Ottaway told Australian Brews News that “rotator bars” have exploded across the US in recent years, but there are signs the phenomenon may have run its course.
“We’ve become the rotation nation,” he said. “Even around here in Williamsburg [Brooklyn, NYC] there’s this whole wave of bars opening up and it’s like, ‘if you’ve ever heard of it, they don’t want it’.”
“You’d walk into places and would maybe have heard of one or two taps, but other than that it’s always new stuff, that’s kind of their schtick.”
Ottaway said there will always be demand from serious beer aficionados for rotator bars, but the general public is less enthusiastic.
“As the rotator bar phenomenon proliferates to more and more accounts and pushes its way more into the mainstream, that’s where I think you start getting pushback,” he said.
“There’s that broader segment of the population that doesn’t want to see something new every time.
“They do like some seasonality, they do like some change from time to time, but not every single time they go into your bar.
“There’s so much new stuff out there that it gets overwhelming for the consumer. And I think when you overwhelm the consumer is when you start to get pushback,” said Ottaway.
He said the results often speak for themselves whenever Brooklyn has managed to secure a tap point in one of these elusive venues.
“We bang our heads against the wall trying to get in there because they’re like, ‘oh no, Brooklyn’s everywhere, we’re not putting you on’,” he said.
“Every once in a while we break through. So what do they put on? Brooklyn Lager. And what happens? It’s their best seller.
“Because deep down people do like something recognisable to drink that they can wrap their heads around, that they can have several pints of and it’s not going to hurt them. It may not be the most adventurous thing they’ve ever had but there’s always a place for a solid classic.”
Ottaway said bars with 12 taps or more should be able to please allcomers. “Keep eight that are a bit more stable and four that you play with, as opposed to having all 12 rotate heavily,” he suggests.
Lager renaissance predicted
Commenting on style trends in the US, Ottaway said IPA continues its strong growth, barrel ageing of beers has exploded to the point it is “almost mainstream”, while there is also a lot of hype around sours.
“I have my doubts that sours will become a really measurable part of the industry, but certainly in terms of PR bandwith right now, sours are taking up a lot of space,” he said.
But as in Australia, Ottaway said there is also a strong trend towards lower ABV beers such as session IPAs, as well as rumblings that the broader lager category could be on the comeback trail.
“Right through this whole rotator phase, for us the beer that continues to grow the best is still Brooklyn Lager,” he said.
Ottaway said Brooklyn Pilsener is also performing strongly without any promotion whatsoever.
“We’ve never particularly focused on it as a brand, it’s just grown by itself – it’s up 20 per cent this year.
“There may be something to this concept that classic, full-flavoured lagers may have a bit of a renaissance.
“In some ways they’re much more difficult beers to brew well. As craft brewers have gotten better, I think they’ve started to become more willing to tackle that lager segment, so you’re starting to see some good quality entrants there,” Ottaway said.
Brooklyn co-founder Steve Hindy will present a keynote address at the Australian Craft Brewers Conference on Wednesday May 20. Further information is available here.