The Good, The Bad, and The Clueless
October 08, 2004
Over the past several months our forums have witnessed a rise in discussion surrounding beer etiquette. I believe the increased popularity in this topic has to do with the shift in beer selection our members have been making lately. No longer are some of you going down to the gas station or 7-11 to pick up a twelve dollar 30 pack of yellow swill. To get your new preferred beers requires making a special trip to a special store and plunking down a little more money than you’re used to.
Therein lies a quintessential roadblock to making a beer leap of faith. You find yourself starring at a measly six-pack that rings up a cool 30 big ones. This is the moment when you think, ”what the hell am I doing?” And if you are dumb enough to bring your wife or significant other with you this is the moment when he or she says, “what the hell are YOU doing?”
The price of these more expensive beers can be buffered by having a good beer-drinking buddy. This will not only diminish the cost but can also trim down your travel time to the beer store.
A good beer drinking buddy will pick up a few bombers that neither of you have tried. They’ll uncover a few rare beers on vacation and wait until you can get together to crack them. They’ll call you from the beer store to check on what you might want. In May they won’t even flinch when spotting 05.05.05 as they pick up a couple extra bottles for you.
Think of the advantages stepping into the world of good beer with a good friend in tow. Your tastes will develop at close to the same rate. Your beer catalogs will be very similar as you dive into the deep end of various styles. Drain pours don’t hurt as much if you only paid for half the bottle and you have a beer swilling cohort with you to laugh about how bad the beer really was.
Alas it doesn’t always work out this way. There are people out there with real bad beer etiquette.
Bad beer etiquette can be broken down to many degrees though if I were to scrape the bottom of a bad beer drinker keg I would find the lowest of the low: the beer sleaze. Fortunately none of my friends fall into this category but one of my old roommate’s friends would show up at our place empty handed on a regular basis. These people will drink anything in your fridge. In the most extreme cases they will start with the good stuff working themselves down to the fizzies until nothing is left. That might include finding empty cough medicine and mouthwash bottles the next day.
Thank God in those days my journey into the world of good beers was in its infancy and dropping 8 or 9 dollars on a bottle of beer was still a ways off. If I woke up on a Sunday morning to find empty bottles of Westvleteren Abt 12 on the counter heads would have rolled. I get pissed off enough finding a 6-pack of my favorite local micros polished off.
In a party environment the beer sleaze not only looks to polish off the stash, they are the guy that hides your last two beers in the vegetable bin or butter compartment. That is a cardinal rule of beer drinking: never drink a guy’s last beer. I think we have all read stories on the Internet of assault in trailer parks because someone drank the last beer.
The beer sleaze is never one to prey on the same geographic location repeatedly. They can also be found prowling your local bar, working their way from table to table chatting up any one that has a full pitcher of beer on the table. They’ll ask to fill their empty mug all while psychoanalyzing you to determine if you’re a threat should seconds be available without an invitation. They will also position themselves strategically in your seating area right before a round of beers are ordered only to vanish mysteriously when their turn to buy a round occurs.
Many a bar fight have been spawned by a beer sleaze overstepping their limits with the wrong person. There are bars in every part of the world where if you reach for someone’s pitcher of beer you could retract a stump. The beer sleaze knows this is the cost of doing business and is willing to take this chance. They are the worst of the bad beer drinkers; avoid these people at all costs. Before you frown and begin contemplating which of your buds is a beer sleaze remember this: everything has a polar opposite. And in this case, the beer sleaze’s opposite is the type of drinker you’ll want by your side at all times.
When I was putting this column together I talked to my best friend and told him he was the blueprint for the “clueless beer drinker” category. As you can imagine he instantly went on the defensive and started spouting off about all of the high-end beers he has drank all over the world. I stopped him and asked him if he knew so much about beer then why did he show up at my last BBQ with a case of cheap American lager.
Yes you read that right. I let someone walk into my house with a case of that crap. That is not the clincher. One of my good beer buddies, let’s call him Tom the good beer buddy, watched my clueless buddy, let’s call him Wally, dump the offending swill in the cooler. Upon completing his dump he perused the other selections and reached in for a Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA!
Now I know what you are thinking and Wally is not a cheap guy. Wally will actually pick up the bar tab and refuse to let you see it. Wally is at the edge of beer clueless-ness on the verge of being a great beer companion. It has been a long journey.
The Clueless beer drinker has great intentions. They will show up with some faux macro-brewed swill designed to look like a good beer. They will smile at you and wait for your approval on their selection.
We have all had that clueless guy standing on our doorstep on game day with the 12-pack of Beck’s, Foster’s, or Heineken cans under his arm and the Cheetos clenched in his hand. He is proud that he slammed that extra 3 dollars on the counter of the corner store because he feels his friends deserve the best.
It just makes you want to smack the clueless grin off his face as he is standing on your front porch with the case of Foster’s because you know you are going to have to spend another day trying to bring your buddy to the next level.
This is the guy that wants to know about good beers and being his friend you want to teach him. The best way to bring them into the world is not pushing them into the deep end with an Imperial Stout or a Barleywine. For this task you need a starting point that is very close to what the clueless drinker is currently drinking to gently nudge them to the dark side. You need transition beers.
If your friend is a yellow fizzy drinker there are a ton of great American Pils and Lagers that are very flavorful and not fizzy by any stretch of the imagination. They can use these as the first step away from the clueless world. Coming to the forefront of my mind are Stoudt’s Pilsner, Brooklyn Pilsner and Victory Prima Pils. The nice thing is these beers are nothing like their mass-produced counterparts and you can enjoy them along with your clueless friend.
If your clueless friend is like Wally and already drinking the standard contract brewed micro garbage on the market or massed produced foreign lagers you have a better jumping off point. We can head right for the Wheat beers, Pale Ales and Belgium Ales.
I have found the perfect transition beer for people that think they are already drinking good beers is Chimay Red or Ommegang. Not only is the beer fantastic but the caged corked bottle lets them know they have arrived at a new echelon of beer drinking. IPA’s and barleywines will be soon to follow.
You have succeeded when your friend runs through your selection of vintage ales, barleywines and hand made stouts, leaving you with a fridge full of crap. The clueless beer drinker is not a beer sleaze in any way if he brings beers to your house and what is left stays there even if you beg them to take it with them. Alas for me that means once again I have a fridge full of crap.
Even the clueless knows if you intend on drinking at someone’s house bring some beer along with you. If you do bring beer the second it hits the fridge it is no long your property. Those beers are not to leave with you even if the host insists. This is Beer Etiquette 101.
If you are going to someone’s house to turn them on to some better beers and don’t want to leave behind $30 of unfinished beer do what I do. I have a small soft-sided portable cooler that holds about 12 – 18 beers. The cooler comes and goes with me thus never breaking the cardinal rule.
I will in most cases always leave my host a good bottle in the back of their fridge. I always leave Wally a couple of good ones; after all he is one of my best friends.
Wally is as I said a beer clueless but he is not stupid in any way, shape, or form. In fact it was he who pointed out a major flaw in my diabolical plan to turn him onto better beers. I never showed him where to purchase these great brews.
I guess I am the clueless one, turning Wally onto these great beers then leaving him with the local Sunoco as his only beer resource. Because of my ignorance I’ll have to spend a Saturday touring the better beer stores of Southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts with him. Then this coming February when Wally is standing in front of the ’05 Bigfoot or the ‘05 Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout he will pick up an extra 6 pack for me.
This week’s picks for transitions beers are:
This beer is not intimidating to the novice drinker. The color and aroma are soft and light. It boasts a straw color and a white head but any comparison to its American counterparts ends there. It’s a great European pilsner with great flowery hop flavors.
The driest and most delicate of our lagers. Stoudt’s Pils is characteristic of the traditional European Pilseners. Straw-yellow and assertively hopped with Saaz hops, this frequent medal winner has a refreshing bitterness and refined hop aroma. 4.8% abv.
If your transition drinker thinks he or she is already drinking good beer, this is perfect for them. The color is a great reddish amber. The nose is all about German malt with an ever-so-slight hint of hops. It is medium on the palette and as I swallow the hops come charging. No this is not a hop bomb but the hops are perfectly present.
Brooklyn Lager, the Brewery’s flagship label, is New York’s “hometown” beer, brewed to a pre-Prohibition recipe that dates back to the days when Brooklyn was the brewing capital of the East Coast. Brooklyn Lager has won numerous awards, beginning with a first place finish at the Great American Beer Tasting in New York in 1989, the brewery’s second year of operation. Availability: year-round in 12-oz bottles, 15.5-gal kegs and 5.2-gal kegs. Malts: 2-row pale malt, caramel malt, carapils Hops: Hallertau and Cascade. Alcohol: 5% by volume.
Harpoon Summer Beer
This is a seasonal so it may be hard to find until next summer but I can tell you it was a huge hit at my summer BBQ. This Kolsch style beer was enjoyed by everyone from the fizzies to the beer geeks. I would call this beer the great equalizer. If I was limited to buy one brand of beer for a cross section of beer drinkers I think this would be my choice. The body of this summer beer is clear and golden, as you would expect from a summer offering. It pours with a generous white head. It has a very well rounded palette and is crisp, fresh, and delivers a hoppy fruitiness. The finish is nice and clean with no after tastes, just a slightly hoppy flavor.
Harpoon Summer Beer is a light-bodied, golden ale that is brewed in the Kolsch style. It originated centuries ago in the German city of Cologne. Clean, clear, and crisp – it makes an ideal summer beer.
And my number one transition pick is..
I know there are American versions of this style that are just as good as I have had many that were better. But there is something magical about Chimay. I picked Chimay as the number one pick in my first column and a lot of TMR members used it as a jumping off beer, not turning back since. The fruit flavors, malt tones and essences of yeast make this a phenomenal beer. The presentation in it’s caged corked bottle lets the beer novice know he has arrived.
An authentic Trappist beer that is it is brewed within a Trappist monastery, under the control and responsibility of the monastic community. Topped with a creamy head, it gives off a light, fruity apricot aroma produced by the fermentation. The taste perceived in the mouth is a balance confirming the fruity nuances noticed in the fragrance.