Small-business spotlight on Leaders Beverage: The experts in draft system designs, maintenance and beverage consultancy
History in short: Leaders Beverage was founded in 2012 by Drew Larson, a retired major and aeromedical Blackhawk helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army who, at the time, was serving as the beverage director at Hopleaf, a renowned beer bar in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago. Illinois law states that bars and breweries require a third party to install and regularly clean draft lines, and Larson wasn’t all that satisfied with the companies offering those services. So Larson, who also happens to be a certified Cicerone, Sommelier, Specialist of Spirits, and Culinarian, started a consulting service on the side, working with local restaurants and bars he knew to improve the quality of their draft systems.
Since then, utilizing a staff with decades of food and beverage industry experience, it’s been steady growth for Leaders, which is self described as a “draft technology and beverage consultancy and service.” Leaders moved into its current space on the northwest side of Chicago in late 2015 and now boasts eight full-time employees.
“We realize it’s not the kind of thing you have to worry about unless things aren’t quite right. We’re raising the bar in regards to fixing problems, but also teaching you about your system, what it’s doing and why it does it.”
Leave it to the experts: “Draft beer can and should be the most profitable thing for any restaurant or bar,” Leaders Beverage draft technologist and client experience manager Martin Langrall tells us. “So many systems are improperly maintained or installed improperly that companies can lose a lot off of their margins. Draft systems are only as good as the people offering them.”
These days, craft-beer enthusiasts are keenly aware when something doesn’t taste right, and many are going to speak up when it happens. Plenty of business has come as a direct result of patron complaints, and that level of knowledge from the consumer is what can open the door for Leaders.
“There are some extraordinarily knowledgable and talented folks out there brewing beer, but how many of them know about what’s behind the curtain and what properly installed and maintained draft lines can do for them?” Langrall says. “We realize it’s a niché thing. It’s not the kind of thing you have to worry about unless things aren’t quite right. We’re raising the bar in regards to fixing problems, but also teaching you about your system, what it’s doing and why it does it.”
A level of success: Following the design and installation of a draft-line system, Leaders Beverage has a 90-percent retention rate in regard to keeping clients on board for recurring biweekly maintenance visits. Up at the crack of dawn (and often before), most of their work is done between 5-11 a.m. before breweries and other establishments open their doors.
Horror stories: The staff at Leaders has seen its share of ugliness while helping new clients for the first time. Tubes yellowed by biofilm, “beer stone” buildup from minerals in the beer (similar to a clogged artery) and line turbulence that can lead to bad pours. Even cooler management that’s run amuck, to the point it could be considered a safety hazard just walking in. They’ve seen it all.
We’ve all seen it… a bartender pouring out half a pint or running the tap for several seconds before they get something they can actually sell and something you actually want to drink.
Recent projects: Leaders is currently working on the highly anticipated Salt Shed music venue and event space in Chicago, building out the refrigeration and draft-line systems. Farraguts on Clark, a neighborhood pub on Chicago’s far north side, has seen profits rise with increased draft-line efficiency since hiring Leaders — a big factor because it doesn’t have a kitchen to rely on.
No wasted drop: We’ve all seen it… a bartender pouring out half a pint or running the tap for several seconds before they get something they can actually sell and something you actually want to drink. “We want to maximize every single drop of that delicious beer,” Langrall says. “Craft breweries are using more expensive ingredients than ever, taking more chances, and those kegs are worth way more than they used to be. And the right system is going to help.”
Learning curve: Leaders offers complimentary staff training for breweries, bars and restaurants. Proper pouring, troubleshooting, resolving issues before having to make a service call — it’s all covered. They also operate a You Tube channel that’s both instructional or informational.
From the source: “Awareness is really what it comes down to. There’s just not a huge base of knowledge out there for draft systems. The mechanics that bring your beer from the keg to the tap to your glass are so, so important. Everybody wins when it’s done right, so don’t be stingy and get your lines cleaned every two weeks. We understand there are razor margins, but this is not a luxury item. Properly installed and clean lines are a necessity, and everyone wins in the short and long term. The brewery or venue makes more money, while the customer gets a better product.” — Martin Langrall