So You Want to Open the Next Great Craft Beer Bar?

By Chris Black

With the increased number of small and independent breweries opening in the United States—now topping 2,000—more restaurants and taverns are staking their claim in the race to sate the thirsty, and the ever expanding craft beer market. As the new era of craft beer-focused establishments sit poised to capitalize on the fuller-flavored beer trend, craft industry veteran Chris Black, owner of Denver’s Falling Rock Tap House, offers his thoughts on how the retailing tier can best serve patrons and producers.

How to be an Asset, not an A**

Now that craft beer is hot, more and more folks want to get in on the burgeoning industry, especially in these challenging economic times. As a multi-decade participant in the specialty and craft beer community, and after many conversations with those in the industry, I feel a few things need to be put out for discussion.

What is the role and responsibility of the beer bar in the equation of the craft beer community? When I first became involved in selling what is now referred to as “craft beer,” I was working in a beer bar with a monstrous selection; mostly imports with a few of the new microbrewery beers. After spending the next 15 years working for distributors in just about every capacity possible, I was able to piece together a few general rules for furthering this amazing revolution and trying to be an asset.

Most of the people in the craft industry I’ve met aren’t in it for the money, they’re in it because of their passion for flavorful and interesting beer. It’s not simply a product—it’s beer and it’s worth it. Beer is the top selling fermented beverage over wine and spirits, and it’s one of those beverages that has the ability to turn any moment into a celebration. Most of the time I would have made more money flipping burgers, but that wasn’t what I was in it for. I was in it for truly great beer.

Tips From This Publican Owner

Craft Beer Is More Expensive, and Worth It!

From day one, I made it a practice to pay the breweries what their creations are worth. For the most part, craft brewers use more malt, hops and artisian methods to create full-flavored beers. They depend on every dime they’re owed, just like you do. Pay them and stop whining. If a brewery is charging more, it is probably because it costs more to make their products. If it costs you more, then you’ll need to charge the beer lover more to cover your costs.

Walk the Walk

There are bars and restaurants that brewers want their craft beers in, and then there are places they don’t know of yet. If a bar owner wants to carry amazing beers, they must get noticed because of the things they’re doing with and for good beer. The opportunity to sell great beer is earned, not demanded.

The thing about limited quantity is…

  • Many craft beers will be limited in availability. Deal with it. It’s OK. It’s part of what makes them special. Find the really special things in your backyard and champion them. Make someone in a different region jealous of what you have access to. Do some research and pay attention to the brewery owners—if they don’t want to expand into markets thousands of miles from their home turf, have some respect for their wishes and stop calling them. Also, don’t call me looking for alternate contact numbers.
  • Limited release beers are rare gems. These beers are designed to reward better beer bars for their prior business. By definition they are limited, as such, they will not be available everywhere. If you are interested in that really neat-o barrel-aged sour with a triple axel, many breweries expect you to carry some of their regular, year-round and seasonal beers all the time. It’s really surprising I have to make this point, but from many repeat conversations on the topic, apparently I do.
  • It takes time, get in line. There usually is a limit in your area for the number of locations that a brewery wants to serve their beer, because craft beer is produced in very small quantities compared to mass produced beer. Craft brewers only have enough beer to service a limited number of outlets. Get in line. If you don’t like it, go find a brewery where there isn’t a line, and good luck finding somewhere without a line.

Don’t Talk About It, Be About It

Get out and get to know the folks who make your beer. Craft brewers really like it when people visit them, so look up their tour hours and go. If you want to be in the craft brewing community, be a part of it. Before you open a retail establishment, you might want to get to know the people and brewers involved, and possibly work at a few places.

This list is by no means comprehensive; these are just a few suggestions. OK, here’s one more even though I would normally classify it as one of my trade secrets:

Be Nice. I know it sounds easy, but you’d be surprised, really.

So what’s a new place to do? How about, stop throwing tantrums about the current it brewers and it beers. Go out and do the footwork, just like taphouse owners did years and decades ago. I used to have to drive for hours to get to that new brewery and load the kegs into my truck to bring them back to my customers—now it’s usually just a couple miles away and they probably deliver. Think of how many breweries have opened in the last couple of years, some of these new breweries could become the next it brewery. I know haven’t stopped looking, and I haven’t stopped interacting with brewers from all over the world searching for great beer.


Chris BlackChris Black is king of Falling Rock Tap House. As king, he gets to do all the regular king stuff: ruling over his subjects, tasting the wonderful beers they send to their Sovereign…Oh yeah, and fixing the draught system, schlepping kegs, alley cleaning, beermongering, toilet plunging, tiling, carpentry, electrical apprenticing, you know, king stuff. Black started out pouring beers at an early beer bar in Austin, Texas, and progressed as the state-wide beer manager for various distributors. He got tired of being part of “the solution” and decided, along with his brothers Steve and Al, to be
“part of the problem.”