We are told as kids that if you want to learn you should sit at the front of the class. Well, the same holds true for breweries and other places which serve quality beer. This is because when you do sit at the bars you generally hear all of the goings-on with the staff and possibly even that of the brewers and owners.
In the past I have tended to not want to bother the staff of beer establishments I have visited. They have what seem to be demanding jobs so why make their jobs harder? Well, as it turns out, it is usually the case that not enough people engage the staff and ask about the beer they serve. By politely asking them questions related to beer you let them share their knowledge and help to make their jobs less mundane. It was my brew partner and beer-tour travel companion; Clint who enlightened me. He used to own and run a bar that served craft beer so he knows what it is like to be on the other side.
So to illustrate this point, let me tell you a few true stories that have happened to Clint and me on our beer adventures before I even thought about becoming a beer writer. In case the beer establishments in this article might have gone above and beyond the procedures listed in their operations manual, I will refrain from using their names so as not to force them into something that cannot be shared with all patrons, just a lucky few that are not demanding and are also polite.
The first few stories happened on our beer tour of the Inland Northwest a couple of years ago. We stopped at a brewery that I had already been to once before so I knew they served excellent beer, but not wanting to interfere with the very loud and animated story telling at the bar I chose a table towards the back. Clint initially sat with me, but he instinctively left me to go to the bar and find out what all of the ruckus was about. I was not sure whether to feel embarrassed that my friend was interjecting himself into someone else’s conversation, politely I should say for the record, or envious that I did not do the same. Well Clint soon motioned me over and just in time to taste a sample of one of the best imperial stouts I have ever had that was from a different brewery; the brewery we were currently patronizing did not make an Imperial Stout. As it turns out the loudest guy was the owner of the brewery and he was conversing with his head brewer and some friends. After we introduced ourselves as home brewers on a beer tour Clint and I probably spent close to two hours talking with the head brewer getting free advice on how to brew better beer. From this experience I quickly learned always to sit at the bar whenever possible.
The second story took place the next day at another place which we knew makes excellent beer and we arrived there at the opening time of 11:00 AM. I should note that you will learn the most when the beer establishment is not so busy such as at opening time in the middle of the week. Upon arrival I promptly sat at the bar in the middle so that I would not miss anything. I ordered their coffee stout that was available on Nitro and I ask the bartender what made beer on Nitro so special. He then poured me a sample of the same beer served on CO2 and explained about the mouth feel and extra bitterness you get from CO2. Well about that time one of the brewers walked out and said you think the Nitro version is good, you should try it straight from the fermenter. The bartender then asked the brewer “Can we?” The brewer said sure and after a few minutes he came back with samples for us to try. So at this point the bartender, the brewer, Clint and I all tried the same beer without carbonation, on Nitro and regularly carbonated. Each beer was truly a different beer even though they all were brewed and fermented the same way. The experience was truly educational and one that will stay at the top of my list for best beer experiences. But wait, there’s more. Clint was busy looking at T-shirts with the branding of the brewery on them and a nice lady sitting at the end of the bar informed him of where there were more shirts. The lady turned out to be the co-owner of the brewery and after a few pleasantries introduced us to the other owner, her husband. This then proved to me that the middle of the bar is not always the place to be; sometimes you need to sit closer to the end of the bar.
The next stop, still in the Inland Northwest, was a fairly new brewery that we had never heard of before, but one that other breweries we had visited exclaimed was an up and comer. So again we sat at the bar and conversed with the server and lo and behold the owner/brewer came out and chatted with us. We asked about his beers and let him know that we really liked the milk stout we were drinking and he started to tell us about a coffee stout he made that he was saving in reserve for a special occasion. Well without us asking him to do so, he switched out a keg so that he could pour us a sample. WOW! What a nice gesture and all we did was talk with him and ask questions related to beer.
The final story happened close to home at a bar. The bartender was nice but was not overly talkative as he was super busy pouring drinks. The guy sitting next to us however was super talkative and was offering us free beer that, oddly, the bar did not carry. As it turns out he was a representative from one of the local distributors and was trying to push a particular brand of beer to the bar. Though this story might not compare to the others, it is still proof that you always sit at the front of class, and in this case at the bar.
So why sit at the bar? You do so because that is where the action is. At this point I know many of you want to know the names of the breweries so that you might have a similar experience. Well, stay tuned because I plan to do stories on each one of these breweries in the future and hopefully they will give me permission to refer back to the experiences in this story.