texas, in 2013, offering exclusively Texan brews on tap, along with Alamo State–produced wine. The venue features 54 beers on draft, priced at $8 a 20-ounce pour. “We’ve become a destination bar for tourists,” says general manager Anders Dowd. He notes that one-third of the drafts remain fairly constant and include top-sellers like Live Oak HefeWeizen and Yellow Rose IPA, while one-third are seasonals and special releases, with the remainder comprising one-off brews. For customers seeking beers from farther afield, Craft Pride offers a selection of bottled beers from outside of Texas, as well as imported brews and ciders. Single 12-ounce bottles are priced at $5, and bombers sell for $25 to $30 each.

The Tap Trailhouse, which opened last September in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall, only offers brews produced in New England. “We want to support local products,” explains beverage director Mike Boughton, adding that response so far has been fantastic. “We attract a lot of local residents who are interested in trying new, local beers. But because we’re in a tourist area, we’re finding that visitors also like to try beers they can’t get at home.” Tap Trailhouse boasts 24 drafts ($4.25 to $11 a 13-ounce to 16-ounce pour) and 20 beers in bottles and cans ($5.50 a 12-ounce bottle or can to $29 a 750-ml. bottle).

DeBolt notes that thanks to the craft beer boom, it’s a lot easier to stock only Wisconsin brews at The Old Fashioned than it was back in 2006. “I used to have to drive all over the state to pick up kegs from tiny breweries,” she recalls. Today, most of the 47 drafts—priced from $2.50 to $5 a pint—are constantly rotated, although mainstays include the popular Spotted Cow from New Glarus Brewing Co. The tavern also offers more than 100 bottled and canned Wisconsin brews ($2 to $5.50 a 12-ounce bottle or can), along with a few 750-ml. bottles at $12 each. As a joke, DeBolt added one “import” to the beer menu—New Ulm, Minnesota’s Grain Belt Premium ($2.50 a 12-ounce bottle).

Located in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood, Mohawk Bend restaurant and bar uses only California ingredients to make its pizzas and other pub food, so it stands to reason that the venue’s beer and wine offerings are exclusively from the Golden State. Co-owner Amy Yanow says sustainability is also part of Mohawk Bend’s mission. “We saw this as an opportunity to lower our footprint and support our neighborhood,” Yanow says. She and husband Tony also operate Golden Road Brewing and Tony’s Darts Away pub, both in the Los Angeles area. Mohawk Bend features 72 taps, with all brews priced at $6.75 a pour.

It’s not just bar managers who are taking a local approach when it comes to beer. New Glarus opted to make its beer available only in Wisconsin 17 years ago. And despite heightened demand out of state, the brewery has stuck with that decision. “It’s working,” says co-owner Deb Carey, noting that the brewery’s sales increased at a double-digit rate last year, with a 20-percent jump projected for 2015. “It allows us to have a personal relationship with our wholesalers and retailers and to interact with our consumers.”

While on-premise operators who pour only local beer occasionally get requests for brews from outside the area, they say consumers are often willing to try the local wares. Craft Pride’s Dowd notes that the venue sometimes misses out on special releases from non-Texas breweries. “But we try to ensure that we get special releases from the brewers we do carry,” he adds.

Mohawk Bend’s Yanow says that the practice allows operators and staff to stand out when it comes to customer service. “A unique beer menu gives us the opportunity to interface with our customers,” she says.