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Choosing beers at the Yard House: Part 1

June 18, 2009 |  4:01 pm

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When you walk into a Yard House restaurant, the first thing you notice is either the window into the packed keg room or the bar, with its 100-plus beer taps. It's hard enough choosing one beer for yourself. Who chooses which beers are available? And has whoever that is actually tasted every single brew in the place?

“I never put a beer on tap that I’ve never tasted,” says Kip Snider, Yard House’s corporate beverage director, during an interview in the chain’s new L.A. Live location. That means he’s tasted each of the 482 brews that pour from the 3,500 total handles of the 23 Yard House restaurants – and been paid for doing it.

Snider, 38, came to the company as a bartender in 1998, when Yard House was still a single restaurant in Long Beach. He had come to California from Texas with another company but was taken by Yard House’s “good energy, great vibe.” He says he didn’t know too much about beer when he was hired but immediately began sampling the 180 different brews (on 250 taps) at his new workplace. “I was used to Bass and Sam Adams being something that was a little out of the norm,” he says, adding that what he started to taste was “mind-blowing.” He educated himself to better answer customers’ questions, began making suggestions about the bar, working with co-owner Harald Herrmann and, in 2001, found himself in charge of the company’s beverage operation.

And now that he has a de facto PhD in beerology, Snider is working to share that knowledge with Yard House employees and guests.  Beginning with the L.A. Live location earlier this year before going company-wide, the beer menu has been changed from its old alphabetical order to groupings by style, ordered from lightest to strongest, one page for ales, another for lagers and others. “It’s like a progressive wine list,” Snider says.

“The majority of our guests … don’t know it by style, they know it by name brand,” Snider says.Mayjunebber_012 That’s why the ABC menu stayed for so long. But now, by grouping familiar beers into style classifications with similar brews, guests are more likely to give something new a try and have that something new be enjoyable. “The last thing we want to do is scare somebody off from what they’re normally drinking to tasting something that’s way up here and they go, ‘Oh wow, that’s way too much for me,’ ” Snider says. The plan is to “stair-step” people from one beer to the next logical brew, instead of, say, having someone go directly from a light American lager to a strong Belgian ale.

So is the new menu working? “It’s already done wonders for us,” Snider says, adding that more obscure brands that weren’t selling particularly well in locations with the alphabetical menu started taking off at the L.A. Live location when the new menu design was introduced.

Ahead of the new menu, Snider moved to educate all of Yard House’s restaurant workers about beer styles. Last fall, he and the beverage team he oversees conducted classes. “We would put anywhere from 12 to 16 different beers in front of them broken out by styles … and they were obscure brands, rather than ones they already knew,” he says. “We would take stuff that were great beers on that list that weren’t selling well… That really opened their minds.” The students were told about the breweries, alcohol content and other details so they would “know the information off the tip of their tongue … for that beer geek that’s going to come in and start asking questions.”

Coming tomorrow: Part 2

-- Blake Hennon

Photo credit: Blake Hennon / Los Angeles Times

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