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How to Order in a Beer Bar & Not Look Stupid


How savvy are you in a beer bar?

As a woman who writes about beer, I have grown to be passionate about the subject. Sometimes I am embarrassed by my own enthusiasm, because I catch myself being … well … the epitome of the Beer Fox, even when I am not in a setting that elicits such a persona.

I have another side to my life that many people in the beer community do not see. It encompasses the world of magazines – a land where ideas take shape, moving from the imagination of the mind to a product the consumer can hold in her hands. She can feel the paper, smell the ink, crawl into the mind of a writer, experience the lifestyle promoted by an advertiser. I often have the opportunity to meet these publishers, graphic designers, sales executives, and CEOs who create reality from fantasy. And although my role is in a corporate setting, I am usually introduced as The Beer Fox.

As you can imagine, this brief introduction prompts a list of questions substantial enough to rival the Roman Inquisition. You might think I would shrink in horror - being among professionals, yet having my colleagues introduce me as “The Beer Fox.” But I instantly get swept into my favorite genre – that of beer.

I can feel my pupils dilate. Uncontrollable brightness comes to my face. My heart begins to quicken, and my voice takes on the tempo of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. We may talk about Belgian beer, world travel, anthropology, or the ages of man. Beer leads to other discussions, too - discussions about philosophy, taxation, the development of agriculture and Louis Pasteur. My own excitement expands. It begins to affect others in ways they did not expect.

Unknowingly, one of my colleagues has suddenly discovered her own curiosity, stirred up by my innocent stories about attending a beer dinner, judging at a homebrew competition, or going to a beer tasting. She confessed her desire to try “some of those beers you talk about,” and she continued with, “How do I go about it? What do I say? I don’t want to look stupid around people who really know beer.”

It suddenly occurred to me that there must be a lot of people, both men and women, who don’t know much about craft beer, but want to have the experience. They are confused by advertising – particularly by beer conglomerates who promote common macro-brews as premium products. They serve it with fruit or sell its glamour through a stylized olde world website and the word ‘premium’ – beers such as Corona (with a lime), or Blue Moon (with an orange slice), or Stella Artois (a ‘premium lager’). Don’t accept schtick unless a brewery openly admits that it's schtick. Go for the real deal.

My colleague needed some quick tips, and many future craft beer drinkers might benefit from these words of encouragement, too:

  • Avoid plain old bars. How do you recognize these? When asked, “What beers do you have?” they reply, “Everything. Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, Coors, Corona…” Get out, quickly! This owner and his staff know nothing about “everything.” They are merely selling expensive water. They get good deals from the beer conglomerates – cheap beer for cheap prices, bar glasses, koozies, posters, and other promo items. They may even bring in a public relations DJ for an evening. The idea is to get you to drink beer. Lots of it. Very cold, so it numbs the taste buds and you don’t taste the corn in the beer. You can stay if you want, but that’s for newbies. You are on a beer hunt, so go where the flavor is.


  • Choose a beer bar that promotes local beer, Belgian beer, imports, or craft beers from across the country. How do you know? Pay attention to key signals: This type of bar holds beer dinners, keg tappings, or tastings with a showcased brewery. They have slogans like “no crap on tap” or provide a beer menu that is several pages long. You can look online to see their beer menu. If they brew beer on premises, try it - they may feature other local beers, as well.


  • Ask questions that show your interest. A few might be:

    “What’s the freshest beer you have on tap?”

    “Do you have any cask ale on hand pump?”

    “Do you have small samplers? I’d like to try several beers on tap before I order a whole glass.”

    “I’m new to craft beer and I’m just beginning to get the idea. Can you give me some guidance?”

    “I’m eating the mussels and frites. What beer goes well with that?”

    “I like beers that are ________(fill in the blank with preferences: “malty, hoppy, tart, sour, fruity, soft, strong, … “ etc.)

  • Try beer that has been re-fermented in the bottle. Order a 750ml bottle and share it with your partner.


  • Remember that strength has nothing to do with color. Light golden beers may have higher alcohol by volume (ABV) than dark beers. Biere Brut, tripel, and Imperial IPA are much more potent than stout, porter, or dunkelweiss.


  • Keep yourself hydrated. Drink lots of water while you are tasting. Alcohol causes dehydration, and you may suffer ill effects the next morning if you don’t replenish.


  • If you order a beer you don’t like, give it a few tastes. Try it with cheese or a chocolate dessert. Some styles will grow on you as you become more experienced. If you are not expecting unusual flavors, you might be stunned by them. Some of the strong flavors you will discover in beer include: Pacific Northwest hops, heather, whisky, vanilla, dark fruit, bubblegum, Brett, edamame, basil, peaches, oats, maple, brown sugar, cherries, butterscotch, cinnamon, muscat grapes, sorghum, … the list is infinite.


  • Take a journal along to keep track of your likes, dislikes, and how your palate changes as you become a sophisticated appreciator of beer. The Beer Journal is a good resource.  Read full review of The Beer Journal

    Cheers!
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    Content copyright © 2014 by Carolyn Smagalski. All rights reserved.
    This content was written by Carolyn Smagalski. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Carolyn Smagalski for details.

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