It struck me recently that I don’t recall seeing craft beer served in a pitcher. Ever. This is likely a product of my limited exposure and I’m sure there are many places across the country that do serve them but it got me thinking…
Does it make sense to serve a great beer in a pitcher?
What appears to be a simple question on the surface has developed into a discussion on quality, financial, regulatory, and perception standpoints. Stay with me as I sort through such a stupid, simple notion.
My initial reaction is that a pitcher doesn’t make sense from a quality perspective. Beer’s two worst enemies, light and oxygen, thrive in a pitcher environment. When you heard pitcher you probably thought about large clear glass/plastic pitchers with tons of surface area (and a huge macro brewery logo). However, in this day and age of proper glassware it seems blasphemous to suggest such a crude vessel. You can’t drink KBS out of a pitcher, right?
There is also the variable of temperature regulation that becomes more challenging along with a faster rate of carbonation coming out of solution. I decided to go to an expert, so I spoke with a Certified Cicerone to get her take. She was conflicted in that carbonation and temperature would be lost but felt the economics were positive. Let this marinate for a moment.
The finances of a pitcher is generally where it shines. You and a couple pals sit down at your favorite dispensary and agree upon a single beer. The proprietor deduces they can move more draft beer (which generally yield a larger margin over cans/bottles) by pushing it in a greater volume. The serving staff makes fewer trips for refills. The consumer is able to pour a fresh glass at will. It’s a win-win for all, right? Maybe. This is where it gets a little hazy when you consider craft beer’s price points.
More often than not, you aren’t going to see a well-made beer under $4 per pint. This puts a dent in the allure of a $3 pitcher special when you figure the average pitcher holds 60-64 oz. You can expect the price point to be 5-7 times that amount. A local taproom manager thought pitchers would be the most practical way for staff and customers to enjoy beers at their planned outdoor patio. However, I spoke to a local craft beer restaurant owner who felt the sticker shock would turn off their customers. Their response was to offer 22 oz. pours of most moderate ABV beers. Hold that thought about ABV for a moment.
Back to the economics. At this point, you’re basically talking about sharing a growler (I’m certain this is a brilliant marketing angle). It equates to roughly four pints per serving. $16-$20 for a “growler” in a beer bar, taproom, or restaurant doesn’t seem too far fetched. Most craft beer drinkers wouldn’t bat an eye at $5 a pint so an incremental price tag shouldn’t offend. I was able to find a single local restaurant that advertised $15 craft pitchers on Tuesdays as a special. This ain’t so bad. Now – as you think about new ways to burn through your paycheck, we will move on to the regulatory aspect.
The restaurant proprietor and Certified Cicerone both mentioned ABV. This leads me to believe there may be a bit of a moral dilemma at play here. In fact, some jurisdictions overtly outlaw pitchers or require they be served with two glasses at minimum. The reason being many well crafted beers hover north of yellow fizzy beer’s 4-5% ABV.
Is it irresponsible to serve such a quantity of a 7.2% IPA? Well, you thought it was okay to sell a growler of the same beer. You also thought it was okay to serve 3-4 pints to that patron. This is where the service staff’s role in assessing the sobriety of their customers becomes an important reality. The beertender becomes a temporary parent to ensure everyone is having a good time in a safe manner. That liability comes with the territory. Let’s not discount personal responsibility at all but we can move along to the next consideration.
Perception is major factor in my discussions with various stakeholders. When I questioned a local craft beer distributor as to why they don’t promote pitcher sales at their on-premise accounts, the answer was “because I think everyone normally feels pitcher are for big brands.” Additionally, I referenced the notion of proper glassware earlier where many craft beer drinkers prefer a specific glass with a specific style. The “rules” say X beer style must be poured into X glass directly from the tap. While some glasses are designed to enhance aroma and temperature stability, it’s also kind of fun to drink from something other than a shaker pint. Plus, it can garner some attention from others and craft beer snobs can be attention whores.
The standard pitcher isn’t all that
fancy (here’s a product idea someone can run with). You don’t think of a delicate kolsch or malty scotch ale swirling around the classic clear plastic pitcher. Of course, there’s nothing stopping a place from doling out a couple tulips with said pitcher. Along these lines, the Certified Cicerone mentioned that pitchers are okay since they are usually used for beers that are overly carbonated and too cold. Again, our minds drift back to a giant tub of a light lager with foam sloshing over the top and a stack of plastic cups or the polarizing frozen pint glasses.
As I ruminate on the notions of quality, price, ethics, and self-image I think I end up okay with the pitcher of craft beer as on option. I think in the right place, at the right time it would be okay. Sitting down with a couple of friends, it saves you some trips to the bar or your server’s feet. It could be a challenge manage temperature when you are outdoors during warm months but this something you should take into consideration when ordering. Perhaps the craft beer pitcher will become more prevalent as flavorful beer continues to germinate.
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