February 9, 2011

Craft Beer Annoyances

David has thrown in the towel
I hate to write this because I'm going to sound like a beer snob, but I am, and there are some things with the craft beer experience that I would really like to see change. In no particular order they would include:

Chilled Beer Glasses

Imagine ordering a nice pint of your favorite IPA and anticipating the sweet malt aromas and floral, citrusy or spicy hop aroma and flavor. Then the bartender sets the glass down in front of you, you take a whiff and a nice swig, but everything is subdued. The flavor is blunted and not as bright as you hoped. Then you notice the ice crystals on the outside of the glass and sit at the bar with your hands wrapped around the glass for 15 minutes until it is warm enough to take another sip. This is how I feel every time I get served a pint in a chilled glass. Unfortunately, many brewpubs and beer bars are not immune to this practice and it is time for the craft beer consumer to demand change.

Flavor and aroma are strongly impacted by beer flavor. Aromas are carried to your nose by CO2 coming out of solution, a process that increases as the beer warms. In addition, cold temperatures numb your taste buds and reduce the flavor impact. This is fine if you are drinking a mass-produced industrial lager, but if you are drinking a craft beer with more flavor it is detrimental to the beer. Ideally you would drink most craft beers at 40-42 degrees or larger, more flavorful beers such as an Imperial Stout or Barleywine round 50 degrees. Next time you are enjoying a beer, either at a bar or at home, slowly sip the beer over 30-40 minutes and see how the flavor evolves as it warms. If you have never done this, I think you'll be amazed at how much it changes and will agree that somewhere in the 40-50 degree range is better than ice cold.

Shaker Pint Glasses

Although they are iconic as the universal beer glass, shaker pints were not designed for serving beer but for mixing drinks. Obviously, they are popular with bar owners due to cost and easy stack ability, but they are not an ideal serving vessel. For one, it is very difficult to serve a good beer with adequate head. There is no headspace for any beer foam, which means either a short pour with head, or a full pint with absolutely no head. Anyone who has enjoyed a properly poured heffeweizen in a traditional weizen glass with a three finger head on it will know what proper beer foam brings to the craft beer experience. The shaker's wide mouth also promotes quicker dissipation of aromas and flavors. I won't go as far as the Belgians and say every beer should have its own glassware (this is more a function of marketing than flavor considerations), but bars should employ an assortment of glassware, from tulip and snifters, to Abbey goblets to present their beers in a better light.

Domestic vs. Import Beer Lists

We've already discussed the dearth of craft beer on the restaurant dinner table, but something that really annoys me is the arbitrary split between "domestic" and "imported" beers. Much of this split comes from marketing, especially brands such as Heineken that attempt to portray themselves as a premium beer in the American market despite the fact that there is very little difference between mass-produced lager beers. One effect of this split is that many people now associate skunked, light-struck flavor common in many of the import beers packaged in green or clear bottles with imported beer itself and may be unwilling to try more flavorful imported beers if they do not like this flavor. A much better beer listing would be a split by common flavors, styles or ingredients.

Beer Served in the Bottle or Can

As mentioned above, aroma is important when enjoying a flavorful craft beer. As such, it is awfully hard to get much aroma through the 1 inch opening of a beer bottle. If I'm ordering a craft beer, I want it in a glass. And if I ask for a glass on my first beer, the bartender should assume I'm going to want one for number two and number three. Asking for a glass every time I'm served a beer gets annoying.

Swirling the Beer

Many craft beers are bottle conditioned but that doesn't mean I want do drink the yeast in the bottom of the bottle. I hate it when the bartender assumes I want the yeast poured with the beer when this is really only appropriate in certain styles of beer such as witbier or weizen. This isn't just a rookie mistake as I experienced it at one of the finer beer bars in the valley recently where the bartender poured the first 10 ounces, swirled up the remaining two and finished pouring the beer. If a beer is bottle conditioned, it should either be presented to customer with a glass and the bottle to pour themselves, or it should be poured clear with a little amount of beer left in the glass so the consumer can decide what to do with the yeast.

I think that is enough annoyances for one day. If some of these upset you too, please mention them to the manager next time you are out for a beer. Offer them as constructive criticism and convey to them how much correcting the issue will improve your enjoyment of craft beer. Beer will not be treated well until we demand it as consumers.


  1. Though you only usually only experience it at restaurants, the "domestic/import" list upsets me the most. You'll often see your Bud/Miller/Coors on the domestic list, while stuff like New Belgium, Stone or even Four Peaks shows up on the import list. I've been tempted many times to explain to restaurant managers the meaning of the word "domestic."

  2. I remember when David threw in the towel!
    I am glad to see this post! I often times think that I'm just being too picky when I get a beer in a bottle or in a glass with 1/4 inch of ice on it.
    Sometimes, I really get upset about it. Other times, I just let it go.
    But the fact is, when I've paid a lot of hard earned cash for a craft beer, (and let's face it, some beers are more of an investment) I want it served right. It's not like I'm asking for it in Swarovski crystal glass with an orchid leaf.
    I should be able to expect a clean glass that is at least relatively close for the style and no fruit floating in it.
    If you're not going to serve it properly, don't carry craft beer at all. I won't be back either way, so save us both the trouble. At least you'd get more respect from me by making me spend $2 on an Ice Tea than waste $10 on a craft beer that your bartender or waitress ruined before bringing it to my table.