With the market growing faster than kudzu, the craft beer scene isn’t an exclusive club anymore. These days, every accountant, construction worker and eye surgeon can confidently stride up to the bar with a general idea of how once obscure beer is supposed to look, smell and taste.
Still, some people feel compelled to substitute their beer knowledge for their personality. There’s simply no place for that in the modern, hip gastropub. Sure, it’s fun to talk about beer and there’s plenty of compelling stuff to discuss, but expect sneers from the staff and a slowly widening circle of empty space between you and other patrons if you overdo these behaviors.
Denigrate another patron’s selection
Maybe you’ve traversed the Trappist breweries of Belgium on a Vespa. You might be a master-level BJCP judge or cicerone. Perhaps you’ve shared the Great American Beer Festival’s VIP room with Charlie Papazian himself. That doesn’t mean you derive a more pleasurable or valid beer experience than the Heineken drinker next to you.
“Alfonso,” A bartender at a Rochester area beer pub, can relate. “I’ve got customer who, when someone comes up and orders something like a Blue Light, will turn to this stranger and say things like ‘With all these great beers in here, you’re gonna order that?’”
The first rule of gracious beer enjoyment is ‘drink what you like,’ and there’s a big difference between saying “I notice you’re drinking a Blue Light. I bet you’d enjoy the Victory Prima Pils” and actively sneering.
Try to outshine the bar staff
It’s the mark of a passionate beer bar to have a staff that’s trained and knowledgeable about the beer. The casual observer might be surprised at the lengths to which some of these places will go to impart that knowledge: staff trips to breweries, guest lecturers, even junkets to Belgium. These are considered investments in the customer experience.
That doesn’t mean the college student serving you goblets will know everything. A pub is a place for minds to meet, not a pissing contest. If you know more than the girl pouring, just smile, raise your glass, and maybe ask why he prefers the beer he just recommended.
Likewise, just as you wouldn’t question a pastry chef about the hazelnut ratio in her ganache, it’s poor form to tell a craft brewer what you would have done to improve his beer. The guy works hard with the materials he has on hand, within particular budgetary, time, and market constraints. If you want to homebrew the ideal ambrosia, by all means do so. Otherwise, use your face hole for something constructive, like draining a pint.
Play the one-up game
It’s the curse of the beer geek never to be satisfied. Regardless of what’s in the glass, somewhere out there awaits a beer that’s stronger, darker, more ludicrously bitter. It’s a vicious cycle of pursuit and anticlimax, the beer equivalent of internet dating.
Be kind. Help break the cycle. When someone mentions their affection for Southern Tier Phin and Matt’s Extraordinary Ale, don’t scoff about how New Belgium Fat Tire is better. Also, it’s polite to refrain from rattling off a list of unattainables you’ve “collected.” If you’ve tasted Westvleteren 12, Pliny the Younger, and Black Ops, that’s great. We hope you’ve gotten a lot of enrichment and enjoyment from the experience. But cramming your beer tourist stories down fellow drinkers’ throats makes you just like the guy who, having learned a friend went to Vegas, whips out the slide show about his trips to the REAL Venice, Paris, and Cairo.
Overanalyze your glass
As in wine, the pleasure of craft beer is in the senses. Go ahead, hold your glass up to the light, and give it a little swirl to release the aroma. Don’t however; make a theatrical production out of it. And give the staff a break on samples. “There are people who ask for a dozen sample glasses” ‘Alfonso’ comments. “Or people getting samples of the beer I poured them the night before.”
Be a “pro”
There’s nothing wrong with having a passion for brewing and beer history. Small breweries are a great place to pick up knowledge and meet fascinating people. It’s how you disseminate that knowledge to others that becomes the problem. For one thing, it’s usually unsolicited. Also, it’s frequently wrong. “I’ve heard the same story about Bock being produced from the dregs scraped out of the kettle after a year’s brewing, ” one bartender gripes. “It’s completely made up.”