How Three O.C. Beer Buyers Craft Their Tap Lists

Daniel Cuppels and his tap list, Haven Gastropub, Orange

When it comes to a tasty pint, three places come to mind that constantly curate interesting tap lists. What most people don’t realize is that there is a delicate dance these buyers do to find good-quality accessible beers that we, the consumers, like to drink, versus what beer salespeople like to push, versus sticking to their own visions of what flavors should be pumping out of their taps. Meet Emily Finch Veau of Iron Press Anaheim, Neal Hirtzel of Native Son Alehouse in Santa Ana, and Daniel Cuppels of Haven Gastropub and Provisions Market in Orange.

How much of the beer list is what you want versus what is available and what sells?
Neal from Native Son: Beer-ordering is not all fun and games, it’s a stressful, time-consuming job. Some weeks your list is better than others. Some weeks not that many great beers are available and you toss in a few favor orders and you got a list only a mother could love. Then some weeks great beers come out, you fill the rest with standards and something from the cellar and you have a list to be proud. Then inevitably the bad list week was higher sales! Haha!!

Emily Finch Veau of Iron Press

Emily from Iron Press: In my dream world all 24 lines are just Alpine Nelson, but The Packing House has such a wide demographic.  I had to get organized and see what worked…I made Excel sheets and all that nerdy stuff.  So based on sales, I mapped out the beer lines and categorized them.   Turns out we will ALWAYS have to have some sort of orange wheat concoction on!   I then just make it my mission to try and find the best version of that available.

Daniel from Haven: It really comes down to balancing a draught list. Every beer I purchase has a place and purpose to create a balanced draught list. Our number-one priority is to make sure there is a beer for everyone and every palate. We are very fortunate to be able to work with some of the best breweries in the world, which leads us to be able to choose beers that customers will find new, fun, and interesting, or perhaps old classic favorites. Creating a draught list is really an art and not a science.

What’s a dumb question you find yourself answering constantly?
Emily from Iron Press: I kind of wish I could record myself and just hit a button to have it play aloud, “No. I’m sorry sir.  We don’t have Pliny The OLDER.”

Daniel from Haven: “Why is this 15 percent ABV bourbon barrel-aged pastry stout only six ounces and so expensive?”  The keg is expensive!

How do you deal with “hype beers?”

Neal and Hamms is like PB&J.

Neal from Native Son: Hype is hard, some hype beers are amazing like Monkish or Abnormal. Will I ever wait in line for 12 hours to get them? Definitely not. Hype is a game people like to play and if they want to play it that’s fine. You can wait in line all night if that’s what you like to do I’ll be over here sipping Hamm’s.

Emily from Iron Press: Craft beer is craft beer. Why spend my time waiting in line for five hours for one bottle (which I’ve totally done before!), when there are a million AMAZING craft beers on the shelves that are readily available for my consumption.  I love me some whales just like the next dude, but give me that walk-in fridge at Hi-Time Wine Cellars and I’m a kid in a candy store!

Daniel from Haven: Whatever floats your boat. For me, hype has a place in my professional world…people don’t get excited over nothing. It’s generally a good indicator of where the market is heading, especially with breweries and beer styles. However, the level of excitement should be taken with a grain of salt — next week, it will be something else. I was all about that life for years…chasing down one-off lambics, ticking the Beer Advocate top 250, waiting in endless lines and refreshing my browser with an atomic clock for online sales… It’s exhausting. We are in a historic time and place where you can find top-tier beer everywhere. I’m not losing sleep over missing out on beer, give me a Timbo Pils from Highland Park and I wouldn’t ask for a better slice of heaven.

A beer list is sometimes about what isn’t served as apposed to what is served. What is lacking on your beer list and why?
Emily from Iron Press: We are missing a couple breweries I would love to have on.  I think people don’t always realize the number of kegs we go through or they may not be a fan of a chick beer buyer (Yeah!  I said it!), so they don’t always take our little bar seriously.  But I think it definitely gets made up for by the amazing things we do get allocated from our fave breweries.

Daniel from Haven: Big Beer. We drew the line in the sand. We take pride in the fact we only serve independent craft beer. We support small businesses and breweries. You can feel comfortable knowing that any beer you are served here isn’t helping a corporation that is actively trying to limit your access, your choice of amazing craft beer.

Neal from Native Son: Whenever our beer list is lacking something style-wise it’s because it won’t sell. Mostly high-priced Euro stuff that is just too expensive for our customers. One style on my list that is lacking is hoppy lagers. Chapman Crafted is making amazing hoppy lagers and they are some of my favorite beers in OC, but sadly for us they don’t tend to sell because our customers want either light lagers or IPA’s.

Check out what’s on tap yourself:
Iron Press Anaheim: Inside the Anaheim Packing House, 440 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim // 

Native Son Alehouse: 305 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana //

Haven Gastropub: 190 S. Glassell St., Orange //

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