Vince Capano is a two time winner of the Quill and Tankard writing award from the North American Guild of Beer Writers.
Vince's column is now a regular feature of beernexus.com
It’s not fun to be called a snob even if that 4 letter word is preceded by beer”. The beer part is obviously good; the snob part isn’t. Now before any beer snobs, ah, I mean aficionados, take total umbrage at that title please let me add that being a snob often means one is an expert. Therefore extremely knowledgeable craft beer devotees can take solace in the fact that, at the very least, they make superior snobs. Add an especially arrogant attitude and you’ll see why truly gifted snobs far exceed the amateur ones. Indeed, every top-of-the line snob knows that his so called opinion is actually an indisputable fact.
Now, I’m honest enough to admit that those dreaded two words – beer snob- have been directed toward me more than once. Frankly, I don’t see much validity in the charge. Just because I’m always right in any beer discussion doesn’t merit such a slur; people should be thankful I'm straightening them out. However, after some reflection, I began to wonder if, just maybe, there was some small chance those misguide ignoramuses might have a small point. So to be sure I decided it was time for a beer reality check.
The esteemed beer historian and my Nexus colleague Dan Hodge often tells me that every craft fan should go back to their roots every so often to reconnect with the simple joys of drinking simple beer. According to Dan, back in the day, the beer might not have been very good but there’s was something to be said, then and now, for (in his words) “wonderful basic brews like a good old Pennsylvania lager which is best enjoyed in a gin mill.” If anyone else had said that I might have not too gently instructed him on the error of his thinking, questioning his logic, palate, integrity, and mental well being. Since this however was a preeminent beer expert and award winning home brewer I had to stop and think. Not having a working time machine to return to my historic roots I did the next best thing – I visited a local “dive” bar to see if Dan’s comments made any sense. I was off to Johnny’s in Boonton, NJ.
Most appropriately, Johnny’s is not officially named grill, tavern, or pub. It’s just Johnny’s. Located a few blocks off the main street in town, it’s set in a residential district logically so because it’s a converted house, hard to distinguish from the others crowded into the area. Enter Johnny’s and you instantly know that this is a place where beer is just glorious beer. In fact it was so glorious that my scheduled one drink visit quickly became a multi-pint session. After all, when Coors Banquet and Rolling Rock tastes as good as it did at Johnny’s there’s no reason to travel on. Dive bar magic was clearly in full force as such swill became (almost) as satisfying as Westvleteren 12.
Bottle in one hand, pen in the other I carefully scribbled down the things about beer reality I was learning. To tell the truth there might have been more than the eight below but I sneezed on a couple of napkins turning my sage insights into undecipherable hieroglyphics. Next time I’ll bring a notebook. Anyway here they are:
8. Never, never ask for a glass when being served a bottle of Bud, Miller, Coors, Pabst, or Rolling Rock. The disapproving stares from the bartender and establishment regulars will be humiliating. Their preference is not without logic. Since bottles are made of glass there’s really no need for a middleman.
Personally, I found it a great relief not having to worry about getting the appropriately shaped vessel for the beer style or wondering if the glass was washed with a petroleum based detergent ruining a beer's head and aroma. Of course if you have a medical condition that requires drinking from a glass I recommend you show your toughness by saying, in a voice loud enough for the entire bar to hear, “make sure it’s a dirty glass”. To put it simply, if you drink from the bottle, well, that’s all you have to do – drink. No swirling, sniffing, or thinking is required.
7. Try not to order the ubiquitous Sam Adams lager. While its presence seems to be a legal requirement in all bars (except serious craft places) the reality check stuff is on the other taps and in the brightly lit cooler. That’s where you’ll find just about every configuration of water, hops, yeast, and every essential adjunct known to the macro lager world.
6. Do not express amazement that one or more of the handful of taps always seems to have a paper cup over the handle. They have kicked a full barrel of something (people do go there to drink you know). Don’t ask what it was since no one will know or care. Just pick any other tap; the odds are you won’t notice the differences anyway so don’t worry. Remember, it’s all beer. Smile.
5. Don’t ask about prices. If you can’t afford the $2 for a Bud bottle or the $6 for a pitcher of Coors then you shouldn’t be out in the first place. The best and easiest way to know the cost of your beer is to put cash on the bar. You remember cash, right? Think of it as the bitcoin of taverns. When the bartender returns after each round with your change some simple math will tell you the cost. Always pay as you. Keep that credit card in your pocket for all drinking purchases. However, it is okay to use a credit card for any and all drinks served with small umbrellas.
4. If you get into a conversation with another patron the subject should not be about beer. He likes what he likes and that’s it. It also should not be politics or religion. Sports are fine but unless you’re a regular stay away from rugby and curling. I’m sure you know why. The weather is an okay topic. It is also acceptable to tell a joke or two about any of the following: movie actors, insurance salesmen, telemarketers, mimes, ventriloquists, or Buffalo (if you are in Buffalo change that to Jersey City).
3. Do not wear any garments with uppity beer logos. No one really cares even if it was a souvenir from your lunch at the Libertine Pub with the United Nations Brewery All-Stars or your twenty mile trek to the Cistern Brewery in the Himalayas for dinner with the Dalai Lama. You can however tell everyone that the Dalai Lama ordered a pizza saying to the waiter “make me one with everything”. On second thought, don’t tell anyone that.
2. It is bad karma to ask for any tap beer in a non-chilled glass. If icicles aren’t formed when your beer is poured into a frozen mug something is amiss. Serious beer is cold beer, as in really, really cold beer. Wait – back in the day, just where did they get the ice from before anyone knew about refrigeration?
1. Ordering a beer is an easy, streamlined process. There should be no need to ponder long lists of beers and bottles; no call for blackboards to study or booklets to peruse. There are no hard choices to make. Almost everything available is an American lager. Since one tastes like every other anything is a good choice. And besides, most people stay with one beer brand for the entire evening. Usually the bartender will politely ask “have another?” at the same time he’s in the process of replacing your empty bottle with a filled one of the same thing. It makes for faster service that way.
By evenings end I realized that passionate craft beer drinkers can sometimes get so immersed in a world of tantalizing tastes, smells, and varieties that it’s easy to lose sight of the most basic tenant of the very thing we love. Beer is the world’s best and most popular adult beverage for a reason – beer is fun!