Remember the first time you stood in line at Starbucks wondering how the hell to order a boutique coffee, scared to death that slipping up would scream to the barista that you’re a newbie? I do. I didn’t know what “latte” meant, and when I was asked how many shots I wanted, I wondered, “shots of what?” I guessed, though couldn’t be certain, that the barista wasn’t offering me shots of Jameson in my 8:00 a.m. coffee.
After working in a microbrewery for almost two years, I know that people feel the same way when ordering a microbrew beer for the first time. So whether you want to look cool in front of your boyfriend/husband, or you want to look like you know what you’re doing in front of your broskis or girl squad, read this. (Note: While I no longer work at a brewery, I love my brewery family – coworkers and customers alike. This is written merely to help microbrewery novices feel more comfortable in a brewery when visiting for the first time.)
What NOT to do…
“What’s your lightest beer?”
If you want to look hip in a brewery, don’t ask this. It makes the server want to pull a rope on a bucket of water and douse you with it. It’s perfectly OK if you don’t like stout, heavy beers and most breweries have lighter beers. But saying, “What’s your lightest beer?” (especially when asked in a sorority-sister-voice while you twirl your hair extension) tells everyone you have no idea what the hell you’re doing. Instead, say something like, “I’m not a huge fan of dark or heavy beers. Can you recommend something?” Then watch the server proudly try to satisfy your novice palette with a lighter beer.
“Do you have any Budweiser?”
No. Just no. Anheuser-Busch brews Budweiser. And while there is nothing wrong with the freezing-cold-to-hide-the-lack-of-flavor beer, no self-respecting microbrewery sells Budweiser. As trained servers, we are supposed to refuse to serve beer to anyone who acts intoxicated. If you order a Budweiser in a microbrewery, that’s exactly what your server will think. Don’t ask. Ever.
Steer away from obvious questions
If you ask if a coconut beer has coconut in it, people are going to think that, well, you’re a moron. If the flavor is listed in the title of the beer, there’s about 100% chance that the ingredient is in the beer. A noted exception would be grasshopper beer, which doesn’t have grasshoppers in it. And yes, I’ve been asked that.
Don’t use the international sign for “a taste”
This is just a personal thing, because I can be bitchy sometimes. But a beer server knows what a taste is. He doesn’t need you to place your forefinger and your thumb about an inch away from each other to know what a taste is. Put your hands in your pockets if you can’t order a microbrew without making the international “taste” sign with your fingers.
Don’t taste 1000 things and take 20 minutes to order
Microbrews can be intimidating, and breweries want you to feel comfortable, find a beer you like, drink several glasses of it and come back – ideally with all your friends. To that end, servers want to be accommodating. But here are two things to remember when you don’t know what to order in a brewery:
- Order a flight. If you ask for a taste, sample it, and repeat that process 10 times, not only is the server going to get annoyed with you, but so are the throngs of other thirsty customers behind you. A couple tastes is permissible, but if you need more than that, order a flight or a sample tray.
- IT’S A BEER. They range in price between $3 – $5. You’re not coughing up 20% down on a house or driving off the lot in a new Mercedes SUV. If you get something and legitimately, absolutely hate it, most servers will hook you up with a replacement beer (as long as you haven’t wolfed down most of the offending beer and then asked for different one). Your beer server wants you to be happy!
Don’t make smacking sounds with your mouth when you sample beer
Sure, this seems petty and small (because it is), but in my meager defense, I have a severe case of misophonia. Sufferers of misophonia experience panic and extreme rage when they hear smacking and chomping. Beer novices and snobs alike think if they smack their beer as they take that introductory sip that they are engaging in a professional tasting. To quote Dwight from The Office, “False.”
A) IT’S BEER. You’re not taste-testing champagne for the queen of England and
B) Professional taste-testings have nothing to do with smacking. Much like wine tasting, beer tasting involves sniffing and sipping.
If you are compelled to smack as you sample a beer, please refer to the “extreme rage” part above. An accommodating, patient beer server will straight up lose their shit if you smack your beer. Ultimately, that doesn’t mean much to the smacker – they will still get their beer and the server will still be friendly, but mark my words: If you smack your beer, you WILL be mocked by the servers behind the taps. To quote Dwight again, “Fact.”
Get your concoctions right, because math
Some beer folks like to mix it up and order ½ of this and ½ of that. That’s cool, and a lot of breweries have secret menus of mixed beers that customers have made popular. That’s how the legendary “Black and Tan” got started, right? So mix away. However, please have your fractions right. Do not ask for ½ of one kind of beer and 2/3 of another kind of beer. Because, math.
What you should do!
Ask for a recommendation
Beer servers are well-trained, knowledgeable, helpful and passionate about beer. Tell them what kind of beers you typically gravitate to, and they’ll likely recommend something you’ll love. Most of them are a vast pool of brewing information, so feel free to pick their brain while they pour your beer. I also haven’t met a server who doesn’t love beer, so they are very familiar with their brews as well as offerings from other breweries.
Sign up for a beer college
The brewery I worked for hosted a beer college. There are also microbrew certificates online you can check out. If you really want to get into the consumption of microbrews, explore these options. Most of them are short and informative and you’ll learn super interesting things about the brewing process and the correct way to taste-test beers (hint: no smacking).
Here are a couple additional things that will make you sound cooler than you really are when it comes to ordering microbrews:
Hops: Hops are those really cool looking pods that grow on a vine and give beer it’s bitter, citrusy flavor. IPAs (India Pale Ales) tend to be very hoppy. Hops and beer color do not necessarily go together. One of the signature beers of the place where I worked had a dark beer that wasn’t very hoppy at all. Try ordering an IPA as a starting place for determining if you like hoppy beers. You may love the IPA, but if not, you’ll have a better idea of what to order (something less or more hoppy).
Ambers: An amber has a rich, reddish color (hence the name) and I’ve found it to be a great mid-way beer over the years. It’s not a light beer, but it’s not (typically) as hoppy as an IPA or as robust as a dark beer.
Nucleated glasses: If you really want to show off to your friends, look at the bottom of your glass. It is likely nucleated, or etched on the bottom. Ever notice how microbrews swirl in a glass, giving them that perfect-pour look? That’s because the bottom of the glass is etched. Also, that swirling results in what beer geeks call a “beer emoji.” If you give the beer a minute or two to swirl, you’ll start to see smiley faces, etc. in the head of the beer. The more glasses of beer you drink, the more fascinating the emojis look.
Head retention: If you make a joke about this to the server, expect a lot of forced, gratuitous laughter. Servers have heard all manner of “head” jokes. (While we’re on the subject of jokes, never answer “Do you know what you’d like to drink?” with “A beer.”) Craft beers are deliberately poured with about an inch of head (foam). Some folks think breweries are being cheap by doing this, but pouring a craft beer in this way releases the aromas of the beer that dissipate as the foam settles. Head retention also measures how well a beer is brewed.
Above all, when you’re ordering a microbrew for the first time, have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously! Microbrewing is an art and craft beers are brewed and delivered by passionate brewers, production staffs and servers. They are meant to be enjoyed and savored. Step up to the counter, quickly order something that jumps off the menu at you, order a flight or ask for a recommendation. But whatever you do, don’t order a “light beer” or a Budweiser!!
Feature image via Flickr. All other images via Flickr.
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