Choosing beers at the Yard House: Part 2
Last year, Yard House restaurants poured 7.2 million pints of beer. In the first five months of 2009, the L.A. Live location alone filled 255,000 pint glasses. And Kip Snider and his team go to great lengths to make sure that those pints pour and taste right.
The process begins when a new brew is being considered. Let’s say you’re a brewer and want to see your tap handle behind the bar at a Yard House (and let’s avoid the complexities of distribution). You contact the company and get connected to Snider. Rather than traveling to your brewery, he wants samples sent to him. “I want to see what it’s going to taste like in the keg form…. I want to see what it really tastes like once it gets in our hands,” he says.
“Usually when I taste beer, I’m tasting beer at about 60 degrees, a slight chill to it so I can get all the flavor,” he explains. “It’s always good to try them at room temperature and then try them when they’re going to be served at our particular temperature as well.” (And that temperature is in the mid-30s. “We’ve noticed that the American people like to drink beer as cold as it can possibly get,” Snider says, noting that some beers are better when given a few minutes after the pour to warm up but that it’s impossible in the Yard House’s complex system to have individual lines at different temperatures.)
Let’s say Snider thinks your beer is something the Yard House might tap into. He’ll say so directly: “I’d rather give honest feedback than beat around the bush and say it’s something that we might be looking at when we’re really not going to look at it.” Before going company-wide, the beer will be given a test run at a single location. How is it going to pour in those long, long lines? It can’t get too foamy and commit a fundamental party (and business) foul – wasting beer. But yours works. It goes company-wide. But that’s 23 restaurants. Will it taste as it’s intended to taste in each of them?
Snider and his three-man beverage team work to ensure that it does. They’re all people who have come up through the Yard House – two started, like Snider, as bartenders, another was a bar manager, and all are knowledgeable about beer. They travel to each location – hitting the California restaurants weekly, out-of-state spots at least once every three months – to make sure the suds are just so.
And each location has a beer delivery system designed to see that the beer being poured is fresh. The keg room temperature is monitored and held from 34 to 36 degrees (Snider leads me into the room at L.A. Live and I foolishly leave my jacket at the booth – it certainly feels like 34 degrees in there). The glycol lines emerging from the 10-beer trunks out to the taps are 33 to 34 degrees. And there’s constant circulation keeping the lines clean. That's a lot of lines -- 1.5 miles is the average, Snider says, but Long Beach has 3 miles of them and Vegas has even more -- "It's a racetrack, man." A cleaning system shoots ions through the lines. Fresh water goes through after every keg change to clear out the air and prevent excessive foaming. And the keg room is equipped with carbon dioxide detectors to monitor that essential but dangerous gas.
The kegs are tagged with the date they arrived and managed by a computerized inventory system with automatic alerts for when reorders are needed. Attention is paid to how long a keg has been sitting and the longevity of the beer within it.
Coming tomorrow: Part 3
-- Blake Hennon
Photo credit: Blake Hennon / Los Angeles Times