The brains behind the bar

Boak got me thinking last week, when she posted about the etiquette of taking your pint back.

The ThinkerI thought about myself in that situation. Generally, I’m the mellow sort. If I were drinking a beer that seemed off, I’d probably just put up with it. I’ve got English blood. That’s compounded by being raised in the Midwest. Stoic, non-complaining farmers of Northern European stock. (They only bitch about the weather, whether hot, cold, rainy or dry.)

I’ve always been put off by people that cause a scene in a restaurant. If they bring me eggs that are over hard, rather than the over easy like I ordered, or bring me a medium well steak rather than the medium rare steak that I ordered, I eat it. And don’t go back.

But as I get older, and wiser, I understand that sometimes they simply need the feed back. In my early days of Good Beer Drinking, I truly didn’t feel confident in my knowledge of the beers. I hate it when people run their mouths about things they don’t know about. So, there’s no way I’d have sent a beer back.

But, they need to know. The bartender isn’t drinking the beer all day; he’s slinging it. How’s he supposed to know if it’s off? Someone’s got to tell them. It helps the bar stay on top of the product. And it helps the next drinker, who could be a first-time craft beer sampler. A bad pint could ruin their evening and their life.

In the interest of the Movement, I now know enough, and care enough to get over my stoicism. That means a bad beer. That means chilled glasses. I don’t come off all smarty-pants, just informative and caring. About beer and their establishment.

I’m now kicking myself for not trading out a pint a few months back. I really should have done it. I’ve only had to fool with trading pints on one occasion, and it was rather awkward. There were several of us involved. And the bartender was obnoxious. He’d worked there for a good five years, and thought he was smart. He had questionable social skills, and poor customer service skills.

A couple of our group had horrible beers and returned them. Poor bastard wasn’t nice about it. Eventually, he asked for me, since he knew me and this scene was somehow my problem. I worked for a brewery, was recognizable and knew the managers fairly well. Eventually, I found myself on Bartender’s cell phone talking with the bar manager trying to put out/avoid a fire at for what for me was an important account. This was nothing to do with my job; this was me sharing a pint with friends. Fortunately, the bar manager was a good guy, and I had a good relationship with him. The issue would not impact the two taps I had on the wall. He recognized Bartender’s ass-facedness. He appreciated that I had tasted the beers myself and let him know the problem: the lines still had line-cleaner in them. Nasty and dangerous.

In the end, all was well. We got fresh beers and tipped our waitress well. None of that was her fault.

That was a bad bartender, but a good bar manager. I took Boak’s piece a little further in my weekend ponderings: What about those bar managers?

I found some of them interesting and appalling in my days working as a sales rep for a small craft brewery. More than occasionally, I encountered bar managers who knew very little about craft beer and even less about local breweries. I’d walk in the door with a logo on my breast, and the bartenders would rave. The bar manager had no idea about our beer. Oddly, I placed taps because a bartender or waitress nodded with a big-assed smile on their face.

In talking with people, I learned that this sect of bar managers had “moved up” to wine when they were done swilling in college. They were out of tune with their trade, and their market. What a shame. They were missing out in their own drinking, and missing out on income at their establishment.

Other bar managers, GMs or owners were on the pulse of Good Beer. I was once called “the porter God.” I nodded my head, touched her garment while whispering a blessing with a wry smile. That day, yes, as a matter of fact, I was the brewmaster.

It’s interesting to think about the brains behind the bar. Like the brains behind the teacher’s desk, the brains behind my car repair and the brains behind the leader of a nation, there’s a lot at stake. It’s important for me to do my job as a beer enthusiast to keep the bartenders, managers and wait staff informed. Just like it’s my job to keep elected officials informed.

And vote on what happens next.

4 Responses to The brains behind the bar

  1. Mike says:

    If you spent most of your time serving a variety of light lagers that are essentially all the same, all beer becomes the same. It’s going to take a big shift for beer to be more than beer in the mass market. An easy solution is to just drink where they “get it.”🙂

  2. Well put Jay. The trick is to be polite, My main sticking point is being served beer in an iced glass. Anymore, I just routinely order a warm or non-iced glass with the beer. If a beer is off, I say something, but in the most polite manner possible. william brand

  3. Wilson says:

    Mike–
    I understand your point, but sometimes I want to eat in a restaurant because their food is incredible. If they don’t yet “get” craft beer I’ll either have to drink a compromise (often water) or eat elsewhere. But with a little effort on the part of beer enthusiasts, we can help them “get it,” therein getting closer to good beer and good food everywhere. They won’t “get it” by osmosis. We have a job to do. We’re a part of the big shift.

    Cheers!

  4. Boak says:

    I always find it interesting to contrast the kind of bar staff you get in Britain (students, Aussies and other expats on their first job in town before they find a proper one) to bar staff on the Continent, who are older, more experienced, and seem a little more proud of what they do.

    I’m not saying that they’re all jolly about it, but I do genuinely believe that it’s more of a respected profession on the Continent than it is in Britain, that there’s little or no shame in working in a bar when you’re middle-aged in Germany or Spain. I’ve never had to take back a pint in Germany, so draw your own conclusions.

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