is a member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers and a two time
winner of their Quil &
Tankard writing award.
Vince's column is now a
regular feature of
You have to, albeit grudgingly, admire those old time B- movie stars who never drank (at least on screen). Stars like
Hoot Gibson, Jack Holt, Eddie Dean, Lash LaRue, Tex Ritter, and William Boyd are just a few of the many who
despite spending countless film hours in saloons never let booze or beer cross their lips. When they bellied up to the
bar and were asked “what ya having, stranger?” they invariably ordered one of two things: milk or Sarsaparilla.
Needless to say that brought degrading smirks, derisive hoots and antagonistic howls from the bartender, anyone
wearing a black hat, dance hall girls without hearts of gold, and depending on the film’s budget, an assortment of
scruffy cow poke extras. Always fearless, our hero then stared them down as he leaned forward subtly showing his
twin six shooters ready for a quick draw from their low slung holster.
On occasion the screen writer also gave the teetotaler star a few witty comeback remarks to show just how tough he
was despite his drink of choice. Easily the most memorable to me is the one uttered by Curly Howard in that
cinematic masterpiece “Goofs & Saddles”, who said, with great menace, “I’ll show you how tough I am, put my milk in
a dirty glass!” His point made, a look of satisfaction crossed his face. He had done the unthinkable in a bar be it in
the Old West or today – he had spoken what was really on his mind; no soft soap, no half truths, no PC.
Inspired, I began to think of a few things I would love to have said in many a bar if I only had Curly's courage. Here
are a few.
“I can’t drink this. You’ve ruined a really good beer by putting it in a Bud Light glass. Take it back, put in a proper
glass, and make it free as compensation for my upset. “
Isn’t it enough that Anheuser-Busch InBev the world's largest brewer with over $45 billion in income is trying to
destroy independent craft breweries with buyout after buyout? Apparently not since it seems they and their brethren
macro brewers have given away millions of logoed shaker pints to bars everywhere in an attempt to not only promote
their versions of beer but to ruin our enjoyment of the real thing. Blame for this also falls on pubs' management who
really don’t care about using a glass that’s appropriate for the style of beer. And, there’s a special place in the Hall
of Shame for every pub that as standard practice chills their shaker pint glasses. That chill gives me a chill.
“Sorry pal, but this is a faux pint glass. That means fake, you crook. The menu says a pint so give me the missing
two ounces I paid for. “
You know the glass I’m talking about. It has the same shape and height as its legit doppelganger but it features a
telltale thicker, curved base. Some even have thicker glass all around. There’s another version of this tactic that the
more honest – or is it slightly less dishonest – bars use. These places have taken to simply saying they serve a
“regular size” glass of beer hoping you’ll assume it’s a pint. Almost as bad is the far too common practice of a
bartender giving you a bad (as in less liquid) pour. Be it because of incompetence, not caring, or simply rushing too
much, that 14 ounce “pint” winds up holding 12 ounces.
The poor pour practice has moved down to the higher priced, higher gravity beers too. Most places serve big ABV
beers, claim it comes in a 12 ounce serving size but thanks to the bartender you’re getting anywhere from 11 to 9.
At prices sometimes exceeding $1 an ounce that bit of chicanery almost requires a call to the police to file charges of
One way to avoid it all is to simply order Guinness. It should always be served in an imperial pint glass and that is
appropriately filled and properly poured. If your pub however serves this staple stout in a Coors Light it’s time glass
it’s time to find a new bar.
The best alternative to beating any type of this size flimflam is to order a bottle of beer. When it says 12 ounces
you’re sure to get a full 12 ounces. Ah, unless it’s an imported bottle, then you only get 11.2 ounces. Sometimes
you just can’t win
“You call this a taste of the beer? How can I decide if I want to get it if you only give me two drops to sample? A flea
couldn’t drown in this.”
You step into a pub and see ten, twenty, thirty, forty or more taps with many pouring something from yet another new,
unknown, pop up brewery. Of course that’s a good thing but not all craft beer is great beer so a blind choice could
easily be a bad choice. A bad choice means you’ve wasted an amount of money on that single glass that would buy
a case of Pabst (not that you would) at the local beer shop, plus change. So, an informed choice determined by
sampling the beer is a wise move. If you don’t believe me, trust in the words of Willie Shakespeare, the Bard of the
Bar, who wrote, “a fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool if he doesn’t get a taste
Most places will give you a sample (excluding NJ’s Demented Brewing which, on a recent visit, refused my
exceedingly polite request to taste one of their lackluster beers) but the rub is in the amount they give you. Saying
the typical amount is a “splash” might give you the wrong impression. Let’s just say it’s less than the amount of
vermouth you’d find in an extra, extra, extra dry martini. I have no idea why bars are reluctant to give you a couple of
ounces. If giving away two ounces, which costs them pennies, can result in a sale of a $7 beer it’s good business.
Word to bar managers: I don’t know one beer drinker who’s trying to have enough samples that work their way up to
a free pint.
“You’re the brewer here? Well, most of your beers are not good. On the bright side, there are a few that actually
For me one of the great things about a going to a good craft beer festival or visiting a small brewery/brewpub is that
you get a chance to chat with the brewer. Inevitably the visitor will sing the praises of the beer telling the brewer how
wonderful it was and that it would easily win a medal at the Great American Beer Festival if the results weren’t rigged
as usual. It’s one big lie of course but an exquisite one that brings smiles all around. One word of caution -
remember what beer you were lauding since you may see that brewer again. That’s not as easy as it sounds. Few
people have a good enough memory to be totally successful liars.
Honesty, it must be said, is not always the best policy which explains why it is common practice at a festival to walk
out of sight of the brewer before unceremoniously dumping his beer on the ground. By doing that you’ve not only
saved embarrassing the brewer but also helped your fellow festival goers who know twhich beers to avoid - don’t go
to the pouring stations with the greenest grass around it.
“Do I look like a crook? Would you also like to see my tax returns, bank statement, or a picture of me at the Vatican
at the Pope’s birthday party?”
Old school pub regulars put cash on the bar and leave their change there until more is needed. Paying as you go is
simple and foolproof. And it’s not a bad system unless you’re short on the currency or don’t realize that every time
you visit the restroom there’s a chance that when you return that change, like Houdini’s famous elephant, has
vanished (most likely into the pocket of the budding prestidigitator who was sitting next to you). Given those pitfalls
it’s understandable why many people prefer to run a tab. To do that far too many bars ask to hold your credit card.
I’m sure somewhere, somehow, some bar was burned by a person skipping on the tab but it’s not common and not
worth the enmity of customers like me who get offended because our honesty is questioned. I'm not saying it's unwise
not to trust me but it would only make sense after you know me for a while.
Giving your credit card to the bartender is probably safe but I always imagine that someone back there might just be
a bit larcenous too. My bottom line is if you ask for my credit card before I can run a tab I go old school,- pay for one -
and move on. I guess such places don’t realize the best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust
them……and have security cameras.
“Does this bar think expiration dates on beer bottles are just guidelines? I’d hate to see what the milk and juice in
your refrigerator look like.”
One lesson I learned the hard way (several times) – before you order a bottle of craft beer at a bar ask to see it first.
Check for a date. Far too many bars serve beer well beyond its expiration. If you want that IPA hop bomb to taste
like a faded old sock worn by a maltster for the last month then no need to worry. If however you want your beer to
be fresh and taste the way the brewer intended then look before you buy. Admittedly there are no standards or
requirements for indicating beer age but that is little solace if your beer has turned bad. If the bottle has no date
leaving you in the dark about freshness assume it’s old. The older the beer gets the earlier it gets too late to drink.
Once when in a BJCP class at a large local pub we were asked to evaluate a beer. Sixteen bottles were distributed.
Half the class praised it, half hated it. Arguments ensued, epithets were shouted, and blood feuds were begun. The
instructor was confused. We all were good students, ready for certification as beer judges. Then it hit him – he
asked everyone to check their bottle for the expiration date. You guessed it, half of them were months past the date,
The lesson to be learned from all of this is clear - don't hold back when faced with injustice. So the next time your
bartender spends more time talking to the servers than his customers, incessantly plays with his phone while your
glass remains empty, looks like he washes his hands once a night - at the end of his shift, or takes a break longer
than it took Gutzon Borlum to carve out Mt. Rushmore use your freedom of speech to say exactly what you think.
Be aware however that even freedom of speech has limits. It was Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who
wrote that even“the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a
Do not let that stop you, however, for I can assure you that it is totally legal to shout theater in a crowded fire.
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