It’s Craft Beer Week here in Madison, Wisconsin, and I help run a very popular craft beer bar close to the downtown area. Ironically, I probably drink way less during this week than any other week out of the year, because when you’re surrounded 24/7 by something that you love, you tend to resent anything resembling it on your off-hours. Crazily enough, freakin’ Craft Beer Week is the only thing that makes me say, after an 11-hour shift at work, “You know what sounds good? Lemonade.”
I do enjoy it. It’s Hell Week in the industry, but I get to sling and taste a lot of cool beers for free, establish relationships with the brewers and just generally be distracted from the day-to-day operations of a restaurant. Still, after several super-busy nights at our place, plus a couple of excursions of my own to other bars that are filled to capacity for hours on end, I’ve observed the best and worst of both customers and employees. And since complaining is way more fun than praising, that’s what I’m focusing on.
Seeing as how the craft beer boom is even sneaking its way into Georgia — please tell me you’ve visited the Brick Store Pub? The Porter? Creature Comforts Brewing? — it seems a primer might be in order. So here’s a few ways to be sure you won’t embarrass yourself in these places, as well as, y’know, just being a good customer in general.
- Don’t ask “What’s on tap?”
Look, as someone who gets super nerdy about this stuff, I can tell you that I love to talk about beer, and I’m happy to answer questions, probably more at length than you’d prefer. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put a tap list right in front of a customer, then come back a minute later with a glass of water for them, and their first question is, “What do you have on tap?” That’s like walking into a Home Depot and asking, “Which tools do you have?” The answer, probably, is, “All of them. All of the tools.”
Because there are two problems with this: first, it doesn’t create a great first impression of you. If you can’t be bothered to read a few adjectives, you probably aren’t going to appreciate the beer very much to begin with. Second, the only logical response the bartender can have in this situation is to point to the tap list, which never doesn’t seem like a dick move.
Speaking of dick moves…
- Don’t ask for a ton of samples.
I get it; sometimes the sheer array of beers at some of these places can be bewildering. The Beer Judge Certification Program currently recognizes around 150 different styles of beer, and that’s not even mentioning the nearly-endless flavor profiles possible within the confines of each style. And while employees should be ready and willing to answer questions about how a certain beer tastes, it’s perfectly understandable to want to try before you buy.
What’s not okay is wanting to try seven or eight beers before you finally decide on one. If a bar stocks a lot of rare, boutique beers on their tap lines, that many one-ounce samples can add up to about a $10 loss, the same price as one or two beers.
And hey, speaking of prices…
- Don’t act indignant about prices.
You know why craft beer costs more than mass-market swill? Because these brewers use real, sometimes very expensive ingredients, to make their beer. Even something as standard as an IPA can come at something of a premium, depending on the hops used.
When Ballast Point, for instance, first released their award-winning Grunion pale ale, it was $16 for a six-pack. Why? Because the beer used a lot of Calypso hops, which are relatively scarce, and Ballast Point, despite being one of the largest craft breweries in the nation with one of the best reputations, wasn’t yet able to obtain a bulk contract for that hop varietal, so it cost more. Since then, they’ve acquired a contract, which has lowered the price to about $11.
Does the beer utilize a brettanomyces fermentation? It might take months, even a full year, for the beer to finish; that’s a cost for the brewery. Is it aged in a wooden barrel of some kind? That’s a time cost, plus the cost of the barrel itself. Then you have to factor in the up-charge when the brewery sells it to the distributor, the up-charge the distributor charges the bar and then finally the up-charge the bar needs to cover the cost of, y’know, operations and employees.
So if you’re wondering why that 4.2 percent ABV Berliner-weisse costs $8.50 for a 10-ounce pour, it’s not because anyone is trying to gouge you. We’re just trying to run a business.
- Be patient. And treat employees like humans.
We’re all victims of the culture of instant gratification; I get it. If we want something, we want it right then. But it doesn’t work that way in these types of bars. If you walk into an establishment that’s having a particularly busy night, just get to the bar as efficiently as you can, try and place yourself in a spot where the bartender can see you. I promise, we see you. But we may have a dozen other people to attend to before you were there, so you’re going to have to wait. You are important. But you have to wait.
Do not snap your fingers. Do not wave cash around. And for the love of God, do not call out to us. That’s a really great way to not get served at all.