Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What makes a good beer bar?

First off... I got the sense from their last column that the Democrat and Chronicle's Beer Buddies are getting their homebrew hats on. They've been threatening to do so for over a year. Good luck, guys, and save some for us! We'll be gentle. We Swear!

Now, to the topic at hand. What makes a good beer bar? Is it as simple as the presence of good beer? I don't think that's enough. For a bar to earn the esteemed title Beer Bar from the esteemed likes of Bruce and myself, certain criteria must be met.

There must be a broad selection of styles.
A bar that features beer from 15 different craft breweries is great, but when each beer is an IPA, it tends to fatigue my taste buds. Show me something across the range. Have at least one good lager, a hearty stout, and, dare I suggest, something on hand-pull.

The staff must know what the f*ck they're talking about
Everyone doesn't have to be a zymurgist, but a basic knowledge of beer styles, flavor characteristics, and, most importantly, pronunciation is nice. I once tried to order a Kapuziner Hefe-Weizen. After a few minutes of back and forth, the server came back with "Oh, you mean Ka-PEW-zinn-er!"

Bartenders and servers, you can pronounce "chipotle" without a hitch. Why can't you take two minutes at the start of your shift to nail the pronunciation of what your customers are going to be asking for? Communication is a wonderful thing.

The place has to be comfortable
There's nothing worse than a stuffy beer bar. I'm fortunate to live in Rochester, which has some nice, knowledgeable pubs that fit (and sometimes smell) like an old shoe. In bigger cities, the places with the best selection tend to be huge and corporate, with 100% monthly staff turnovers and slick margarita menus. I can never feel at home in one of those places.

That's all it takes to make me happy. I just wish places like that weren't so rare.


Anonymous said...

Zymurgist? Thanks Mark... I learned a new word today. They didn't teach me that one at Wayland Central.

Can you please point me in the direction of that beer bar with 15 different craft IPA's. Now we're talking my kinda beer bar! Must also have daily specials and plenty of free parking.

- Jim -

Chemgeek said...

You are right about the staff. A now defunct brewpub in my town, had one of the worst waitstaffs. With the exception of two or three bartenders, the servers had NO idea what each beer was like. What made it comical was one server we had, tried to compare everything to Bud Lite somehow. "It's like Bud Lite, but is tastes more like coffee." That's not a verbatim quote, but it is the essence of what she said about a stout. I blame the management for not training the MGD swilling college students to be educated servers. No wonder they dropped all of their own brews.

Mark said...

That is freakin' hilarious! What's amazing is the utter lack of curiosity for the wider world around them that people like your server display. Some people never leave their comfort zones, I guess.

Brendan said...

In fairness, it is very hard to talk about beer and wine, especially as a server speaking to impatient strangers. I worked at a brewpub about ten years ago (before microwbrews had really taken off) and we were trained to compare things to bud light, etc, and if we didn't, customers would invite these comparisons.