Tag Archives: craft beer advice

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 11/16/15

The first cold/flu bout of the season is over. I can actually communicate verbally now.  Anyway, on to the five articles.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 11/9/15

Here are the first Five Articles of the week.  I’ve been taking time off the last couple of weeks to catch up on sleep and figure out how to get my writing more consistent and better while trying to manage a bar.  The solution I’ve come up with is that Sunday and Monday will be all about writing.  Here we go.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 8/31/15

Here are today’s links for this rather pretty Monday morning. I almost didn’t notice, but this is the 100th Five Articles.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 8/12/15

Here are the Five Articles for the day.  One thing I’ve learned over the last few days is next time I want to publish a review a day, I’ll work on the actual tasting over a longer period.  I love beer, but I also need to get up early and write.  Anyway, another review went up last night and I have another that will be edited and posted today.

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.

The Beer Counselor Is In: How To Find Better Beer At Chain Restaurants

It’s been a long day.  You’ve either been on the road too long or you’ve been sitting in one of those always exciting work seminars.  Now you have the chance to go get some dinner or lunch in a city you’ve never been to, before you head back home.  You check your map application of choice on your phone and the only thing you see on your way to the highway is a couple of chain restaurants.  You pick one and pull into the parking lot and head inside.  Your host/hostess seats you and as a craft beer lover you look over the beer list.  You keep looking and you keep looking.  Eventually, you decide water might be the best option.

If you are a craft beer lover, here is a little advice on how to handle this situation.

  1. As the host is taking you to your seat, scan the tap wall. Better yet, if you’re by yourself, sit at the bar.  This lets you preview the list before you get it.  You can prepare yourself for the disappointment and also start thinking about what you can accept. Another thing, the written list might not be updated, but the tap wall almost always is.
  2. When you start reviewing the craft beer list skip to the bottom. The beginning of the list will look like the commercial listings for Sunday football broadcasts.  What you are looking for is probably going to be down at the bottom.
  3. Now once you have done those things and you still feel that water is your best option, go to the bottle list. The bottle list is usually a lot more craft friendly.  Bottles and cans are both easier to store then kegs giving restaurants more flexibility in what they can carry.  If they are not on tap, this is where you will find New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and/or Samuel Adams and probably a lot more.

This isn’t meant to be a dig at chains.  Their job usually has little to do with promoting craft beer.  They are trying to make a profit in a business with a very low profit margin.  If they can sell a pint of a mass produced lawn mower beer that costs them $1 for $3 at 3 times the rate of a local craft beer that costs them $3, they are going to do it.  That’s basic business.

However, to the chains I would say this:  Take two of the mass produced taps and make them local favorites.  No one is really going to miss Michelob Ultra and/or PBR.  If you have a customer who is mad you don’t have Michelob Ultra, give them water because they really don’t like beer anyway.  As far as PBR goes, you’re a chain, you don’t have enough hipster poseurs coming in to drink that crap.  Dedicating, two of your twenty taps to local beer won’t affect your lawn mower beer only patrons and you will win a little loyalty from the more finicky craft beer drinkers.

The Beer Counselor Is In: There Is No Right Answer

When you first walk into Craft and look at the tap wall it can be a bit much.  There are 36 taps with the names and descriptions (which people don’t read) written above them.  It can often take a new customer and even regulars a moment to orient themselves to find something they like or want to taste.  That said, a strange thing happens with a lot of people.  They freeze up.  They stare, they ask for a taste of something, they ask you recommendation, they ask for another taste, they demur, and then they finally ask for a beer almost apologetically if it isn’t something they think a beer snob would love. They look at the wall and it seems like they are flashing back to school and taking a multiple choice test they have only partially studied for the last few days.

To those people here is my advice:  Chill the fuck out.  It is beer.  Buy a pint.  If you don’t like it, we have 35 other taps.  Or you know, you could buy a flight of five.  There is no right answer or wrong answer.  This isn’t like all the multiple choice tests you took in school.  This is an essay test only you can grade. Did you like the beer?  Why or why not?  Did you try a different beer?  Why or why not?

I’m not a teacher.  I’m not grading you.  I’m not judging you.  If you are in Craft and you are buying a beer, you are not going to get a bad beer.  Any beer we have on our tap wall is a good beer.  You might get a beer you don’t like, but that doesn’t make it bad.  Also, if you taste a beer and it tastes like something is wrong with it, before you tell the bartender make sure it isn’t the style of the beer.  Hefeweizen’s are supposed to be cloudy and sours are supposed to be sour.

I was a liberal arts major in a time when essay tests and 5 page final papers were how you were graded.  It wasn’t a multiple choice world.  You had to know things and understand things as you accepted that there were other things you could not or would not every really know definitively.

I think the unknown nature of subjective answers scare people.  We like black and white answers and easy categorization.  Those are easy to find multiple choice tests, but in the real world, we live in a constant state of gray.  You make decisions with partial information and choices with 50/50 odds of things turning out either good or bad.  We can’t see the future so anything you decide to do that takes place over a time longer than 20 minutes into the future is guess.

Please remember this.  As much as I love beer, it isn’t that important.  It should be the toy store or the comics’ page in the newspaper.  Just try one.  The worst that can happen is you don’t like it.  The bartender isn’t going to throw you out or shoot you for your choice.  Also remember, even a bad craft beer is still a craft beer.  Try something.  You never know, you may find a new beer you will love.

The Beer Counselor Is In: Take a Chance

pub-and-beer-alexander-ochkalTake a chance.  Life might surprise you.  We all like things we know, things that are familiar. They make us comfortable. We think that being comfortable and always knowing what to expect is living.  It isn’t.

I know I will drink any beer at least once.  I’ll try anything and I know that makes me a little different from most people who walk into a bar, but part of the point of craft beer is to give you choices and let you drink different things.  That is why the customer that came into Craft Growler Shop one day last week was so frustrating to me.

She comes in with her boyfriend and asks if we have the Lost Coast Apricot Wheat we have had on a couple of times this spring.  No, we haven’t had it in at least a couple of weeks, I replied.  I then proceeded to give her samples of a couple of other wheat beer we have on tap.  Her boyfriend was like that’s a good beer, etc.  We are both trying to get her to pick something when she finally says why she can’t pick anything, “I don’t like beer, I just liked that one and it is the one I came to get.”

On one hand, I’m glad she found a beer she liked.  On the other hand, she has decided any beer that isn’t that specific one tastes bad.  It didn’t matter how my beers I let her taste, she had made up her mind that it sucked before tasting it.  It was like she took one step out of her beverage comfort zone and that was far enough.  Who knows what might happen if she starts liking pale ales.

I would never force someone to drink a beer they didn’t want or didn’t like.  If she had just not known what she wanted and couldn’t find a beer she liked, that would be one thing.  What she had decided was there was only one beer she could drink and nothing else was going to satisfy her.  She had closed her mind to the possibility that something else could excite and please her palate.

A recurring theme in the short time I’ve been writing this blog, is the idea that we in the craft beer community should try to do one thing, get beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers to open up their minds just a little bit.  All the commercials that have told us what beer is since the 70s have seeped into their unconscious decisions about beer and shaped the box into which all things beer exist.  Our job as advocates for craft beer isn’t to get them to think outside the box, but it is just to get them to acknowledge that their beer drinking is in that box and there are other things that might taste just as good if not better then what they are used to.

beer flight 2Here is my advice.  If you are a craft beer drinker already, get one of your friends to go with you to good craft bar and buy them a flight to show them what the possibilities are.  If you aren’t a craft beer drinker, go to craft bar and ask for something like the thing you drink the most.  Better yet, ask for something as different as possible from your normal beer just to see what happens.