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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

Aug. '05: Little Nightmares

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



September, 2005

Know When to Fold

I was in Louisville recently for the launch of a new bourbon (more on that very shortly in The Latest). When all the tasting and lunching and such were over, I found myself with my friend and Malt Advocate boss John Hansell, loose on Bardstown Road with over two hours to kill before we even had to arrive at the airport. As he and I often do when we’re done with whiskey business, we went for a beer.

Cumberland Brews looked kind of early-90's-brewpub: some funky illustrations, lots of chalkboard info, pretty simple beer names (Summer Wheat. Nitro Porter. Pale Ale), and a tiny brewing system that looked as if it might be cobbled together from institutional cooking vessels. Wads of atmosphere, in other words. It came highly recommended. But the brewhouse was not exactly spic and span, which should have been a tip-off.

John ordered a sampler, eight small glasses of beers. He started at the light end, I started at the dark end, and we were going to work towards the middle. Well, damn. The Nitro Porter was funny-tasting; some nuttiness, but a weird, unpleasant earthiness thing going too. The Pale Ale was really bitter (and why not; anyone can dump more hops in) but without much else going for it. And they were the two best on the tray!

What to do, what to do? John and I came to the same decision: time to cut our losses and hit the street. He went outside to ask a guy at a sidewalk table about where else to go, I threw a fiver on the bar (the sampler was $4.25, not that it was worth that), and waved bye-bye.

It seems like an easy decision to make, but it still kind of went against the grain. How many times do you decide to finish a so-so beer just because you paid for it? How many times do you keep drinking out of sheer inertia? How many times do you walk into a new place, see a boring selection, and go ahead and order a beer anyway, just because you feel you’d be embarrassed to walk out without ordering?

Don’t do it. You owe yourself more in a day. And where’s the impulse coming from? I know where mine comes from. "A (insert college or fraternity of your choice here) man never leaves beer on the table!" That got drilled into my head twenty-five years ago. I was 19 (yes, I was drinking underage; read all about it), I was drinking Rolling Rock and Olde English 800, and I barely had enough money to afford that. Drink up, that’s buzz sitting there! I’ve gotten past drinking for buzz, why can’t I get past needing to belong to The Clean Mug Club?

I remember the first time I walked out of a place without ordering a beer. I was out with my brother-in-law, Chris, running around the Hudson Valley, hitting bars and sight-seeing. We drove up through New Paltz and over the Shawangunk Mountains, and on the way down the back of the ridge we stopped at a Ukrainian place I’d always wanted to try; built like a rustic hunting lodge, lots of dark wood and fretwork.

We walked in and asked about beer: Boring, Boring Light, and St. Pauli. We’d already been drinking porter and IPA, there didn’t seem much point to backsliding, and I said, "Well, okay, I guess we’ll just keep rolling." And we left. We talked about it for ten minutes, like we were justifying our decision to ourselves. I still remember it, more than ten years later.

Why not leave? It should not be embarrassing for you, it’s embarrassing for the bar! You’re not insulting them, you’re simply making a choice. You’re making the choice to get what you want, not what someone else decided – incorrectly – that you’d want. Look over the offerings, see if they have anything you want, and if you don’t want anything they have to offer – beer, whiskey, food, waitstaff pulchritude – go somewhere else where you can get what you want.

And what if you do like John and I, get what you think you want, only to have it turn out to be…off? (By the way, I almost wrote an entirely different Buzz on that: how beers can drift out of whack in a small or isolated market without enough outside feedback, and I might write it in the future...but this month I wrote this one instead.)

You can get into a big deal with the server, or the manager, or the brewer, if you feel you need to try to help make their beer "better." Just remember: your opinion of "better" may be just that: your opinion. Consider limiting your fighting with the place to beers that are sour, infected, flat, off in some obvious way.

You can sit there and suffer, and finish the awful thing. But why would you want to do that? If it’s foul, forget it. Order something else, or better yet, ask for a taste of something else first, a good way to avoid the whole issue in the first place.

Or you can simply pay your check and leave, like we did. They may think you’re just a lite beer weenie, who can’t handle their all-grain goodness, but what do you care? You’re strolling down the street with only a fading bad memory, looking for the next place to catch your eye.

It’s not as easy for the discriminating drinker as it is for the Bud Man or the Coors Light girl; they can find their buzz-gruel anywhere, and chances are it will be in technically excellent condition. But you only get so much liver action in a day; heck, you only get so much in your life. There’s no point in wasting it. If you don’t really want to be drinking what you’re drinking…why the hell are you drinking it?

We sure didn’t waste our liver action in Louisville. We walked across the street to Za’s Pizza Pub, and sampled four great taps and admired their fine bottle list…and never missed the beers we’d left on the bar at Cumberland at all.


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