Mark Stahl from Das Stahl Bierhaus
Walking into Das Stahl Bierhaus, you’re immediately transported into an old world German beer hall with a blend of warm lights, wooden fixtures, and of course, the beer. The first thing you’ll see are the heavy wooden encased bookcases framing a bar with 32 taps of the freshest beer. In this ‘Steel Beer House’— the …
Walking into Das Stahl Bierhaus, you’re immediately transported into an old world German beer hall with a blend of warm lights, wooden fixtures, and of course, the beer. The first thing you’ll see are the heavy wooden encased bookcases framing a bar with 32 taps of the freshest beer. In this ‘Steel Beer House’— the German translation of Stahl Bierhaus — steel accents surround you, most notably around the growler filler (which you make a note to come back to on your way out). Hundreds of glimmering bottles filled with something mysterious and magical catch your eye over to the left—malty liquid waiting to be imbibed. And to the right, the seats that you’re about to occupy.
Das Stahl Bierhaus is a must visit if you’re looking for a sampling of some delicious libations. From imported to local offerings, beer to hard kombuchas, you’ll be in awe of the 500+ options that await you at Das Stahl Bierhaus.
Check out our full interview with founder of Das Stahl Bierhaus, Mark Stahl. NASA engineer by day and a beer connoisseur by night, Mark runs the bottle shop with a team of experts working to create an inviting space for families and friends to enjoy. And if you find yourself in Huntsville, AL, you might even spot Mark at the bar with Bell’s Two Hearted in hand.
Tell us about your own personal journey into the craft beverage world.
Mark: For those who don’t know, there’s a radius in Huntsville where you cannot throw a rock without hitting a NASA employee, or an Army employee. When I first conceived of the idea of Das Stahl Bierhaus I was single and working on Redstone Arsenal for NASA. As lots of decisions go, I was drinking at a local brewery when I first had the idea. I felt there was a need for more craft beer options in South Huntsville and wanted to create a bottle shop for people who want to drink at home and a taproom for people who want to hang out and drink. I also wanted to scratch my entrepreneur itch. We’ve been open for over 4 years now.
Mark Stahl, owner and founder of Das Stahl Bierhaus.
As we’ve grown over the years our original POS was not able to keep up anymore, we needed to upgrade to a more robust POS system. Finding Arryved was great because one (1) you’re all craft beer people so it’s fun to have that shared passion but two (2) and this was a huge selling point for me, all you want is the merchant services fees that I was already paying. Arryved actually came in slightly less than what I was paying at the time. Once I started working with you, the sheer quality of customer service that you bring to the table is what sealed the deal.
How do you balance working for NASA with running a bottle shop & taproom?
Mark: While I’m at NASA, I’m doing NASA stuff, and sneak in emails during my breaks. I work in an optics manufacturing group, we make x-ray telescopes and I do a bit of everything there. But my nighttime job is running the store. I have a general manager who manages the day to day at the store: ordering beer, hiring employees, making schedules, the bulk of things so if I don’t make it in for two weeks, everything is still there and still running. I wear all hats as needed, accountant, HR, IT, payroll, inventory, plumbing, electrical, janitorial duties and more. I meet biweekly with store management to provide guidance and solve any problems.
What makes Das Stahl unique? Why should we come hang out.
Mark: I believe we’re the only place in Huntsville that’s a true bottleshop. You can break any 6 pack and buy just one, or make a mix-6, 5, 4, anything you want. There’s no exceptions. We really like that exploratory aspect of craft beer where you don’t have to commit to an entire 6-pack. That’s a unique position for us.
As far as the geography, we’re in South Huntsville. To give you a better picture, Huntsville is Pac-Man shaped with a military base taking up a quarter of the landmass. You have to drive all the way around the base in order to get to South Huntsville. I work with the South Huntsville Main Business Association on the Promotions Committee to bring more attention to and host more events in South Huntsville. I also live in South Huntsville so it’s important for me to help build a strong community for both residents and business alike.
Image courtesy of Das Stahl Bierhaus.
Who is your clientele?
Mark: Our customers tend to be families and couples looking for a quiet place to have a drink or individuals looking for a quality drink and good conversation. Our events tend to reflect those values with trivia, tastings, food pairings and other family fun events. When you’re at Das Stahl, you’re among a slightly more responsible and less rowdy crowd. Alabama law prohibits us from serving liquor because we sell packaged beer to-go, and because we also have beer to drink in-store, we can’t serve liquor to-go. Wine, cider, mead, beer, that’s what we specialize in.
Tell us about those events.
Mark: Being a German themed establishment we host an Oktoberfest every year. This year we jumped through hoops with the city to get to use our parking lot and did an entire outside only Oktoberfest. We’ll certainly do it again post COVID because it’s a great time to give people more space like that.
We also have fun with pairings. We have randall nights where we have a bunch of ingredients allowing each guest to customize their randall. They pick their beer and their ingredients and then we randallize them in french press to order. We also have a doughnut shop next door who we reach out to once a year. We order 5 dozen each of 5 different mini-doughnuts — you’re looking at 25 boxes of doughnuts and each doughnut is paired with a 4oz sample.
Image courtesy of Das Stahl Bierhaus.
You mentioned you serve beer, wine, cider, mead. How do you pick?
Mark: Our customers come to us because they’re looking for something different from what they can buy at the grocery store. We have 5 shelves devoted to Belgian and German beers; then we have 3-4 more shelves that is for the rest world that isn’t US; 5 or 6 shelves devoted to the South East—Nashville, Atlanta, Florida—our neck of the woods; 7 shelves devoted to the rest of the US; a shelf of ciders, meads, and gluten free options like ginger beers. We do have a wine license but we’re craft beer people. Our wine selection is for people looking to grab something unique for a party so we don’t carry the recognizable brands. Oh and kombuchas. There are alcoholic kombuchas out there.
My wife has been pressuring me for over a year now to get into the non-alcoholic options . The non-alcoholic options have really opened up recently so we’re building out a shelf right now of 30 to 40 SKUs of NA options like wine, liquor substitutes, mixers, beers options.
With 450 SKUs you probably can’t taste every single one.
Mark: Not at the same time. But I certainly have tried the vast majority of them.
How do you make those distinctions with limited shelf space of what to bring in?
Mark: It’s a bit of brand trust. I’m going to pick up anything Prairie, Prairie Bomb is one of my favorites and I trust what they do. There are brands out there that make good things but then you’ve been burned by enough one-offs that you’re just not going to pick up anything new they make but you’ll pick up their core products. It’s a developed knowledge base of what to trust and what not to trust. What to gamble on and what not to gamble on. Honestly I don’t carry a lot of that knowledge, a lot of that is put on our general manager.
We’re talking package. Kegs are a different story. We try to carry a range of things on the tap wall but we also don’t carry more than one porter or amber because they’re not popular enough on their own. One trick is that a beer tends to sell better in package when there is also a keg on the tap wall.
How much do you rely on your historical sales data to influence these decisions?
Mark: Most of it’s in my GM’s head because we don’t have the time to stop moving to analyze the data.
It also depends on if you have quality data to make those decisions with. Occasionally in the past I’ve generated reports that tell us our number 1 products. Dark, malty, and high gravity is our audience. That’s something we’ll always have on tap. But some of it is confirmation bias, we sell a lot of it because we choose to sell a lot of it.
Image courtesy of Das Stahl Bierhaus.
How do you manage inventory?
Mark: I am a niche user of Arryved from that point of view. My understanding is that a vast majority of your customers are breweries and breweries are only managing a small number of items. They can really dive into and use your POS as it was designed optimally.
For us, because we have 32 kegs and only one of them ever stays in the same place— as one keg blows a different keg going to replace it—so we don’t use Arryved’s kick system. Because we never kick kegs we have a UPC sheet to manage what is on tap . When someone puts a new beer on, they print a UPC that they cover the old UPC with and someone uses a SKU gun to zap whatever beer someone ordered.
With Arryved we have chosen to make SKUs the unique identifier of an item. This means that a series or a line of seasonal from a brewery may all ring up as the same item. Our biggest issue is we work with 7 distributors and we get 7 shipments a week. Sometimes 35 different SKUs a week, how do you manage that much coming in? At the end of the day, Arryved is not an inventory management system, it’s a POS. However, I will find ways to continue to use Arryved because your customer service is amazing, I think you believe in your product. That is shown in your customer service and your willingness to make changes to fulfill my needs. And again your price point is a huge selling point. So, to enable us to use Arryved as our POS, we use Yellow Dog Inventory as our back of house inventory management system. Items are received through Yellow Dog and then pushed into Arryved via your API.
Image courtesy of Das Stahl Bierhaus.
Give us your pitch.
Mark: That’s a funny question. This interview is a national platform for a very local product. I’m not a brewery and I’m not distributing over 5 states. I’m a super local retail option. I would say to a larger audience, Huntsville is not really what you imagine when you think of Alabama. We’re Hunts-vegas. We’re an amalgamation of engineers, scientists, and very intelligent people from across the US and beyond. So if you’re in the area and you like craft beer but you don’t want to brewery hop, Das Stahl is a great place to chill out and try a sampling of beers from around the area. We’re customer driven—just like Arryved—to make people happy.
What’s your favorite beer right now?
Mark: I love dark beers but as the weather warms up I’m finding myself gravitating toward double IPAs. I like a good Bell’s Two Hearted or 90 minutes from Dogfish Head.
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