In this episode of “End of Day Drinks,” the VinePair team is joined by Jason Murphy, the beverage and innovation manager at Buffalo Wild Wings. Murphy explains how Buffalo Wild Wings became the largest purveyor of craft beer in the on-premise world, and begins by tracing his own career, which began with a 110-beer “World Beer Tour.” After completing his tour, Murphy continued to learn more about craft beer until joining Buffalo Wild Wings, where he’s worked to ensure local craft beers are served at every location.
While Murphy works with beer buyers and general managers in every Buffalo Wild Wings location, he’s still in charge of assigning the mainstay taps across the nation and identifying local craft options for all 50 states. Here, he discusses some of his favorite local options and the new styles beer geeks should look out for. He cites saisons as one of his favorite beer styles, but also mentions a churro pastry stout listeners will have to hear about to believe.
Here, Murphy discusses how data trends influence his buying, and, of course, how Buffalo Wild Wings hopes to usher in a new wave of hard seltzers. He explains his plans to keep on-premise hard seltzers on draft, and what will need to happen before he can standardize service. Murphy ends the discussion with a thoughtful definition of what craft beer means to him and the perfect pairings fans can find the next time they visit their local B-Dubs.
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Adam: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, this is “End of Day Drinks,” where we sit down with the movers and shakers in the beverage industry. So pour yourself a glass, and listen along with us. Let’s start the show. On today’s episode of “End of Day Drinks,” we’re talking to Jason Murphy, the beverage and innovation manager of Buffalo Wild Wings, or affectionately known as B-Dubs. We’ll talk with Jason about how Buffalo Wild Wings became the largest purveyor of craft beer in the on-premise world, as well as the innovations they have planned post-pandemic. We’re also going to chat a little bit about hard seltzer and why the brand is so gung ho in adding taplines. And finally, we’ll talk to Jason about what he thinks “craft” means. Let’s start the show.
Tim: Hi there, this is Tim McKirdy, staff writer at VinePair, and welcome to the End of Day Drinks podcast. Joining us today, we have Jason Murphy, beverage innovation manager at Buffalo Wild Wings. Hello, Jason.
Jason: Hey Tim, thanks for having me.
T: Thanks for joining us. And as always, I’m joined by my wonderful colleagues on VinePair’s editorial team, including VinePair co-founder Adam Teeter.
A: What’s up Tim? Hey, Jason.
T: We also have executive editor Joanna Sciarrino.
Joanna: Hi, everyone.
T: Senior editor Cat Wolinski.
Cat: Hi, Jason. How are you?
T: And associate editor Katie Brown.
K: Hey guys, what’s up?
T: And of course, we have VinePair tastings director and all-round star Keith Beavers. Hey, Keith.
Keith: Hey Tim, Jason. Tim, Jason, what’s going on?
JM: That was a good introduction.
T: So, Jason, really great to have you with us today. And what can we say about Buffalo Wild Wings? You guys have more than a thousand locations nationwide. You sell more draft beer than any other restaurant in the country. And more than any other sports bar or restaurant, you place an incredible focus on craft beer. And maybe most importantly, your tagline is Wings, Beer, Sports. And as beverage innovation manager, you’re in charge of the beer, so no pressure there.
JM: Yeah, there’s definitely worse jobs that could be had. I’m pretty lucky in what I get to do, that’s for sure.
T: And before we dive into your work at B-Dubs, and by the way, I really like to call it B-Dubs.
T: Yeah, that’s good. I think that’s easier for the flow.
A: Is that what you call it?
JM: Yes, yeah, I call it B-Dubs. A lot of people call it BW3s. And that was like a decade ago. We’ve transitioned to Buffalo Wild Wings or B-Dubs.
C: BW3s? What’s that?
JM: Yeah, so back in the day, it was Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck. And I guess weck is like a hot beef sandwich that’s dipped in au jus. I’m not very familiar with it, but that was one of the two things that we served, and we no longer serve weck sandwiches. So we’re just B-Dubs. We’re just Buffalo Wild Wings.
C: Woah, whatever happened to the Weck?
T: A topic for another podcast, then?
C: Yeah. TBD.
T: But Jason, let’s let’s talk about beer before we talk about your work at B-Dubs, because you’re a certified cicerone, and I believe beer is somewhat in your blood. Am I right?
JM: Yeah. Yeah, I’ve been working in the beer industry for a while, but my dad spent 40 years working at Coors Brewery in Golden. He started when he was 18, retired when he was 58. So yeah, I’ve truly been around beer my entire life.
T: That’s incredible, and then so, yeah, your position at Buffalo Wild Wings, speaking about it, this is a really important role in America’s beer industry when it comes to on-premise serving. Can you tell us about how one goes about getting a role such as that?
JM: Oh, man. I guess I just drank a lot of beer and was good at drinking beer. No, growing up through college, I had worked at a couple different brewpub chains, Gordon Biersch and then Milwaukee Alehouse. And just served and bartended to get through college, but spent a lot of time learning beer from brewers and people who are really passionate about it. I graduated college and was able to get a job at a restaurant chain called Old Chicago. And they’re a regional chain. They’ve got about 100 locations across the country, but they’re known for what they call their World Beer Tour, which is, they have anywhere from 30 to 40 beers on tap, but they’ve also got 80 to 90 beers in a bottle cooler. And the World Beer Tour is drinking 110 different beers and it’s just kind of their loyalty program. You get credit for every beer you try and you can only drink four per visit. But anyways, I got to work for that chain and run their bar program for a while. And they’re very big into craft beer and craft beer education and getting people kind of on their craft beer journey. Did that for about five years before I had the opportunity to work for Buffalo Wild Wings and run the largest draft beer program in the country. So I kind of cut my teeth there. And one thing that I will always tell people is my claim to fame of how I started to learn about beer is, I did complete my old Chicago World Beer Tour — my 110 different beers — before I turned 21. So don’t ask a lot of questions about that.
C: Oh, man.
A: I love it. Well, so I have a question, Jason, this is Adam here. So are you in charge of buying for all of the Buffalo Wild Wings? How does your role actually work? Do you have people in each region that are buying? Because I think one of the things that’s pretty amazing about Buffalo Wild Wings is that the craft beer is different at every location. So every place I’ve been when I’ve been to a Buffalo Wild Wings, obviously, you have some of the bigger players that are sort of your standards at some of the places, I’m curious how that works, too. But then what I’ve always been impressed by is like, you’ll have a few draft lines that are like “the local brewery” or a brewery that is as close to Buffalo Wild Wings as possible. So how are you guys pulling that off?
JM: Yeah, so that’s probably one of the cooler but also more challenging aspects about the beer program for Buffalo Wild Wings is, we’ve got right around 1,250 restaurants. We’ve probably got over 1,300 different beer buyers in our company. If you include every single restaurant, we’ve got general managers at every single restaurant who are making decisions on beer. The district managers they report to are making decisions. The franchisees — we’re about 50-50 split company and franchise owned. Our franchise owners are making decisions and they’ve got corporate offices where they’ve got a beer buyer in their offices who are making decisions. So there’s a ton of different layers on who is making decisions at beer from my level, because, yeah, I do make decisions on what’s going to be on tap all the way down to the location level, because we realize that local beer and the brewery down the street from a Buffalo Wild Wings is super important to that local beer drinker. So we want to make sure that they have decision-making power to bring on those taps. But from where I sit, when I came on board Buffalo Wild Wings about three and a half years ago, the beer program was very national- mandated. All the beer selections that came down from the company office were in every Buffalo Wild Wings everywhere. The one change that I made when I started was, we started going state by state. So I build out a mandate list or a required tap list for all of our locations down to the state level. And the only reason it’s state level is because that’s the lowest I can go by myself. So I do build out a required tap list for all 50 states. I do split up California into two — Northern and Southern California. But that’s how deep I can go from my level, state by state, to make sure that we’ve got the right brand for the right guest at that level.
K: That’s so cool. This is Katie, by the way, I have a question for you, because I know that you’re from Denver, right? Or you’re living in Denver?
JM: Yes, born and raised in Denver and still here.
K: That’s awesome. So I’m currently living in Colorado, too. And I’ve just been so enjoying the local beer scene here. And so I was wondering, do you have some favorite local Colorado beers that you make sure are in all the restaurants here?
JM: Oh, that’s a good question. So, yes, I do. I’ve also got some local favorite Colorado beers that I can’t get in Buffalo Wild Wings yet just because they’re not big enough to distribute yet. But I’d say obviously the staples around Colorado that you’d expect to hear: New Belgium and Odell are definitely two of my favorite breweries. I try to visit those breweries whenever I can. One of my favorite up-and-coming breweries that does distribute is Cerveceria Colorado. They’re a brewery from Denver Beer Co. They’re fairly new on the market within the last couple of years. But Cerveceria Colorado makes great craft beers with a Hispanic or a Mexican twist to them. And they make some of my favorite flavors that you can get in the Denver beer market right now. So that’s one of my favorites that we’ve made sure we have on tap. Crooked Stave, which is one of the leading sour breweries in the country, but is also local to Denver. They have some tapping presence not only in Colorado, but in some other states as well. And then just personally, I spent a lot of time out of tap rooms enjoying other people’s beer. So New Image is one of my favorites out of my native Colorado. Cerebral out of Denver, Out of Range out of Frisco. So when I’m not working in beer, I spend a lot of time enjoying it.
C: We love Cerebral here. They were among some of our top beer lists last year, and I’m always excited to try what they have.
JM: They do awesome stuff. I love those guys.
C: And Crooked Stave, we actually got a little bit of. This is Cat, by the way, Cat Wolinski, resident beer geek. And we do get some Crooked Stave here. But I do miss being able to travel and go to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival and all of that. So it’s cool to hear about these new brands. Like you mentioned, the one with a sort of Latin American slant. Do you find that Mexican lagers or Mexican-style lagers are getting really big, either in your area or just like across the B-Dub’s footprint? Because we find that it’s just increasingly popular to see these sort of riffs on the Tecates and Coronas of the world.
JM: Yeah, Mexican lagers do great for us. The Modelo, Corona, Dos Equis, they do some pretty great sales for us. Not only just because they’re extremely sessionable beers that you can enjoy while you’re watching a football game and eating some hot wings. But also you find a lot of guests or on-premise drinkers kind of trading up because they’ve got a little bit of a premium cachet attached to them. So we do a great job with those imported Mexican lagers. But that’s one of the reasons why I am excited about breweries like Cerveceria Colorado out of Denver, Four Corners out of Texas, because I think that’s a very unexplored area of craft beer is how can we blend these natural Hispanic flavors that we all love to enjoy in our food so much and is making its way to cocktails and is proliferating cocktails that hasn’t really made its way into craft beer yet. I think that’s a really exciting area that’s kind of untapped in the craft beer market. But there are some breweries out there that are trying it and making pretty good stuff.
C: What kind of flavors are you referring to, like agua fresca-type stuff?
JM: Oh, I mean, so the one, and I know that it’s a very standard flavor, but you don’t see much of it in craft beyond maybe being expressed from actual hops and hop flavor. But their main flavor at Cerveceria is a pineapple blonde. They’ve also got a poblano chili pilsner. It’s really good. I believe they’ve infused some mole into some of their beers, which is really good because you get that chocolate from the mole in some of the beer. So just those flavors that you would expect to see when you dine in a traditional Mexican restaurant are starting to express themselves in some beers. And I’ve been pretty impressed by a lot of it.
C: Very cool.
Keith: Is that what Mexican-style means, just like you’re trying to impart some of the flavors of the Mexican cuisine into beer, or is it more about the kind of Mexican style that we’re used to that I drink during karaoke?
JM: I would say more of the stuff that you’re used to trying in food is the stuff that you’re seeing. I’m scrolling through their menu right now. They’ve got a horchata blonde ale at Cerveceria Colorado, a churro stout, a chocolate chili churro stout.
C: Churro Stouts? Oh, my God, that sounds amazing.
JM: Yeah. So some of that stuff that you would expect to see when you’re dining out and enjoying Mexican cuisine is making its way into beer.
C: That’s awesome.
JS: How much in figuring out which tap to pick goes into pairing with the menu?
JM: That’s a good question. It’s definitely considered. The most important thing to me, though, is making sure — so we’ve got on average, we’ve got about 30 handles in all Buffalo Wild Wings. And the most important thing to me is making sure that of those 30 handles, they represent a wide variety of styles. So a lot of times you’ll go into a tap room and they’ll have 30 handles and they’ve got 10 pale lagers, 10 IPAs, five wheat beers, maybe a couple of ambers, a stout, a cider and you’re done. Right? There’s not a whole lot of differentiation there. Which one of these IPAs do I want to drink? That doesn’t mean we’re not going to have a good mix of IPAs and lagers because that’s what sells well. But I think the one thing that is easy to lose sight of is when you have a 30-handle tap system, it is a fact that you’re going to have a No. 1 seller and a No. 30 seller and everything in between. You’re never going to get away from having a 30th seller or a worst seller, no matter how hard you try. So what we’ve been trying to do over the last few years is make sure that we’re optimizing that draft system so that we’re moving a lot of volume out of our bestsellers, which is going to be those pale lagers and IPAs and really optimizing the back end of the draft system to allow for different styles that maybe you wouldn’t expect from a Buffalo Wild Wings. Am I allowed to curse on this podcast?
A: Of course.
JM: Cool. I’m going to do it. When I interviewed for the job four years ago, one of the things I said in my interview is all I want to do is drink a f****** saison at a Buffalo Wild Wings.
JM: Saisons are personally my favorite style.
C: I love saisons!
JM: Yeah they’re personally one of my favorites styles, but they’re such a good beer to pair with so many different flavors, especially when you’ve got 30 different wing sauces on the menu. But that’s one of the things. So you could say that, yes, I’m considering how do you pair beer and food together when I’m building the list, but really what I’m trying to do is build a pretty varied assortment of beer styles and types on our menu so that I don’t really have to worry about force-fitting pairing and and beer styles onto our menu. It should just naturally happen because that’s just what we have, because we’ve got a good style selection to begin with.
A: So, Jason, question for you, and I’m sure Tim will have a question afterwards that is probably similar to mine so I’m going to build on Joanna’s. But I know that Tim probably has a question he probably has been wanting to ask that is going to be similar, but about another style that’s all the rage. But I would love to know in terms of building the beer program, how much you’re looking at data and trends? So, for example, do you have a ton of hazies on your lists across the country just because hazy IPAs are all the rage? And does that cause you to phase out more West Coast-style IPAs? Or if you see that, I don’t know, pilsners are taking off, do you add more of those? Or more like session IPAs? Or do you not look at data at all when it comes to sort of building the beverage program?
JM: Yeah, that’s a good question. I did not know when I graduated college that I was going to be a data geek, but that’s basically what I’ve become over the last eight years. And that was kind of instilled into me by a former boss at Old Chicago as we were building the program out there and going location by location on building beer lists. But yeah, I mean, I would say my job’s probably about 70 percent science-based and 30 percent art. And that’s really trying to make sure that not only am I understanding what Buffalo Wild Wings guests want, or what are they currently drinking, but what else is happening in the marketplace? We’re a little bit behind the curve in bringing craft beer fans into Buffalo Wild Wings. And I think it’s just because they don’t know that we have a really good selection of craft beer. But I want to make sure part of building that varied assortment to make sure that we’ve got a wide variety of styles is, I want to make sure that when somebody comes into a Buffalo Wild Wings, maybe they’re not a Buffalo Wild Wings fan or their friend dragged them there for a fantasy draft party. And that’s the only time of year that they visit. I want to make sure that they’re wowed by the beer list and the styles and the actual brands that are on tap. And a lot of that comes from paying attention to data following internal data. We use a third-party company called Beer Board to manage a lot of our velocity. So I look at a lot of what they do. But then other industry sites, Nielsen CGA, Technomic, Beer Business Daily, Brewbound — all of those different data sites or news aggregators I spent a lot of attention to. But you know, as the art side of it comes from the fact that I spent a lot of time in taprooms. I try to stay hip with the kids and make sure I know what they are drinking. I do like to spend time trying out different styles and brands and breweries and things like that to make sure that I’m at least trying to round out my knowledge from beers all across the country. Because when you’re trying to run a local beer program in 50 states and 1,200 units across the country, it’s tough, but somebody’s gotta drink all the beers.
K: Does that mean you’re also adding hard seltzers to your beer list?
JM: Yes. So hard seltzers, we kind of tiptoed into and still we’ve kind of only tiptoed into and a lot of that had to do with some of the changes that Covid brought upon our business and the dining restrictions that we have of what people can and can’t do inside our restaurants right now. But moving into — I guess we are in 2021 — moving more into 2021, we’re beginning to make some changes. You’ll start to see a lot more seltzers end up on our mandated tap list and package less so. I envision very soon a world where we have at least one hard seltzer on tap in every Buffalo Wild Wings, if not two. And then in addition to that, anywhere from four to eight different packaged hard seltzer’s in our bottle cooler to allow guests the ability to kind of choose their favorite flavors. Because when you go into a liquor store to purchase hard seltzers, it typically comes in a variety pack. I know from experience and from talking to friends, there’s one or two flavors that you really like and one or two that you don’t. And so you drink the one or two flavors and the other one or two either end up in the back of the fridge or a pile in your basement that you end up giving to your parents. But on premise, we can curate those best flavors for you. You don’t have to buy a variety pack. So I think that’s something that really intrigues me as we look at hard seltzer in the future.
T: So, Jason kind of sticking with both of those themes, when it comes to trends and also hard seltzer — and really hard seltzer on tap — this is actually something we’ve kind of had a conversation about between us before, but I wonder whether you could share this idea when it comes to hard seltzer on tap. So hard seltzer as a phenomenon, people probably love it, or one of the reasons people like it, because they know exactly what’s in it. They know what’s in a pour size, what’s in 12 ounces of their favorite brand. So on premise, how are you going to recreate that experience when it comes to serving tap seltzer?
JM: Yeah, and I think it’s interesting because it hasn’t really made its way enough into the on-premise yet where it’s been standardized that everyone is doing the same thing. But I think I’m starting to see enough of it where I’m getting some ideas of where to go. So we are going to pour our hard seltzer draft in a 12-ounce Collins glass. Which, you know, that Collins glass kind of replicates a little bit that feeling of a slick can or slim can that drinkers are used to. We’re not pouring over ice. We’re pouring just straight draft into the glass. What really interests me I’ve seen a couple of different places that I’ve been out to is nucleation in the bottle at the bottom of the glass that just kind of keeps the agitation at the bottom of the glass and helps that appearance. So it differentiates itself a little bit more from still water or soda water. So I think that could be important. We haven’t necessarily gotten to where we’re going to go with garnishes yet or where we’re going to go with hard-seltzer cocktails. It’s an area that interests me. I think for us being a national chain, for us to do a cocktail, we probably have to find a national hard seltzer that we would mandate on tap, which isn’t too far-fetched to believe that we might be doing that sometime soon. But so that could be an avenue. But the garnishes really interest me. What I think we need to do, though, or what the industry needs to do is, typically that kind of stuff is led by the supplier who’s putting the product out there, like Corona led with putting a lime in the Corona. Blue Moon led with putting an orange on a Blue Moon Belgian White. I think it’ll be one of the hard seltzer producers, whether it’s White Claw, Truly, or Bud Light or another one that’s in the market trying to say, hey, or putting their flag in the ground and saying “Yeah, this is how we want you to present our hard seltzer on draft.” It’s just so new yet. I don’t even think the suppliers have a point of view yet, at least from my conversations. Nobody seems to be passionate one way or the other. And so it’ll be nice when somebody says, “No, this is how you do it.” And then everybody follows suit. But for now, I feel pretty confident in the Collins glass, no ice, 12-ounce pours that are very similar to the experience you’re used to getting when you open a can.
Keith: So this is Keith, by the way. I had a question about going back to the whole pairing thing, I just kind of want to know, like what would you pair? Because I know that all you want is a f****** saison. What would you pair with your f***** saison? For all the listeners out there that are like, “What would he do when he’s there?”
JM: Yeah, that’s that’s a good question. So what I would pair a saison with right now, so a lot of people probably don’t know this, but we did just put Saison Dupont in all of our restaurants starting last March. So you should be able to go into most of your Buffalo Wild Wings right now and get a Saison Dupont.
C: Oh my God.
JM: Yeah, it’s pretty cool, right?
C: That’s insane! Legendary! What?
JM: Yeah, you wouldn’t expect to get that at a Buffalo Wild Wings, but now you can. And then another thing a lot of people probably don’t realize is about a year and a half ago, we launched a new line of hand-breaded chicken and hand- breaded chicken sandwich. And the chicken tenders and the chicken breasts for the sandwiches are hand-battered and fried to order. So we’re not bringing in these frozen and battered chicken patties or chicken fingers. We make these to order, and they’re absolutely delicious. I would probably pair our Southern chicken sandwich — which is better than all the other Southern chicken sandwiches that you can get at any fast food restaurant — with a Saison Dupont. Because the “peppery-ness” that you’re going to get in that — oh, and I should say that we use beer batter. So we do pour kolsch into the beer batter, and we make that beer batter fresh daily. So in addition to being hand-breaded to order, we also make the beer batter fresh daily, which I don’t think people give Buffalo Wild Wings enough credit for. But there it is. I would pair one of our hand-breaded chicken sandwiches or the hand-breaded chicken tenders with a Saison Dupont because the “peppery-ness” that you’re going to get in the fresh hand batter and on the Southern chicken sandwich, the tanginess from the pickle is going to pair really well with the Saison Dupont. Southern chicken sandwich, Saison Dupont. Go get it now.
C: Oh my god.
Keith: Yeah I’m going to go out, bye peace.
K: I’m vegetarian, and that sounded good to even me.
JM: There’s controversy over this term — I probably shouldn’t say that — but we put cauliflower wings on the menu. So you can try the cauliflower wings with the Saison Dupont.
Keith: I’m down with that.
C: You’ve got to have the cauliflower wings.
A: Yeah, there’s a Buffalo Wild Wings really close to my apartment in Brooklyn, but I moved to my apartment in Brooklyn right before the pandemic. So I will have to go once it’s over and everything reopens and try all that stuff.
C: Hit me up when you go, Adam.
A: Oh, I will. We’ll do a VinePair outing. We’ll tell him that Jason sent us and that drinks are on him.
JM: Hey, that works for me.
A: So Jason, we’ve had this thesis for a few years now. I wrote a piece about it a long time ago, prior to when these other people were even working at VinePair — besides Keith. What up, Keith? One of the things that I’ve always thought, and I think you might have disproved me in your comment earlier, but I’m curious. I kind of feel like you guys are responsible for introducing more people to craft beer than anyone else in America. And I know that that’s like a very intense claim. But I actually think it’s true. Right? If you look at the amount of Buffalo Wild Wings out there and the fact that you guys are the largest buyer of craft beer in America, and as you said, a lot of people would just show up in Buffalo Wild Wings because their friends brought them along and maybe they’d never had craft beer before, and now they have it for the first time. Do you think that that’s an accurate statement or am I being really aggressive?
JM: No, I’d say that’s pretty true. And I think a lot of that has to do with our size and scale, and the fact that we operate in all 50 states. But we’ve always had a good complement of 25 to 30 tap handles in most of our locations. Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite are great sellers for us and they’re really great beers for the right occasion. But then we’ve also had some really great craft partners, too. Boston Beer and Sam Adams, Blue Moon. Blue Moon is a really good craft beer with some really cool roots to it and a story that I don’t think gets enough credit. But it’s just a great craft beer that’s enjoyable to drink. But also the on-premise is just made for sampling and discovery and learning about different beer styles in a way that the off-premise isn’t because there’s not as much commitment to ordering one pint or a tall. And I think that’s what’s so great and fun about building an on-premise beer program is, you do have the opportunity to experiment with some different things and be first to market with products and play around with different styles and different brands at different breweries. Because the guest is interested in exploring and discovering new things while they’re out. I think that’s kind of the interesting thing about working with some of my on-premise supplier reps. They’ll pitch beers to me that it may not be their No. 1 or 2 seller because they don’t do as well in the on-premise, and they’re open and honest about that. And knowing that this is my No. 3- or 4-selling beer overall as a brewery, but as an on-premise consumer, this is what we want to sell because this is what we want to trial new beer drinkers on. Or if you’re a fan of Sam Adams Brewery, I want to get this beer out here because it’s our new release and everybody’s already buying my lager IPA. So I just think that that’s the interesting and fun thing about what Buffalo Wild Wings can bring to people is just more adventurous experiences than maybe you would sign up for if you’re just shopping for a 6-pack at your liquor store.
Keith: That’s awesome, because I don’t know s*** about beer, but what I love about beer is going to a place that knows everything about it. I’m a wine guy, and I can talk all day about wine, but I love going to a place where I’m like, “Look, I don’t know what I’m doing here. I love beer. I just don’t know anything about it. Can you help me out?” And going to a place that does that is awesome.
JM: Yeah. And that’s something we’re definitely trying to improve on every day is making sure our servers and bartenders have knowledge of all the beers they have on tap. I think one interesting stat that stuck around with me forever, and I see it presented about every year, but the number never really changes it. Something to the effect of only 25 percent of people who enter an on-premise establishment know even what category they’re going to drink. And when they get there, that means 75 percent of people who visit you can be influenced by server or bartender suggestions. So that’s one thing that we always strive for is how can we be educating our staff so that they know as much about not only just the beers, the new beers that we have on tap and what’s local, but we’ve also really refreshed our cocktail program over the last couple of years, making sure it’s more classic cocktails and more creative. A little bit more elevated than what you would expect from a Buffalo Wild Wings. Moving away a little bit from casual dining and more towards craft and classic cocktails and even the wines that we have, because there is an occasion where a Buffalo Wild Wings guest is looking for a good glass or a bottle of wine. So you do have the ability to influence what that purchase is going to be or what that consumer is going to drink just by having a good knowledge base and being able to have a conversation with the table about what you have on tap or what new cocktail you’re shaking.
Keith: That’s awesome, because left on my own I’m just going to get a Corona and queue up Prince.
C: So, Jason, this is Cat again. You are a certified Cicerone, correct? Did you talk about that already?
JM: It was brought up.
C: OK, so how important to beer service do you think being a certified Cicerone is? Or having certified Cicerone beer servers on staff?
JM: I think having certified Cicerone beer servers on staff is extremely important. We’ve tried to create our own internal program that I would say is pretty close, but not quite on par with the certified beer server program. But pretty darn close. But it’s extremely important just to be able to explain the differences in beer beyond an ale and a lager. Which most people probably still don’t even know. I think it’s extremely important to be able to tell people what the flavors they’re going to get in beer is. One of the best experiences I’ve ever had was at a local brewpub in Denver where I had ordered my meal and I was asking my server what beer she thinks I should get next. And instead of saying, well, what’s your favorite style or what kind of mood are you in? she said, well, you just ordered this sandwich. And because you ordered this sandwich, this beer would pair best with what you’re about to eat. So I think you should order that beer. That happened maybe three years ago, but it’s stuck out to me ever since as like the gold standard of what I’d like to see happen at a Buffalo Wild Wings. If we can tailor your experience by saying, “Well, you just ordered this beer, so I would just suggest this wing sauce or you just ordered this sandwich so I would suggest this beer.” I think being able to customize that experience for the guests at their table or at the bar top is really what people are looking for when they’re going out. They are looking for experience. They are willing to try new things. So to be able to use that Cicerone certification program or tips from the Brewers Association or craftbeer.com or any of those industry resources to really help build up server knowledge. I don’t know if there’s anything more important to a Buffalo Wild Wings experience than doing things like that.
C: Great. Yeah, I think those experiences really stick out to me, too, when you’re like, “yes, that is how service is supposed to be!”
JM: Yeah, I was blown away. I don’t think anybody had ever suggested a beer to me in that way. And such a customized way in that experience. If I could replicate that person across 1,200 restaurants, I would not leave.
C: I hope she got a good tip that day.
JM: She did. Yeah.
T: So, Jason, you’ve been involved with beer for a very long time as a drinker, even before 21 by the sounds of it, in the background in your family, as a professional, as a scholar, Cicerone. So I have a question for you. Turn up the spice a little bit here. But here today in 2021, how would you define craft beer? Because we’ve spent a lot of time talking about craft beer today and I feel like that’s a definition that continues to evolve. So I’d love to hear your take on that.
JM: Oh, you’re putting me on the spot. How would I define craft beer?
Keith: Thanks, Tim.
JM: I don’t know if anyone’s ever asked me that before, so now I’m stumbling over my words, I would define craft beer as a liquid experience where a brewer or brewers have put passion into making that product for you. And are using — I don’t even want to say unique and novel ingredients, because you can have a craft beer experience it’s not that. I would probably stop at what I said. It’s a liquid experience where the brewer or brewers have put an immense amount of passion and research and experience into delivering that product into your glass. And a craft beer can be the easiest-drinking of light lagers, or 40,000 pounds of donuts into a kettle to make a pastry stout. But I think it’s the passion and knowledge and creativity and expertise behind that process that makes it a craft beer. It’s a little bit more than a lot of breweries these days, where it’s working behind the computer to push a button and send a recipe from point A to point B, which, nothing against those recipes, because those recipes and systems have been perfected to produce beer at a mass scale. And they’re efficient and consistent and quality every single time. And I think there’s something behind that passion and creativity to get liquid to glass that defines the craft beer experience. That’s not a very good answer.
T: But I think that’s a real nice sentiment rather than arbitrary production size figures or, I don’t know, even ownership. I mean, is that anything you care about? Seems like it’s very important to some people, but it seems kind of arbitrary to me. If there’s passion there, that’s all that really matters, right?
JM: Yeah. I think that I would say so.
T: Awesome. Well, you know what? I think that’s a really nice place for us to wrap up our conversation. And I’m sure you’re glad I finished with a nice, easy one down the middle for you there.
JM: Guys, this was one of the most fun podcasts I’ve ever been on. This was awesome.
A: Oh, that’s nice, Jason.
Keith: Hey wow, man. Thanks.
T: Well, yeah. Thank you so much for taking the time today and for joining us. And I look forward to having you on again and speaking about the weck sandwich.
JM: Yeah, the weck sandwich. We’ll do a history of weck.
T: Thank you so much Jason, and thanks everyone. It’s been real fun.
JM: Thanks guys, I appreciate you having me on.
T: Thank you.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of “EOD Drinks.” If you’ve enjoyed this program, please leave us a rating or a review wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps other people discover the show. And tell your friends. We want as many people as possible listening to this amazing program.
And now for the credits. “End of Day Drinks” is recorded live in New York City at VinePair’s headquarters. And it is produced, edited, and engineered by VinePair tastings director, yes, he wears a lot of hats, Keith Beavers. I also want to give a special thanks to VinePair’s co-founder, Josh Malin, to the executive editor Joanna Sciarrino, to our senior editor, Cat Wolinski, senior staff writer Tim McKirdy, and our associate editor Katie Brown. And a special shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, VinePair’s art director who designed the sick logo for this program. The music for “End of Day Drinks” was produced, written, and recorded by Darby Cici. I’m VinePair co-founder Adam Teeter, and we’ll see you next week. Thanks a lot.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.
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