two beers clanking

Bartenders Must Know Their Beer

Aspiring bartenders must know their beer. With the popularity of craft beer increasing every day, it’s no longer acceptable to know a few domestic beers and maybe some imports.

The good news is that for brand-new bartenders – you’re probably not going to be asked any questions about beer in the interview process. Well, maybe not.

Let me be clear: For those of you trying to get your first bartending job – don’t spend a lot of time on this! Just know that MOST bars carry about 5 – 10 draft beers and 5-10 domestic beers. That’s it.

If you’re applying at a craft bar or something like that, then you could run into a much wider selection.  A hotel’s banquet bar division may carry only about five different types of bottle beer – total. Either way, Bartenders Must Know Their Beer!

All of the house’s beers will be pretty much evenly split between domestic and imported beers. Simple. The bar owner decides which beers he’s going to sell – usually determined by what his customers request. Of course, a very persuasive beer distributor may also have a say in the process.

Bar managers are looking for bartenders that have certain skills – knowledge about beer, and how to pour it, is important. If you’re trying to land your very first bartending job, and you’d like to know exactly what bar managers are looking for, do yourself a favor and check out 7 Skills and Qualities Bar Managers Are Looking For.

Bartenders Must Know Their Beer

So, what kinds of beer are there? Draft and bottled beer pretty much sum it up. Lagers and ales. The key is to be able to determine some basic differences between all types of beer in case you’re asked by your customers.

I’m not going to get into how beer is made in this post – if you’d like to learn more about how beer is made, I found a great article here.

General Categories of Beer

Beer is generally classified into two categories: Ales and Lagers. Color, flavor, and aroma of the beer all have a little to do with what kind of beer it is.

The type of yeast usually determines what kind of beer you end up with. Ales are made with yeast that ferments at the top of the mixture which differs from lagers – where the yeast is fermented at the bottom of the beer mixture.

Humans have been making ale beer since ancient times. Fermentation takes a relatively short time using warm temperatures.

Some popular ale brands:

  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  • Guinness Dry Stout
  • Dos Equis
  • Blue Moon
  • Fuller’s ESB
  • Brown Ales
  • Pale Ales
  • Pilsner

Some popular lagers:

  • Budweiser
  • Coors
  • Miller
  • Molson
  • Corona
  • Samuel Adams
  • Heineken
  • Kirin (Japanese)

Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular types of beer. Keep in mind that aspiring bartenders do not need to know the finer points of every type of beer. Knowing some basic facts may not get you that first job – but it will certainly help you recommend different types of beer to your customers.

Pilsner Beer

Pilsner beers are a type of lager. Samuel Adams is a very popular pilsner beer in the United States, and many bars carry it. Usually light in color, pilsners are one of the most popular types of beer in the United States.

Lager Beer

As we discussed above, lager beer is fermented at low temperatures. Lagers can be dark, pale, or amber. Brewers use a bottom-fermenting yeast using colder temperatures. Coors Light, Budweiser, and Corona are very popular lager beers.

American Lagers

Very popular mainstream beers. Pabst, Budweiser, Schlitz – all pale lagers. Originating in Europe, the Germans brought this type of beer to America through immigration.

Pale Ale

Green Bottle of Heineken Beer

A top-fermented beer and usually has a lighter color. Around 1980, Sierra Nevada created the first American Pale Ale and the rest is history. This started a modern brewing revolution in the United States. Sierra Nevada is still very popular.

Pale Lagers

The most consumed beer in America. Pale or golden in color and has some hop bitterness. Bavarian brewers are generally credited with this type of beer around the sixteenth century. Miller and Heineken are very popular pale lagers.

IPA (India Pale Ale)

An interesting history which you can read about here. Growing in popularity, India Pale Ale is a craft beer found in many bars and restaurants around the country. Liberty Ale, Stone, and Hypothermia are some popular brands.

Craft Beers

Defining craft beers is hard. If anyone makes their own beer is it considered a craft beer? Probably. In fact, there are over 8,000 breweries in the United States that make their own craft beer. It’s amazing how far we’ve come brewing our own beer.

Stout Beer

Aaaahhhh. Guinness. From Ireland, and very popular in the United States. Dry, sweet, or strong. Stout beers are top-fermented and usually dark in color. Blue Moon, Founders Breakfast, and, of course, Guinness are popular brands of stout beer.

Porter Beer

Dark in appearance, Porter Beers were developed in London in the early eighteenth century. Good stuff. Porter beer is known to be the first type of beer that was mass-produced and brewed across the entire world. Popular Porter beers include Everett Porter, Vanilla Joe, and King Titus.

Belgian Beer

Primarily ales, Belgian beer usually sport a fruity flavor focusing on malts. Popular brands include Westmalle, Fantome Saison, and St. Bernardus Wit.

Wheat Beer

Usually top-fermented, wheat beers use a larger proportion of wheat to barley. Popular brands of American wheat beer include Allagash White, Finback Double Sess, and Bell’s Oberon.

Sour Beer

Sour beer has, you guessed it – a sour taste. Usually acidic and tart, sour beers start with yeast and bacteria. Popular brands include Duchesse de Bourgogne, Goose Island Gillian, and Hanssens Oude Kriek.

Final Thoughts On Beer

draft beer with a perfect head

Bartenders must know their beer. It’s very rare for a bar manager to ask about an aspiring bartender’s knowledge of beer. However, beer knowledge will come in handy once you’re on the job.

Don’t sweat it – once hired, you’ll be given a list of the beers your bar currently carries along with the pricing structure. If they don’t provide you with a list, take a look around and write down all of the different types of beer they carry. Look them up on the internet and get some additional knowledge.

You don’t have to be a walking encyclopedia of beer facts in order to get your first bartending job. Bar managers will focus on other aspects of the job like your job experience, soft skills, and customer service.

Related Beer Topics

Will a bar manager give me a beer pouring test? Probably not. In fact, you probably won’t even be given a liquor pouring test. I have never given a beer pouring test, but have asked a very general question like, “What do you know about the different types of beer?” And that was simply to get them to start talking conversationally.

How does a bar manager determine what his draft beer pouring cost is? The short answer is ‘the same way they determine liquor cost.’ In other words, tracking purchases and sales, taking regular inventory, and observing how bartenders pour the draft beer.

Keeping beer lines clean and efficient helps immensely. Liquor, beer, and wine costs are extremely important, and you can bet that the most successful bars around maintain tight control.

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