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The Buzz

A Beerfly's view. If you see anything here that seems crazy, click here.

Fresh Buzz

Vintage Buzz

2005 Buzz

July '05: American Spirit

June '05: Miller Time 

May. '05: Breathing Beer 

April '05: Now It's Personal

Mar. '05: 7% Ain't Enough

Feb. '05: Down to 18 

Jan. '05: Best of 2004 

2004 Buzz

Dec. '04: Joys of the Dark 

Nov. '04: The Next Store 

Oct. '04: Beer's Image 

Sept. '04: Clearly Insane 

August '04: Love of Lager

July '04: Speak Up!

June '04: Get Drafted

May '04: Shedding Tiers

April '04: Keg Party

March '04: Ultra Madness

February '04: Case Law

January '04: Best of 2003

2003 Buzz

Dec. '03: Wine good!

Nov. '03: Say Anything

Oct. '03: Shots at Saveur

Sept. '03: Pay For It!

August '03: Subtlety

July '03: RIP, Corner Bar

June '03: Screw 'Em!

May '03: Extreme Beer?

April '03: Liquor Taxes

March '03: St. Patrick's

February '03: Coffee

January '03: Taxes



August, 2005

Little Nightmares

I walked in the bar off Exchange Street, a lazy afternoon, and saw just the bartender and a couple lazy drinkers sitting at the long mahogany bar. The place was spotless but full of character; a bar that had a history, was comfortable in its own skin, and hadn’t come out of some marketer’s box of themes. My heart expanded with pleasure and I took a seat at the bar (stools at the perfect height, with a rail). I glanced left at the draft handles – Coors Light, Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Michelob Ultra? Do you have any bottles? "No, sir, we only serve the freshest of draft beer!" I slumped, disappointed – and woke up.

Ah, bed. It was just a bad dream. I rolled over, and drifted off again…

Cathy and I walked into the restaurant, led there by a trusted friend’s recommendation. ‘The food,’ he’d said, ‘is excellent, a Scandinavian/Mediterranean fusion I’ve never seen before that works amazingly well.’ We’d been meaning to try it for weeks, and finally put together a sitter for the kids and a night off from my punishing schedule of brewery and distillery visits. Original oils dotted the walls: Phoenician traders off-loading bales of reindeer hides from their long-eyed ships, Vikings harpooning giant octopuses, Hercules trading blows with Thor. We sat down and the waiter brought the menus. ‘Can I bring you something to toast your arrival?’ he asked with a hearty smile. Sure, what beers do you have? ‘Oh, we have everything!’ Damn…

Hoo, that was bad, haven’t had that one for a while. Cathy’s snoring; shake her a bit, back to sleep…

Now, this is a tap selection. Augustiner Maximator, Diamond Knot IPA, New Glarus Double IPA, Penn Kaiser Pils, Blue & Gray Stonewall Stout, Wachusett Blackshack Porter, Budvar Dark, Cantillon Iris… and that’s just right in front of me. The taps stretch off to my left and right, over 200 in all, and finely selected. There are five handpumps: Fuller’s London Pride, Three Floyds Pride & Joy, Yards ESA, Stoudt’s Pilsner, and Two Brothers French Country Ale. Oh, my… I’ll have that Budvar Dark! It arrives…cloudy. It smells of a sewer. I send it back, no problem, sorry, what else? Oh…let me have the Bluebird Bitter. It’s sour. Southern Tier Phin & Matt’s? Flat. Speedway Stout? Lactic. Yuengling Porter? Chunky. Cantillon Vigneron? Sweet. Bud Light? Ropey. Noooooooooooooo!!!!!

This time I wake up sweating, and Cathy’s got her hand on my shoulder. ‘Are you all right? You were thrashing around.’ I’m fine. Now. Whew. Just a dream…

I pushed the Passat through a last drift, the diesel alternately chugging and roaring as the ESP relay chattered and flipped, deftly juggling power between the wheels. There was the light I’d seen through the storm, a country inn where I could hole up while this surprise blizzard blew itself out. The weather reports now said it would dump a total of 28 inches, followed by bitter cold; I could be stuck here for days. I grabbed my bag and plowed my way to the door, to be greeted by a smiling young woman who took my bag and pointed me to the bar; ‘I’ll take this up to your room, sir,’ she said. I shook off the snow and the cold and walked up to the busy bar, feeling the hard, cold miles drip from me in the warmth of the camaraderie I felt from fellow travelers. ‘What can I get you, sir?’ asked the man behind the stick, an experienced, older man in starched whites. I leaned on the mahogany and examined the backbar: Jack Daniel’s Green Label, Tangle Ridge, Heaven Hill White Label, Ten High, Kessler’s…

I sat up in the bed so fast my butt left the mattress, rode the bounce off the bed and hit the ground running. Down the stairs to the kitchen and pulled a BridgePort IPA out of the fridge, got a glass and the Hirsch 16 Year Old out of the closet. A few delicious sips of nectar later, I indulged in a bit of oneiromancy. What did these nightmares mean?

It was pretty plain. Despite massive strides in the availability and appreciation of better beer and whiskey, it’s still far from a perfect world out there. Taplines are neglected and kegs are not moved fast enough. There are still many bars and restaurants that haven’t heard the word, or simply continue to ignore the desires of some of their customers. Staff training lags, and so does manager and owner training. Enthusiasm isn’t enough, it needs to be tempered with experience, education, and experimentation.

I’m talking to you, bar owners. Some of you get it, and for you, all I can say is well done, keep it up. For the rest of you, I’d like to offer some help. First, fix what you’ve got. If you’ve got bottles in a cooler lit by fluorescent tubes, replace them with low UV tubes or turn off the lights (and let people know why): they’re skunking your beer. Your taplines need to be cleaned every week, by someone who knows what they’re doing and who has the right equipment. There are services out there; find one. If there isn’t one in your area, learn how to do it yourself. The payoffs are real, especially if you let people know you’re doing it.

Maybe your selection could use some help. A good way to get a clue on what to do is to hit a website like Pubcrawler or BeerAdvocate, find the places in your area that get the highest ratings for beer selection, and go see what they have on. Don’t just go with what your wholesaler suggests; they’ve got their own agenda. (Don't ignore them, either: chances are, they've got some good stuff.) If you don’t really get the whole "great beer" thing, hire someone who does and give them a little freedom. If you don’t get whiskey, buy a book: Jim Murray’s are excellent. Or, you could drop me a line.

People can’t order what they can’t find. Make up a list with names, sizes (for beers), and price at the very least, it’s better if you can add some descriptions. Have your full beer selection and your high-end spirits; if your rail booze is special, note that: "Our house bourbon is Jim Beam Black Label." Keep It Simple: don’t make it a hardbound book that you won’t want to change! Keep it all on two sides of a piece of paper if possible, print out plenty of them, slip them into clear protectors, and scatter them along the bar, place them on every table. And when things change, hit PRINT on your computer and change the lists. If you have rotating taps, you might want to consider a chalkboard, in addition or instead.

You’ve got the drinks, now train your staff. There’s only one thing that gives a worse impression than a place with a short beerlist, and that’s one with a good list where the servers are butt-ignorant of what they’ve got. Your staff should be familiar with what you have available; they should know what beers are similar to them, they should know what they go with on your menu, they should know the strength. Ideally, they should taste everything that comes in. I’ve done staff training, and the interest – and payoff – is remarkable, particularly once they realize that better beer gets them better tips.

That’s better. Back to bed, scrunch down under the covers, give Cathy a quick kiss, and drift off to sleep again… Life could be a dream, sweetheart… ‘Yes, sir, we do have the 1994 Cuvee Rene, may I suggest the moules frites with that? And would you like me to pour, or would you prefer to pour for yourself?’ Shaboom!


Copyright © 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: September 01, 2005