Bar manager’s passion for beer took him from Scotland to Australia and back again
It’s no surprise that the winner of the Molson Coors and SLTN Beer Pioneers competition would have a passion for beer.
The contest, launched earlier this year, asked bartenders to suggest different ways of promoting beer in the on-trade.
Chris Johnson, bar manager at The Crafty Pig in Glasgow, was the winning entrant, with his suggestion of adapting the popular ‘dining in the dark’ concept to encourage people to try new beers.
His prize was a trip to the Franciscan Well Brewery in Ireland – a craft brewery that is part of the Molson Coors portfolio.
“The brewer that was there was really cool and seems really passionate about it all,” Chris told SLTN.
“When you go to a brewery and see how passionate the people are about what they’re putting out it gives you a real respect for the beers they make.
“I hope to see more of their products available. They’re doing some great stuff.”
Chris isn’t short of passion for beer himself.
Originally from Arrochar, Chris moved to Glasgow in his late teens, learning the ropes of bar work in venues that included The Admiral, La Tasca and Rufus T Firefly.
But it was his time with the craft beer ‘punks’ at Brewdog – during which he managed the company’s Glasgow bar – that really ignited Chris’s passion for beer.
“It was just the diversity of it all and the fact there is so much to learn,” he said.
“Before that you just think of beer in terms of lager and stout. You don’t think of imperial red ales and things like that.
“There’s so much to know, so much to discover.
“There’s a whole spectrum of beers, an arena of brewers all over the world doing different things.
“I forget sometimes that there’s people that don’t know that.”
A stint in Australia followed, where Chris continued to work in craft beer bars and expand his knowledge of the beer category.
“They (Aussies) are so much better than us at [craft beer],” said Chris.
“You can go into any pub and get something decent.
“They’ve adopted it a lot better than we have. I think we’re quite stubborn.
“You still get people who walk up to this bar and say ‘why do you need all these beers?’”
He isn’t judgemental about customers who are more hesitant to try new beers, however, acknowledging that the craft beer world can be daunting for newcomers.
“At first it was really hard for some people,” said Chris.
“You spend your whole life drinking lager and then suddenly have some mad-looking hipster telling you you’re wrong.”
It’s partly this continuing hesitance towards craft beers that makes it important for bars to cater to a full spectrum of tastes, said Chris.
At The Crafty Pig, which is owned by Glasgow-based bars firm Kained Holdings, 75 beers (13 of which are on draught) include lagers as well as more challenging styles of beer.
“We’ve got some great beers, a really good selection,” he said.
“Every style is accounted for, so there’s no need for us to go absolutely crazy.
“I think we’re in the perfect place, where we can cater to lager drinkers that want to watch the Celtic match or if there’s a craft beer drinker in there’s something for them.
“It’s less just about craft beer, and more that everyone’s welcome.”