This past week's festivities, centering around a business trip/fun quest to NYC and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of El Treasuredente's arrival in this part of the solar system, brought to the fore an issue that I've been pondering for some time: namely, in the days of mega-tap draft systems and vast numbers of sometimes unfamiliar beers, how can we be sure that we are actually being served the beer we've ordered?
I am well aware that my palate is not the most sophisticated, and that my beer vocabulary may not be as broad as some, but i think that most members of our humble association (if it indeed existed) would agree that i have some experience with a wide variety of beers and make at least an effort to differentiate among them and to identify their myriad flavors and components. Yet twice this week i have questioned the identity of beer that was presented to me (once privately, once to the establishment). Possibly i was wrong, but maybe not. And there is a secondary question: is not the customer always right?
On my NYC trip (following the work portion) my friend Chico and I made our first visit to Manhattan beer mecca the Gingerman (11th and 36th , near Park, where, I had excitedly read, they were serving the rare Duvel Green on draft. The beer came in the appropriate, lovely green-scripted tulip, but... there was no head at all, no hint of the golden beauty and champagne effervescence of bottled Duvel-- indeed, very little hint of the complexity or depth of flavor of the best of Belgian-styled ales. Indeed, I would almost have sworn i was drinking a pilsner of some sort. Very disappointing. A very inferior beer. Was it run to the wrong tap? Was it old? Is the brewer foisting a "light" beer on the American market?
The Gingerman has an amazing selection of drafts and casks and I would otherwise recommend it highly- I washed the disappointment away with a fantastic Sierra Nevada Chico Estate pale ale -a bit darker/fruitier than the usual SN product, though very much within their narrowly-defined, hop forward style. I finished with a Green Flash tripel- i love their products and that, too was excellent. Still... I doubt I am the only one to wonder, and I'd bet that somebody asked the question that I failed to ask. I'm sure the beer was expensive to acquire, but It does no one any good to sell an inferior or questionable product.
Then, on the trip to celebrate the mathematically-inclined one's birthday, we stopped by our city's most renowned beer bar, where the Landmaster and i ordered the Harpoon Glacier Fresh Hop Ale. We had enjoyed a bottle of the same beer just the night before and were anxious to try it on draft. And here both of us have little doubt that what was served was simply not the same beer. No hops at all, no quality. Mediocre at best-- and we very much enjoyed the "same" beer in the bottle. When we asked the bartender, he sampled and then said the beer was as it was supposed to be . He did not offer to exchange it despite our obvious incredulity. Were the lines tangled? Were they trying to offload some junk? Does no one ever challenge them?
Of course my self-doubt has crept in as I write this-- after all, we're talking about two very well known beer bars with (presumably) sophisticated staff. Maybe my palate is to blame? And yet, i don't think so. We as consumers should not be afraid to voice our opinions on this subject-- in the long run we get what we want, and the bars become more responsive to their customers. If we express any doubt at all, the bar should have the courtesy and professionalism, not to mention the respect for its clientele, to exchange the beer we are questioning. I'd be sure to return to such a bar sooner. And that's a win- win.
Down in one