“Buying Beer"

Unless you steal it or brew your own, if you want a beer
you generally have to buy it. Of course there’s always
the freebie provided by the guy who says “This one’s on
me”, but since barroom etiquette demands you return
the favor , what have you actually gained? In fact it may
even cost you more because if you only stopped in for
one and some acquaintance on the other side of the bar
instructs the bartender to “take it from here”, you now
have to buy him one in return, and since it’s impolite to
force  him to drink it alone, it requires  having another
one yourself.

Obviously this could go on all night, which is why I
prefer to buy my own beer. My departed former father-
in-law also preferred to pay his own way and when
going out for a pint with him, I have heard that Virginia
gentleman reply to the offer of a beer in his slow
Richmond drawl “Thank you, but if you buy me a beer
then I’ll have to buy you a beer and I really don’t want
to buy you a beer, so I think I’ll just sit here and have a
beer with my Yankee son-in-law”. Right to the point!

But whether the beer is paid for by you or someone
else, in America it’s price is usually taken from cash
laying on the bar or running a tab and settling up at the
end of the pinting session. A recent trip to Scotland
reminded me this is not standard practice everywhere.
In British pubs you hand your money to the bartender
and extend your palm for any change. Almost never do
you see money on the bar.

In Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic beers are
just delivered to your table and marks are made on the
back of your coaster. No money changes hands until it’s
time to leave and the checkmarks are tallied. But the
table waitresses have eyes like hawks and memories like
elephants so don’t even think you’re ever going to get
away with anything like playing musical coasters!

Some, thankfully not all, beer festivals in the United
States issue little strips of tickets with your tasting
glass for the admission price, with one ticket being good
for one sample. This is probably because some imbecilic
nanny state legislator thought this system would help
to curtail excessive tasting. But at some festivals I have
attended, when your tasting ticket is handed to the
pourer, it’s deposited into a large bowl in front of the
taps with hundreds of other redeemed tickets eagerly
awaiting reincarnation in order to be handed to the next
brewer down the line and then taking another rest in his
bowl. So much for nanny state mentality attempting to
curtail ingenuity.  

Bavarian Oktoberfests in this area also generally use the
ticket system but the rigidity of the Teutonic mindset
makes certain that “VUN TICKET ISS GUT FOR VUN
needed, however, for buying beer in Germany from beer
vending machines, conveniently located in airport cab
stands, railroad stations, parks, museums and highway
rest stops.

A precursor to the ticket system of buying beer was the
beer token, a wooden nickel proclaiming something like
“Good For One Stoney’s Beer”. These tokens could be
redeemed at any tavern featuring Stoney’s on tap, and
actually became a form of “illegal tender”. A housewife,
glomming a Stoney’s token from her sleeping husband’s
pants pocket, might barter for some green beans from
a thirsty grocer who felt like stopping for a cold one
after a hard day’s work.

A modern day example of the beer token is provided by
the resurrected Christian Moerlein brewery. This
brewpub, located next to the Great American Ballpark in
Cincinnati, in order to recognize a great tradition from
the original brewery’s past, offers a pouch of five coins,
minted by a local private mint for $25, with each coin
redeemable at the pub for one of their house brewed
craft beers.

These coins are seemingly inflation proof, making them
worth more than US coinage, but I wonder if there’s
some sort of disclaimer. If the brewery survives fifty
years and a guy walks in with a Moerlein coin purchased
for $5 in 2013 attempting to a buy a $30 pint of
Saengerfest Lager with it, will the coin be honored? Or
will the coin be worth more than the price of a pint to a
2063 breweriana collector? Only time will tell.

One of the strangest systems I’ve seen for buying beer
was many years ago on the Canadian side of the
Thousand Islands in a place called The Beer Store. Upon
entering you noticed twelve packs of a large variety of
Canadian beers displayed on a large wall. You either told
the attendant or pointed to which one you wanted, he
pressed a hidden button and the desired twelve pack
suddenly appeared at the bottom a nearby roller chute.
Luckily, my Labatt’s IPA came correctly as ordered, but
if a twelver of Mooshead had arrived incorrectly was I
going to be expected to push it back up the chute?

Airports are notorious for their usurious charges on
everything so I wasn’t too surprised when I was
charged $4 for a Pabst Blue Ribbon forty years ago at
Newark. But what was amazing to me at the time was
HOW I was charged. The frosted stein was place under
a tap, a button was pushed, the suds flowed into the
glass, shut off when full and “ka-ching” was
automatically heard from the cash register.  At $4 for a
PBR in 1973 I wasn’t going to have another anyway, but
certainly flight delayed folks who wanted more than one
sure as hell weren’t going to get one on the house.

A great way to buy beer was one I was not lucky
enough to have experienced. In Will Anderson’s “Beer
USA” is a full page photo of the Texan Hotel Drugstore
in Dallas. On the front of the building in addition to two
signs informing potential patrons that prescriptions
could be obtained within, were FOUR signs proclaiming
“Look! All the Schepp’s Beer (aged in redwood) you can
drink….60 cents per hour”. But this was not as good as
it seems. The picture appears to be circa 1935. A
minimum wage was not introduced until 1938 and then
it was only a quarter an hour, so a drinker would have
to spend about two and a half hours worth of pay to
drink an hour’s worth of Schepp’s.  The average price of
a beer in 1935 was a dime so at least seven glasses
would have to be downed to make the hour worthwhile.
And there’s no mention of overtime possibly costing
time and a half!

For all those who buy beer there are also some who
DON’T buy beer. There are always the sneaky change
stealers thinking no one is watching while they move bar
cash from in front of you to in front of them. But
sneakier than the change stealers was the former
Gaslight regular who, although he was willing to buy his
own, ( on a house tab, of course) had just been cut off
due to over- imbibing. Undaunted by this sad turn of
events and desiring more beer, while I was engaged in
conversation, he simply poured the contents of my pint
into his empty glass. Somehow, you have to admire
that kind of spunk.

The Richmond, Fredricksburg and Potomac Railroad runs
through the Quantico Marine Base and separates the
base from the town of Quantico, home to a number of
drinking establishments, one of which was located only
forty feet or so from the tracks. Occasionally, cashless
Marines, finding themselves thirsty a few days before
payday, would wait until a train stopped, blocking the
main street. Timing their getaway, they would wait until
the train barely started to move again, madly race out
of the saloon and duck under the train while running out
on their bar tabs. By the time the train was gone, they
were gone.

But that only works once and is extremely dangerous
so it’s a pretty poor way to not buy beer, especially in
light of the fact that Ballantine beer could be purchased
on the base for a mere sixty cents a sixpack.

Recently I stopped in a pub which shall remain nameless
for a cold beer on a sweltering summer afternoon. This
pub is known for its very decent selection of craft taps
and it’s open air front. I just wanted one and laid a
twenty on the bar while the barmaid was pouring my
pint. Setting the glass in front of me and picking up the
twenty, she asked if I had anything smaller to which I
replied in the negative. She then told me she had no
change, possibly hoping I would say “keep it”.

Since I was only having one, that certainly wasn’t going
to happen, so I offered my credit card, but she pointed
to sign that said “minimum credit card charge $10.” We
were at an impasse, but not wanting to be a deadbeat
and not blaming her for her boss’s failure to provide her
with a cash drawer, I went next door to a bank to make
change so I could buy my beer. What a way to run a

Thinking about that incident makes me a little thirsty, so
I think I’ll go buy a beer. (After making sure I have
various denominations of money in my kick)


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