How to Pour a Beer – A Call For Service

I’ve been to a handful of classes and seminars that are supposedly geared toward beer servers, and have also read many more posts online on the subject. These classes & posts are rather predictable in their format – tilt glass, pour, straighten glass, leave a nice little crown. Now, while I agree this is a pretty important part of beer service, it completely misses the boat on what makes an actual beer server. Nowhere was this make more apparent than at the Heineken campaign “Passion for Beer” campaign hosted around the country last year.

At this seminar (I went to the San Francisco offering) the class titled “The Perfect Pour” seemed like a yawner – I mean, really, I could rattle off the above-mentioned technique in my sleep. I was more than a little impressed when the instructor, Franck Evers, began with the most basic element of proper beer pouring – eye contact.

You see, beer service has trended to the brainy aspects of the liquid – styles, history, ingredients and whatnot – while giving very little attention to the actual act of service, which begins with a smile and eye contact, maybe a hello if the bar isn’t slammed. From here, you can take the patron’s order, then promptly pour into a beer-clean glass before returning the beer to the patron, again with eye contact and acknowledgement of their order (repeating back their order as you put the glasses on the counter, or a simple ‘thank you’ usually does the trick).

For all you aspiring beer servers, regardless of the certificate you hold, remember that service is as important as the beer. It doesn’t start at the tap, or the glass, it starts when you greet your customer and ends when they leave. Yes, it’s important (very important) to maintain clean beer lines, beer-clean glasses and have a working knowledge of the beers you serve. That said, all this technical information is pretty useless if you fail at the most basic point of service – the customer interaction.

A Quick Aside

Anyone that frequents bars knows that this sentiment isn’t just shared among beer fans, but in any specialty market. Look at your hipster hangouts like artisan coffee shops, cocktail bars and even upscale grocers. We have today an immense level of information about the products we sell. We can rattle off the details of history, regional differences, ingredients without effort. More and more, however, all this seems to come at the cost of service. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Please note this entry in the 1882 edition of “The New and Improved Illistrated Bartenders Manual” written by Harry Johnson.

When waiting on customers at any time it is of the highest importance for a bartender to be strictly polite and attentive in his behavior and especially in his manner of speech giving prompt answers to all questions. As far as lies in his power he should be cheerful and have a bright and pleasant countenance. It is of very great importance to be neat clean and tidy in dress, as that will prove more to the interest of the bartender than any other matter. He should be pleasant and cheerful with everyone this will not only be pleasing to customers, but also prove advantageous to the bartender serving them. It is proper when a person steps up to the bar for a bartender to set before him a glass of ice water and then in a genteel and polite manner find out what he may desire. If mixed drinks should be called for it is the bartender’s duty to mix and prepare them above the counter and let the customers or parties see them and they should be prepared in such a neat quick and scientific way as to draw attention. It is also the bartender’s duty to see to it that everything used with the drinks is perfectly clean and the glasses bright and polished. When the customer has finished and left the bar the bartender should clean the counter well thoroughly so that it will have a neat and appearance again and if time should allow bartender to do so he should clean the glasses in a perfect manner at once so as to have ready again when needed. As regards the bench, which is an important branch in managing a properly, it is the bartenders special duty to his bench cleared up and in good shape at all times he will find it to his advantage if done properly.


Clean, gentile and attentive – if you miss these subtle attributes, you’ve missed out on how to properly pour a beer.


On Draught Beer

I’ve been an advocate of clean beer lines for some time now, but I haven’t talked much about it here. Why? Well, it’s a touchy subject. You see, most bar owners assume their beer lines are clean because they have them serviced by the distributors that provide the beer. Sometimes that’s not a bad assumption. That said, the vast majority of bar owners I’ve come across have next to no actual ownership of their taps. By this I mean, they let the line cleaner in and sign the papers when the job is done.

I’ve actually watched a few line cleaners on the job, while sitting at the bar enjoying a beer. What I’ve seen didn’t reassure me. What’s worse, I know of several “craft beer” bars that buy kegs through channels that don’t clean beer lines. The issue with this is that line cleaners sent out by the distributor will only clean the beer lines that have the distributor’s beer in them – so it’s possible a portion of the lines in the bar are neglected altogether for extended periods of time. Finally, this is a complaint of several brewers I know, basic line cleaning services neglect completely the couplers & faucets.

Bar Owners, it’s not the responsibility of the distributors to clean your beer lines. It’s a service they provide – sometimes. It’s OK to take ownership of your bar (thanks, truly, to those that already do) – it’s OK to monitor your line cleaners, to insist that your faucets & couplers be cleaned on a quarterly basis (at minimum). You’re not going to make anyone sick with dirty beer lines, but if you’re about highlighting the world’s best beer – by all means, treat it like it’s the world’s best friggin’ beer!

If you’re a bar owner and you don’t really grasp the ins-and-outs of line cleaning, there are many resources online to help you out. If you’re a bar owner that just doesn’t give a shit about this, maybe it’s too much of a hassle or you really don’t think your paying customers know the difference, well, I’ve included a lovely little video below for your viewing pleasure.

Beer Geeks – you may recall a few years back Dr. Charles Bamforth of UC Davis said that bottled beer is better than draught beer. Remember that? Oh, we were all bent out of shape on that one – clearly draught beer is best! Well, no. It’s not. Draught beer on clean beer lines is a thing of beauty. This is what he was actually referring to. You have an assurance of quality in bottled/canned products that we simply don’t have in draught beer. Hopefully that’ll change soon as beer consumers become increasingly more educated about the drink we love.


Sacramento Beer Scene – Bigger than Beer Week

It’s remarkable to me to continually write about the boom our region is in right now, in terms of the region’s robust beer scene. If you haven’t seen it already, I’ve got a piece in the current issue of Celebrator about our new breweries, but there’s actually quite a bit more going on than most hard-core beer geeks don’t yet know. First, give me a few moments to praise our region’s already-great craft beer bars.

If you’ve been a fan of the suds for a few years, these are the names you associate with better beer: Rubicon, The Shack, Dad’s Kitchen, Pangaea, Davis Beer Shoppe, Samuel Horne’s Tavern and Auburn’s World Pub. While these hopped-up destinations vary in history, the fact remains these are spots we know will have a good beer on tap served by people that know a thing or two about the product. But, have you noticed something else, something hidden just below the surface of Sacramento’s established beer culture? Reputable and newly-minted businesses are expanding their craft beer options – and this isn’t just a one week makeover.

Leading off, have you checked out the Cordova Casino (Rancho Cordova)? Ever heard of it? I hadn’t either until a few trusted customers told me it was worth checking out. A few things, right up front. Yes, I said “casino”, but that doesn’t quite tell the story. Yes, they have card tables, but there is no smoking, no noisy fucking slot machines and is completely devoid of that “Vegas” vibe I loathe so much. What they do have is a handful of solid craft beer taps (including offerings from American River, Deschutes, Firestone Walker and others) and a pretty vast selection of craft beer in bottles (more than 80). No, this is not the first bar that comes to mind when you think “craft beer”, but if you happen to live in the Rancho Cordova area, you should find it comforting in some way that good beer is not far away. With some additional staff training and more time finding their craft beer legs, this place could be a great beer bar. I think they’re taking a big step with their heavy involvement in Beer Week.

Up next, Owl Club (Roseville) – my old watering hole! This old-school beer bar is adding six new taps with a fairly impressive commitment to craft beer with their big ‘reveal’ night happening the day before Beer Week officially kicks off. Owner Mark Vespoli is showing some pretty impressive initiative to overhaul such an established bar – I believe his investment will pay off well.

Not to be outdone, the boys at DeVere’s Irish Pub has quietly unveiled six rotating American craft taps at each location (Midtown and Davis). DeVere’s has always had a few good craft options, but this shows the owner’s commitment to satiate the local’s penchant for local, or small-batch offerings from breweries like Firestone, Bruery, American River and more. Oh, these six taps are all ‘rotating’, too – which is impressive in its own right. In addition, DeVere’s (like the above-mentioned watering holes) has quite an impressive lineup for Sacramento Beer Week.

Yes, it is indeed an exciting time for Sacramento-area craft beer fans – more local brewers making more great beer AND there are more great places to find said beer. Keep it up, business owners and bar managers. May your investment and belief better beer be repaid.


Drink to be Sober

Mike Sober is a memorable man. Folks across California will recognize him and his signature scruffy beard as he enters the bar or brewery in his never-ending quest for the next great hopped-up concoction. On the outside he has the appearance of a gruff individual, but spend two seconds talking with him on any subject and you’ll learn quickly that Mike is a gentle, intelligent man that is fairly passionate about his beer choice of beer. Some have made the mistake to assume he’s a one-trick-pony, that his tastes for beer are solely focused on IPAs and Double IPAs, this is far from true. While he tends to enjoy these brews more than others, it is very common to see him sipping away at a clean pilsner, or an aromatic hefeweizen. The thing Mr. Sober demands above all else when sipping a beer is quality.

It’s been this way for many years. Back when the first craft beer revolution hit the Nor Cal bar scene (in the 1990s) you could find Mike and his lovely bride, Terri, sidled up at the Owl Club in Roseville (which, to my knowledge, was the first ‘craft beer’ bar in the region) sipping whatever good beer was on tap. He also made regular appearances at the local brewery, Beermann’s – which was conveniently located next to Mike’s place of employment. I believe it’s safe to say, if you’ve been a fan of craft beer in the greater Sacramento area, you’ve at least seen the man we love so much (by the way, Mike is a regular contributor to PBN). It was at Beermann’s and the Owl Club that a growing group of beer enthusiasts met Mike and learned to like him more and more with each chance encounter. Today, a tight-nit group of friends still meets regularly, part of a group we fondly call “The SOBER group”. The man in the middle, the connection many of us have (beyond our love of beer) is our relationship with Mike.

How fitting is it then to see a beer made and named after him? That’s exactly what happened when Brian Ford at Auburn Alehouse created a hop monster (triple IPA) and named it ZZ Hop, with the tag line “Drink to be Sober”. The beer is more than a tongue in cheek reference to Mike’s long beard, it’s a ode to  a man that has influenced so many in the region – including, I believe, Mr. Brian Ford. You see, beyond his sipping Mike and Terri have regularly opened their home to host area beer geeks as we imbibe on some of the world’s best beer. Together the couple has traveled thousands of miles and collected growlers from just about every state in the western US. He’s been one of the region’s biggest advocates for better beer and has helped many brewers and bar owners with his free and good advice on a number of topics (a little talked about fact about Mike is his acute palate and ability to detect off-flavors in beer, even if he’s not sure what they are exactly). If ever there were a man in our region fitting of a beer named and modeled after him, it would be Mike Sober.

ZZ Hop debuts in February and will have a very limited run – only seven barrels worth (roughly 14 kegs). The official debut will fittingly be held at the Owl Club on February 9th. If you’ve ever seen the man, if you share a passion for Sacramento craft beer, do yourself a favor and find one of these insanely hopped-up beers. It’s pale, aggressively hopped in all ways (bitter, aromatic and flavorful) and will likely leave a mark on your palate.


Quick GABF Thoughts

I have a whole lot of things I want to mention about the 30th Great American Beer Festival, but much of that will have to wait as I have a date with my day job… which involves pouring great beer.

  1. You could not have begged or paid for nicer weather than we saw in Denver last week. Driving up to Boulder was just a magical experience – clear skies, breath-taking scenery and zero regret about my choice in beer-drinking attire (BA-issued shorts, t-shirt and hat… well, they should be BA-issued given that’s pretty much the standard get-up for brewers not named Garrett Oliver).
  2. Denver has grown up a lot over the years. Today the streets are clean, the police are polite and patient, bars are more accommodating and restaurants have seriously upped their game.
  3. I really hate pretzel necklaces.
  4. I really love the spirit some fest attendees have brought to the event. In particular, I loved the group from Washington that all wore matching shirts that said they were in Denver to enjoy the GABF, “One ounce at a time”. I saw them on the floor in Denver, as well as a couple stops in Boulder – such positive people, who I never personally met. Add to that the guys with GABF haircuts, party outfits and you-name-it costumes. Very cool.
  5. There was way too much unused space in the back of the convention center. I’m not the decision maker, but I’d certainly like to see a layout that doesn’t cram all those waiting for a beer in like sardines.I believe, along these same lines, that the whole concept of the education seminars needs to be reworked. I have tried each year to pop in and listen, but it’s just a mess acoustically. While I admire the BA for wanting to educate, I question the actual place these seminars have on the floor.
  6. Loved the Brewers Guild Booths! Loved seeing the regional pride of those that ran each and loved the choice of beers each had. Great concept, wonderfully delivered.
  7. Holy shit, Sun King! If I’m in or around Indianapolis, I’m running to this place. So awesome to see them hit the awards stage so often. Clearly this team is creating killer beer.
  8. We need to have a longer discussion with our nation’s wholesalers about beer. Sitting with the award winners for Distributor of the Year was eye-popping. There is SO MUCH MORE we can do to educate our customers – love that some distributors have picked up the baton on this (as they should, I believe).
  9. We also need to have a much longer discussion about our brewers’ relationships with farmers of hops and barley. Ironically brewers feel they earn top-dollar for their superior products (a point I don’t argue), but seem hesitant to contract out years in advance for superior ingredients.  That’s got to change.
  10. The Colorado Governor’s stump speech in the middle of the awards ceremony was utterly classless. I don’t begrudge the man getting up on stage, but for fuck sake – get up, say hello, praise the brewers and the patrons, remind us to drink responsibly and get off the friggin’ stage! The longer he droned on, the more I wished I’d taken a piss break.
  11. Snake River team – love that you carried the state flag on stage. Cheers!
  12. I think the most awkward thing for me to see during the awards was Ken Grossman in line, with nobody coming up to shake his hand or say congrats. He stood there, patiently, by himself. You know what though, that’s exactly how I see him. He’s a quiet man that seems to shy away from praise. He is truly all about the beer and making it in a way that is good for everyone. On second thought, that scene wasn’t at all awkward – it was appropriate.
  13. What was awkward: Sam Adams Latitude winning a medal in the English IPA category with a beer that is decidedly all about the German hops.
  14. True class, Chris Black of Falling Rock. Taking time to lift a pint to Don Younger, putting a permanent plaque in the bar where he so often imbibed. Very, very cool.
  15. International IPA? Huh?
  16. A “Three-pete” on any stage is impressive and should be called out. What Bagby and his team have done at Pizza Port is absolutely amazing. Cheers!
  17. Firestone Walker – no shit you have a passion for pale! Unreal showing, year in and year out by the crew there. I’d love to see FSW team up with Sierra Nevada someday… to make a porter.
  18. Todd Ashman, you’re looking good man! Keep it up.
  19. Thank you, Southwest Airlines! If you didn’t know, they paid for bike taxi services from Falling Rock to the Festival (or reverse) for a few hours on Thursday. What a GREAT thing to do – it was so nice to see the city this way. I loved chatting with the cyclist – actually, there’s nothing I didn’t like about that trip.
  20. Vinnie & Natalie – class acts. In case you missed it, Vinnie escorted Jack McAuliffe to the stage to be recognized by the throng of cheering men and women who greatly appreciated the movement he began – he opened the first modern “micro” brewery in America. Humble man.
Thank you, again, to everyone I met and shared drinks with these past five days or so. In the airport, in breweries and in bars – it was such a treat being with friends I see but a couple times a year. Cheers!

GABF by the Numbers

Sure, a picture is worth a thousand words, but numbers… well, they make the world go round. Below are just a few fun facts about this years Great American Beer Festival.

Awards by State

  • California – 51
  • Colorado – 44
  • Oregon – 15
  • Indiana – 10
  • Washington – 10
  • Pennsylvania – 7
  • Utah – 7

The Top Medals Winners

  • Sun King Brewing Co., 8 medals
  • Firestone Walker Brewing Co., 6 medals
  • Pizza Port Carlsbad, 6 medals
  • Rock Bottom Brewery, 6 medals
  • Boston Beer Co., 4 medals

The Top Five Categories

  • American-Style India Pale Ale (IPA)- 176 entries
    • Gold: Elevated IPA, La Cumbre Brewing Co
    • Silver: Deviant Dale’s, Oskar Blues Brewery
    • Bronze: Head Hunter IPA, Fat Heads Brewery
  • Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer – 118 entries
    • Gold: Melange a Trois, Nebraska Brewing Co
    • Silver: BBJ (Bourbon Barrel Johan), Sun King Brewing Co
    • Bronze: Barrel Aged Naked Evil BBW, Hoppin’ Frog Brewing Co
  • American-Style Pale Ale – 105 entries
    • Gold: Pale 31, Firestone Walker Brewing Co
    • Silver: Mission St. Pale, Firestone Walker Brewing Co
    • Bronze: Ute Trail Pale Ale, Amicas
  • American-Style Strong Pale Ale – 103 entries
    • Gold: Pako’s Eye P.A., Snake River Brewing
    • Silver: AleSmith IPA, AleSmith Brewing Co
    • Bronze: Hop Knot, Four Peaks Brewing Co
  • Imperial India Pale Ale – 102 entries
    • Gold: Citra Double IPA, Kern River Brewing
    • Silver: Double Jack, Firestone Walker Brewing Co
    • Bronze: Imperial IPA, Epic Brewing Co

Is It Time for a California Malting Facility

This time of year a lot of brewers across the country are brewing ‘wet-hopped’ beers, using hops picked and used on the same day. Most brewers are using hops grown locally, mostly by home or small-plot gardens – far from the hop farming operations found in Oregon, Washington & Idaho. Done properly, this is a great opportunity for brewers to highlight the agricultural tie beer has. However, to tie a brewing operation to ‘local’ products in general can be a dicey and misleading issue.

For instance, few breweries that use local hops are also using barley grown and malted locally. There’s good reason for this, too – malting facilities are few and far between! Even in California where many tons of grain are grown, there are no malting facilities that can handle barley on a commercial scale (there is a tiny operation in the Reno area). I was reminded of this last year with Sierra Nevada released its first-ever “Estate” beer, which used hops and barley grown on SNBC property in Chico, California. While the barley was grown in Chico, it had to be shipped via rail-car to the Mid-West to be malted and kilned, then carted back for brewing purposes. To be perfectly clear, that endeavor was a labor of love. It’s clearly easier and cheaper to brew another way – but Sierra Nevada knew to do otherwise would dumb-down the meaning of “Estate”. I’m not implying the tail wagging the dog here, I don’t think SNBC came up with a name and figured out how to make it work.

We’re seeing more of this in California, too. Ruhstaller (the up-start beer makers in Sacramento) are making a harvest beer that uses hops & barley grown in-state. This is made possible by the new-found availability of California barley for sale to brewers. Still, these grains are sent across country to be malted and kilned.

With brewers large and small using California-grown barley, I am left wondering what it takes to make a viable malting & kilning facility. Is this a business that could succeed? Sadly, I think the answer is no – but I could be wrong. It all depends on the economy of scale factor, would enough brewers and distillers in California embrace such a novelty? I believe there’s a consumer market for California malt, but not if prices become out of reach.

Essentially, I don’t believe a small malting facility is a viable business. In whisky (whiskey) there is but a handful of distillers that use house-malted barley. Luckily, I’ve been to one – The Balvenie in Dufftown, Scotland (click to see photos of the distillery). This is part of The Glenfiddich operation, which is the bill-paying part of the operation, clearly. Walking through The Balvenie’s malting & kilning facility it’s clear that, even though it’s a fairly sizable building, not a lot of barley is being malted & kilned.

The up-front costs would have to be bore by a company with deep pockets. Then, to keep prices competitive, there would need to be enough California-grown barley to keep the malting facility in action year-round (malting one season a year is a pretty shitty business model). Finally, California brewers would need to ‘sign-on’ to such a project – opting to buy the  malted grains for use in their year-round operation. This won’t be a major issue, I believe, if the quality of malt is superior and priced competitively.

How It Could Work

Assuming a facility could be built, it’s unlikely that it’d be able to produce the volume to exactly match the price of larger facilities. That said, there could be savings realized in shipping costs. Not a ton, mind you, and brewers with grain silos (able to buy barley in bulk) should potentially see the greatest cost savings.

To offset added costs, a marketing focus on ‘locally grown & malted’ grains could target an audience with more disposable income – read: charge a bit more. Keep in mind, craft beer itself is a pretty small segment in the overall beer market and, according to IRI data, fetches an audience willing to pay slightly more for a superior product.

Again, I don’t see this happening anytime soon. But as California craft beer grows, as consumers focus  more on where the ingredients are grown AND processed (see: locally grown beef) there could be a market for such a confounded facility.

Until then, we’ll settle for California-grown grains sent long distances to be processed and returned to California. Ah, the price we pay for buying local.


Bars of Glasgow

Editor’s Note: This is one of several stories ‘lost’ in our recent server transition. I looked through what was lost and will re-post a few stories I found worth re-posting. 

With what seems to be more bars than all other businesses combined, it seems natural that this Scottish city would be a den of good drink. To be certain, there is good drink to be had, but mindful drinkers will have to work a bit to discover the regions craft beers. It is, however, understood that the job of finding good whisky is a much simpler task. One thing to know is that the thought that goes into ordering and consuming a drink in Glasgow is much the same as anywhere else in the world – people have their favorites for whatever reasons, and little (if any) thought is put forth in the ordering of a drink. It is also noteworthy that there are several Scottish brands that most Americans don’t know that aren’t necessarily top-quality products. This should be of no surprise, the same is true anywhere. There are a handful of well-known American craft brands that suffer of boredom on the palate. Here, too, you’ll easily discover beers that are worth trying, but not worthy of a second pint.

Trendy Bars
For the most part you can assume you won’t find a decent pint in a swanky night club-type establishment teeming with hipsters. If you’re looking for a night out on the town that includes dancing or mingling with the young crowd of Glasgow, there are plenty of places to accomodate – and they’re not hard to find. On Sachiehall Street you’ll find a lively night life with clubs that have lines of people waiting to get in. These are your safest bet for a rockin’ good time and you’ll do well to avoid the less savory joints noticable by a general lack of revelers. Just remember basic rules of travel safety in Glasgow. If you’re out late on a weekend, there will be a hefty police presence on the streets.

Whisky Bars

It seems good whisky and good beer ought to go hand in hand, but this is not the case. When hitting up some of the better whisky joints in town you’ll likely run across the usual suspects on tap. If there is a hand-pull in the bar, it will likely be taken by a trendy craft. If you find this is the case, by all means order a pint of the real ale, you’ll find it much more satisfying than the overly-chilled macros (Guinness & Fosters are both served ice cold) and more full-bodied than the McEwans or other Scottish taps. Of course, I strongly recommend finding a good whisky bar, pulling up a seat and spending the better part of an evening talking with the locals and bar keeps about the goodness of their country’s whisky. A gentlemens pub like Pot Still is a fantastic establishment for this sort of conversation – and some of the finest single malts you’ll find in the city. For a slightly younger crowd check out Uisge Beatha (pronounced Ish-Ka-Bay) on a Thursday night – there are few better moments than sitting on the leather couches in the back room as classical Scottish music is played live in front of you. Between the two locales you’ll likely be happier with the beers at Uisge Beatha, where you’ll want to order from the front bar for one of three real ale options.

The Beer Joints
Good beer selection is available in the city, but you’ll need to be quite picky about where to go. In the Merchants Square there is a bar call “Beer Bar”, which is true only in that is sells a lot of crappy beer. If you’re hoping to get something local, something real, you will do well to simply walk the extra block for something truly memorable – Blackfriars. Blackfriars is a slightly trendy bar that is incredibly popular with the locals. Go on a Tuesday night for live music and regional beer. Friday evenings are a bit crowded, but well worth it if you’re looking for a quality meal to go with your beer. You will want to ask your server about what’s fresh for fish, and be sure to check out their specials menu – you really can’t go wrong if you’re ordering from there. Blackfriars is also a good destination for the homesick beer lover, as you’ll find some imports like Flying Dog in bottles behind the bar. The crowd in the evenings is primarily made up of young to middle-aged professionals, many still wearing their slacks and button downs from work. There is a refreshing lack of the rough-and-tumble you’ll find on the West Side, but in all the place will feel a little sterile for a beer bar.

No matter where you’re staying in Glasgow you’ll need to plan an evening at Bon Accord, on the west side on North Street (just off St. Vincent). If you’re staying in the city center a cab ride will only set you back five pounds. Without a doubt this is the place to go for a great pint of real ale, a dram of whisky and long conversations with the locals – who will likely tell you how much they love this place early into the conversation. If you’re lucky enough to spot a bar seat, grab it and take advantage of the view to help select your evening’s pints. If you’re with a group, head to the back in and find a comfortable cushioned seat and carry on as much as you can. The front area is sort of a manly area where you’ll likely find men coming from the football match, or talking about the one coming up. Don’t be alarmed, however, as the crowd here is very welcoming and easy to talk to – and ladies won’t find it feels like a meat market. Bon Accord does close at midnight, even on a Friday, so try to get there with plent of time to appreciate all they have to offer. Like Blackfriar, the pub offers a welcome selection of hot, well-prepared food. In all, you won’t find a much better pub anywhere in Scotland, certainly not in Glasgow.

Understanding the Beer

American craft beer is something of an oddity in Scotland. Where the US beers are full bodied and often a showcase of strength (be it alcohol or hops or both), Scottish beers tend to be more delicate. There is a bit of a misnomer that Scottish beers are not “hoppy”, but if you dig around you’ll find this isn’t entirely the case. It is true, however, that the beers of Scotland are typically very light bodied when compared to America’s crafted ales, as well as low in alcohol – often well under 5% ABV.

The style you’ll run across most frequently is the Scottish 80, also known as Export. While technically not a “heavy” (which is the common term for the Strong Scotch Ale style), many locals will order a heavy and be more than happy with this. The beer is dark, varying shades of brown and red, with a pretty husky, dry malt aroma. Exports are generally malty, but not sweet like many “malty” brews in The States – no caramel or toffee notes to speak of. Hops are pretty docile in these beers too, lending just a touch of bitterness and no real hop flavors. If you’re a die-hard hop head, or think malty beers should be around 7% ABV, you may think these beers are light and uninteresting at first. Of course, this is not the case at all! The beers show a satisfying flavor that is oh-so-easy to enjoy throughout the night.

Apart from the Export/80 style there’s a popular beer in Glasgow called Deuchars IPA, often found on cask. This, too, needs to be understood a bit more before you order. Where American IPAs tend to kick you in the teeth with hops and bitterness (and alcohol) this beer is a bit of a friendly handshake. Thankfully, it is a true pale hue – very light. Its aroma is faint, but the grassy notes of the hops will come out and play if you give them a chance. Its flavor runs fairly thin in the malt, but does have an assertive bitterness. In all, it just isn’t that interesting, but may well be the most hoppy beer in the bar. If you’re in desperate need of hops, don’t expect full satisfaction from a pint of this ale.

Finding real ales that go beyond these two popular beers is a challenge in Glasgow, your best bet is to get to Blackfriars, Three Judges or Bon Accord.

Bars by Attraction

Uisge Beatha & Bon Accord are near:
– The University of Glasgow, which has stunning architecture
– Kelvingrove Art Gallery – a must see

The Pot Still
– Will Tea Room – be sure to go up to the THIRD floor to truly appreciate

– Closest beer bar to the Cathedral & Necropolis (follow High Street south, the head west on Wilson St.)
– There’s a lot to see around here


Why Beer Drinkers Should Demand Clean Beer

I’ve honestly been sitting on this video, hoping not to turn people off to draft beer. That said, this is a real issue in America and one that I think we need to make a bigger deal of. Watch this video all the way through – observe the ‘stuff’ that flows though the lines. That stuff – it’s naturally forming crap that builds up over time if your draft line is not clean. Draft lines ought to be cleaned professionally every two weeks – and all fixtures that touch beer ought to be acid washed quarterly. Sadly, I don’t think most bar owners know this – or care.


If you run a ‘beer bar’, or pride yourself on your craft selection, you absolutely must care for you lines and fixtures (couplers, faucets, sanke valves, etc.). If you don’t want to be inconvenienced with the whole notion of cleaning your lines, or having them cleaned, then you’re a lazy cheapskate that ought to think about letting someone else that likes beer run you establishment. It sounds harsh, but honestly it’d be for your own good. After all, clean beer tastes better. Better beer sells more. By allowing yourself to let someone help your business in this small, inexpensive way, you could find that you’re selling more beer. Think about it.

If you’re a customer that is dedicated to craft beer, by all means please inquire to the bartender how frequently their beer lines are cleaned. If you get a blank stare back, indicating they have no clue what you’re talking about… politely suggest they start a regular beer line cleaning program. Hell, shoot ‘em this link and that should hopefully prompt some action.

One last word to bar owners/managers – if you make the smart choice to treat your beer lines properly, you can (and should, I believe) use this as marketing for your bar, indicating your commitment to a superior product and your overall passion for beer (even if it’s just a smart business move). Win. Win.



The Trouble with Terroir

I’ve written before on my thoughts about beer being the “new wine“, so I won’t rehash all of that here. That said, there seems to be a number of people content to discuss the “terroir” of beer, a term I believe should not be associated with beer production. Here’s why.

What is Terroir?

Terroir is commonly understood as “specific place character”, which in wine associates the flavor and overall character of the liquid directly with the soil the grapes were grown in. For wines this makes since because of the process used in production: grapes are picked, crushed and fermented in a matter of hours. In addition, grapes used in production of a winery’s product are typically grown together. This is a highly simplistic view on wine, but in terms of understanding how the “specific place character” is understood, it is helpful.

Similarly, coffee beans are often associated with their ‘terroir’. While many people think of coffee as “Colombian” or “African”, purists will focus on the grower of the beans – where they’re located and what the elevation & climate considerations are for the bean. The only other item I can think of where terroir is actually significant is some of the finer olive oils. Where I live in Sacramento, there are several small-batch olive oil makers that use olives harvested in a small area. Both coffee & olive oil go through minimal processing, so where the beans & olives are grown plays a very important role.  (Coffee beans are dried, roasted, then brewed; olives are simply pressed and sometimes filtered).

In wine, coffee and olive oil the minimal amount of processing involved means that the fruits themselves will reflect the quality of the earth they were grown in.

Why Beer Doesn’t Have a “Terroir” Character

I suppose at some point small brewers around the world could have laid some claim to a “specific place character”. It used to be that brewers bought barley and malted it themselves, using water and other ingredients that were local to them. That said, this is clearly not the case today.

Consider the number of maltsters we have today, it’s very few (I believe there are two in the USA). This means that even if a brewery owns a barley field (as Sierra Nevada does), they must ship their malt across the country to have it malted (which Sierra Nevada does). Mostly, however, brewers buy bulk base malts made up of barley that could have been grown in a number of places.

Of course most beer enthusiasts know that hops in America come from one region – the Northwest (Oregon, Washington and Idaho). Yes, there are are a number of breweries that have planted their own hop fields, but they’re so small that they are typically reserved for producing a “wet-hopped” beer in the Fall. As we know, the vast majority of hops grown are quickly dried and processed (pelletized or bundled).

Yeast is supplied to American craft brewers by a couple of houses – Wyeast & White Labs. Origins of the yeast strains vary and even a brewery’s ‘house yeast’ is mostly derived from a commercially produced strain.

Water is about the only thing that any brewery uses that is local, but even that is often processed before use – either by the city, or the brewer.

These are the ‘raw’ ingredients used to make up beer – each of them has been processed in their own way prior to making their way to the brew house. From here they go through further processing: mash, boil, fermentation, filtration & packaging. By the time the beer reaches your glass, can you honestly expect to experience “specific place character”? Sure, many brewers make several styles of beer with similar characteristics, but that isn’t reflective of the soil where the ingredients were grown.

The Exception

I do leave room for one exception in my “beer doesn’t have terroir” stance, and that is for the lambics of the Senne Valley (the only place true lambics are produced). While the brewers there may still use grains and hops from other places (I honestly don’t know), it is the spontaneous fermentation that really sets these beers apart from any other in the world – and you can’t just replicate these qualities anywhere. A truly spontaneously fermented beer made in California will not taste the same as a lambic.

Appellation: A Clearer Understanding

Appellation in the dictionary is defined as such:

“a geographical name (as of a region, village, or vineyard) under which a winegrower is authorized to identify and market wine; also : the area designated by such a name.”

I believe this is a better way to identify beers associated with a particular region – like Kolsch, California Common (Steam Beer) and Trappist Beers (which is not actually region specific as the Trappist brewers exist in Belgium and The Netherlands).

It’s OK that there is a taste associated with “American beer” (mostly associated with the hops of America), or Belgian beer (often with a spicy, fruity yeast character) and Germany – even though that water qualities of the North and South are considerably different. That said, stop associating these high-level similarities with terroir. I believe it confuses the term and blatantly misleads the average consumer.