Humanity’s greatest achievements have always involved accepting risk and venturing into unknown territory. However, when man finds himself in murky waters, he all too often is hampered by an inability to see (or admit) that he is standing directly in a swamp, or worse, a manure patch.
Unfortunately, as with current politics, and every other facet of life, many simply continue blindly down these paths of ineptitude. The beer industry is no different, but it is always surprising how long people will accept misinformation even though most carry a small computer in their pocket with searching capabilities now beyond your old set of Encyclopedia Britannicas.
From bars with poorly informed servers, dirty lines and owners who think more taps mean more money, to “genius” brewers who lack basic tasting skills but still sell highly flawed beer to self-proclaimed “beer experts,” hubris and incompetence run rampant. Nothing is quite as bad as the random person cornering you behind the counter with a nearly endless accounting of rare beer purchases followed by how they “might be back tomorrow” to buy something. And, of course, there’s the “expert” disappointed by the selection, but who also can’t tell you what he’s looking for (nor identify any of the classics on the shelf), and who leaves only to come back when he sees a “Heady” delivery.
Just last week while bartending, I had the good fortune of dealing with a guy I’ll refer to as Dan. Real nice guy until his inner “expert” took over. Apparently triggered by an inch of head on a beer served to another customer, Dan proceeded to “help me” by explaining that people “want beer, not foam,” implying plenty of other things along my road to “education.” Even the gentlest of suggestions offered no chance of changing the tune of his sudden and misguided crusade.
“We weren’t in Belgium, or Britain” he belligerently assured me, “we’re in Utica.” Not sure where he was headed, but I agreed, only to reiterate that 1 inch to 1 1/ 2 inches of head is best practice. Opinions can vary, but minimally 1 inch is the goal of a pour to maximize visual aesthetic, and more importantly the aromatics offered by a beer.
It is difficult to ascertain what drives such feckless “expertise,” but it sure is amazing how far into the steaming pasture of misinformation people will slog ... even as their hand-held research engine lies within sight. Nevertheless, as such behavior seems to only grow, occasionally, the bartender must set the record straight: The customer isn’t always right.
This week’s recommendation: Clown Shoes “Whammy Bar #2,” an American IPA with light malt backbone, and citrus hop character. 6.5 percent ABV. Boston.
— Colin Hubbell is co-owner of the Green Onion Pub and The Beer Hub in South Utica, New York.