Whole lotta taps going on, as bars up the ante in beer offerings

  • Article by: MICHAEL RIETMULDER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2014 - 4:46 PM

Bars, including the new Yard House in St. Louis Park, are adding tap lines to attract craft-beer fanatics. Are we hitting brewski overload?

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Eric Hellzen drew a beer from one of the 76 taps at the Happy Gnome in St. Paul.

Photo: Courtney Perry • Special to the Star Tribune,

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In a way, 30 is the new 15. At least in Twin Cities bars. Ever since Minnesota went mad for microbrews and every homebrewer with a credit line started opening breweries, a 10- or even 15-beer tap list just ain’t what it used to be.

“In this day and age, it’s all about choices,” said Kip Snider, beverage director for national beer-bar chain the Yard House, which opened its first Minnesota location in St. Louis Park last week.

The new 10,500-square-foot bar in the Shops at West End isn’t short on choices. With 140 tap handles (though 10 are duplicates), the Yard House almost certainly boasts the largest draft list in the state, almost doubling such heavyweights as St. Paul’s Happy Gnome (76) and William’s Pub & Peanut Bar (70-80) in Uptown.

A tap list with 140 options sounds like a lot. But some of the SoCal company’s 50 restaurants feature more than 200, including its flagship Long Beach bar with a whopping 250. “Obviously, that’s a lot of beer,” Snider said with a chuckle.

In 2012, Republic Seven Corners joined the 50-plus club, adding 25 tap lines for a total of 57. A few years prior, the Gnome — which hosts its sixth annual Firkin Fest on Saturday — decided 52 wasn’t enough and made the leap to 76, said general manager Ryan Huseby. “Craft beer was really exploding in the Twin Cities, and we wanted to make sure we stayed at the forefront of that and showcase as many breweries as possible,” he said.

Craft beer still only accounts for 7.8 percent of the U.S. beer market, according to the Brewers Association. But as consumers are increasingly gaga for craft brews, and the onslaught of new breweries continues, more bars are stepping up their suds game — and not only the hard-core beer joints.

Uptown’s Bar Abilene is better known for late-night dancing than its beer list. But when David Paradeise signed on as general manager last summer, the first order of business was doubling the bar’s taps from 12 to 24.

“That’s the craze right now,” he said. “I just want to be up to date with what’s going on in Uptown.”

Despite the longtime tap-towering presence of William’s, the 2012 addition of Republic’s second location (50-plus taps) and other bars opening with 20 to 30 or more taps (like BoneYard with 28), the Hennepin-Lake area of Minneapolis still feels more Stella Artois than Surly Abrasive.

But since beefing up his microbrew roster, Paradeise said Bar Abilene is down from selling three kegs of Miller Lite per week to just one. Even here-for-the-party late-nighters are now ordering bolder brews like Southern Tier’s Crème Brulée imperial milk stout.

“It was shocking to me to see my bartenders pouring it,” he said. “But it was awesome to see that people are changing with the times. They want the craft.”

For Kristi Forschen and Ryan Clinton of Hastings, beer selection is a “huge” factor in determining where they go out. The early-thirtysomething couple said they enjoy trying new beers and that puny beer selections are a buzz kill.

“We’ve gone places where they have eight craft beers and you’re just like, ‘meh,’ ” Forschen said while bellied up at the Happy Gnome last weekend. “It’s one of those things where you know what you can have, so it’s hard to settle.”

But are tap lists as thick as Ikea catalogs always better? With so many options, surely some kegs must go bad before they run out? Despite their respective beer gluts, both Snider and Huseby say it’s rare not to go through a keg in less than a month — generally how long a tapped keg will keep.

Beers with higher alcohol or hops content may last longer, said Huseby, pointing out that off-tasting beer is more likely caused by unclean tap lines than a bad keg.

“Just last week I was at a bar, tasted a beer that’s pretty prominently poured across the Twin Cities,” he said. “I’ve had it many times and it did not taste how it was supposed to taste.”

Fortunately, IPA junkie Patrick Phenow hasn’t been dealt many bunk beers. Nor does he mind parsing through ales of all stripes to find the right one.

“It’s only overwhelming for my girlfriend when it takes me too long to pick a beer,” he joked.

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