The Beer Counselor Is In: Ask Better Questions

“Specificity is the soul of narrative.” – John Hodgeman

John Hodgeman has a very entertaining podcast named, Judge John Hodgeman, in which he manages each week to find depth and profundity in mundane and pedantic arguments between friends, spouses and lovers.  He uses the above quote to get participants to hone in on what they are upset about and what that means to them.

When you walk into a craft beer bar or a brewery tap room, the first thing you do is look for a place to order and a place to sit. The second thing you do is look at the tap wall.  If you don’t see that one beer from that one brewery you always drink, you might be stumped.

Specificity, specificity, specificity.

You don’t have to know what you want to drink.  However, you should have an idea of what it is you like to drink and have the ability to express that.  Now, a bartender’s job is to make sure you get the drink you want and help you have an enjoyable experience.  Part of that job is to elicit information from you so that we can help steer you towards the beer you want. We can’t read minds, so I has to be a conversation.  If you don’t give me specifics when I ask you questions, it can become an interrogation which will frustrate both of us.

One of the worst and over asked questions in sports press conferences are the “Talk about…” questions lazy sports writers pose to coaches and players. It isn’t a question looking for any specific answers, it’s just an invitation to the coach to fill time while the reporters transcribe what he says. We all need to ask questions better, and that is mostly just a matter of asking questions seeking specific answers.

There are two questions I hate getting when I’m behind the bar at Craft.  I don’t like them because like “Talk about…” neither is a question seeking a specific answer.  Instead they are just place holder to get the conversation started.  Sometimes people are intimidated by the concept of craft beer and don’t want to be embarrassed by asking a stupid question.  To that I will answer, the only stupid question is the one unasked.

Don’t ask, “What’s good?”  I have 36 taps.  All of it is good.   Instead, ask, “What’s a good IPA on tap right now?”  Better yet, tell me the specific beer you really like.  I should be able to find something similar.

Don’t ask, “What’s your favorite beer on tap?”  This assumes we have the same tastes in beer.  Last week I had a customer ask me that and I said, “The Rail House KA-BAR Brown.”  He responded with, “I don’t like dark beers.”  OK.

Instead ask, “What is your favorite wheat beer on tap?”

Another recent example was with a customer who didn’t even ask me the question.  This person just said, give me a taste of your favorite beer on tap right now.  I poured out the sample, gave it them, and watched them make bitter beer face.

Both times, after the person got more specific with what they were looking for (from my prompting them with questions), I was able to find them good beers to drink.

So, my advice is to help your bartender and yourself by asking specific questions so he can provide you with specific answers.