Category Archives: beerbars

Repeat After Me: There Is No Such Thing as a “Best Beer City”

Oy!

Just two days — TWO DAYS! — after I responded to a Facebook post about yet another list of supposed “Best Beer Cities,” and sagely decide not to follow further the fruitless path of argument, I come across still another such list. It’s orchestrated in a different, although by no means unique, fashion, but is as flawed as the other and all the rest for one simple reason.

There is no such thing as a frigging “Best Beer City!” Or Cities! Period. End of story.

Look, I enjoy a good list as much as the next guy, and I’m not exactly the kind of person who back down happily from a robust debate, but there are simply too many factors at play to ever resolve the issue of best beer city. In the mind of the drinks guy over at the Seattle P-I, whom I will neither name nor link to for reasons related to past conversations, brewery count would seem to be the defining factor. For Magnolia’s Dave McLean, it’s history, longevity and food and drink culture. For Jeff Alworth, the deciding factor is craft beer in dive bars. And for me, well, I like a great beer bar over a great brewery and think that the ability to get a diversity of local, regional, national and international beers is key, as is the opportunity to enjoy a really good meal with a glass of really good beer.

But that doesn’t mean I know what city is best any more than it means Jeff or Dave or P-I guy does, mainly because, like the beer I drink, where I like to drink it changes with the circumstance! Put me on the west coast and I might be happy as Larry in Seattle or Portland or San Francisco, and in awe of the beer scenes in each city. Pick me up and plant me in Denver or New York City or Philadelphia and I’ll be equally delighted there. Teleport me to Montreal and you’ll soon find me at Dieu du Ciel or Cheval Blanc or Au Pied du Cochon, most likely with a wide grin on my face.

Let me put it another way. The northern German city of Köln, or Cologne, is known for a single style of beer, one which most people find rather unremarkable. It has not — to my experience, at least — fine dining restaurants where you can sample excellent beer with your meal, and neither has it a plethora of good beer bars. Yet thanks to its general pedestrian friendliness, fabulous old city district, exceptional culture and, dammit, the superb quality of some of those kölsches that others sweep aside as ordinary “lawnmower beers,” it is one of my favourite places in Germany, Europe and the world in which to drink beer.

And please note, that was “favourite,” not “best.”

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Filed under beer & the web, beer & travel, beer blogs, beerbars, food and dining

Stealing is Stealing, Even When It’s a Beer Glass

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal, by Ralph Gardner Jr., raises an interesting point. Entitled An Enduring Tradition, the column begins with the following question:

Do beverages such as beer taste better depending on the glassware employed for their enjoyment?

But that’s not the point to which I am referring. What I’d like to get to is Mr. Gardner’s admission in the paragraph following:

I happen to have strong feelings on the subject, strong enough that on my travels abroad I’ve been known to walk out with handsome beer glasses from bars, cafes and restaurants. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I ask politely if they’re for sale, hoping to get them for no charge or to pay very little. I’ll only steal them if I’m getting the vibe that no matter how nicely I ask, the establishment won’t part with them.

Yes, in the august pages of the Journal, we now have a reporter admitting to chronic and compulsive theft. And not just admitting to it, but making light of the fact.

This, to my mind, is unpardonable. I doubt very much that Mr. Gardner would be allowed to joke in the WSJ about his tendency to shoplift electronics from Best Buy stores, or dine-and-dash from three star Michelin restaurants, but because it’s just a beer glass, apparently the Journal can turn a blind eye to theft.

I’ll tell you something, Mr. Gardner, people like you are a pain in the ass to bar and restaurant and cafe and beer hall owners everywhere. I appreciate that you say you try to purchase the glass first, but has it ever occurred to you that the reason owners or managers don’t want to sell it to you is because they don’t want to lose yet another glass? That they might be running short on glassware? That the glass might cost them more than they’re anticipating you’d be willing to pay or that the hassle of finding a replacement is more than your few dollars are worth? And really, do you always try to buy the glass first?

But more than the above, I object to the inference that it’s okay to steal and joke about it because it’s a beer glass, rather than a wine or cocktail glass. I doubt that Mr. Gardner would brag about lifting a Riedel Burgundy glass from a Park Avenue wine bar or boast about compiling a full set of stemmed cocktail glasses from the New York mixology paradise, PDT. But since it’s beer, stealing is somehow okay.

No, Mr. Gardner, it’s not. So please stop.

 

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Best Beer Place of 2012: A Tie!

I travelled a lot last year, covering around 70,000 miles by air and plenty more on the ground. Along the way, I visited a lot of beer places and enjoyed a lot of good times with good people.

Such plenitude makes choosing a favourite, or even five favourites, a difficult task, but in the end I arrived at two beery destinations that stood out for me. They are, in some ways, very similar enterprises, and in others quite different. But they share in their hearts a commitment to great food and excellent beer.

They are: The Meddlesome Moth in Dallas, United States, and Bir & Fud in Rome, Italy.

The Moth was the first I visited in 2012, so it shall be the first discussed here. Offspring of the beer bar chain, Flying Saucer, itself with 15 (about to be 16) locations mostly in the southern U.S., the Moth is a creature of a decidedly different sort, with a more formal but still casual aesthetic, a fine list of beer offerings on tap and in the bottle, and a creative menu that veers from basic sandwiches in the afternoon to steak frites and other brasserie favourites at night, each listed with a recommended beer pairing.

Other places do the same, of course, and some execute it with equal or even greater success. But the Moth does it in Dallas, not exactly a long-standing craft beer Mecca, and does it with grace, style – quirky though it may be – and taste. In three meals enjoyed thus far, I’ve yet to sample anything I would consider even mediocre, much less sub-par, and the beer list is always as carefully selected and stylistically diverse as its Texas location allows it to be. Kudos to Moth navigator Keith Schlabs, Chef David McMillan and the whole Dallas crew on a job very well done.

Bir & Food, although showing equal dedication to the victual side of its menu, is the pizzeria yin to the Moth’s Belgian-esque, gastropubby yang. Smaller in size but no less selective in its offerings, it sits on a back lane way in the Trastevere neighbourhood of Rome, almost directly across the street from another great Italian beer destination, Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà, informally known as the “football pub.” It’s sometimes cheek-to-jowl crowded and jostlingly busy, but inviting even on a cool late autumn Roma night.

With fewer taps and a lot less space, management at Bir & Fud has to be circumspect in what they carry, but that doesn’t mean quality need be at all compromised. The eighteen taps pour all Italian craft beer and the international bottle list is judiciously chosen, all waiting to accompany quite excellent pizzas and other dishes. Judging by the crowds on what I was told would be a “slow day,” the people of Rome appreciate the effort.

So, for 2012, I salute two beer places that highlight the joys of great beer and fine cuisine: The Meddlesome Moth and Bir & Fud!

Tomorrow: 2012′s Ontario Brewery of the Year!

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Filed under beer & travel, beerbars, food and dining, year in review

Interesting Numbers from the World of Beer

Item 1: People keep asking me why I see a bright future for craft beer in Brazil despite all the significant obstacles – lack of distribution infrastructure, high prices, no “cold chain” of delivery in which the beer is kept cold from brewery to consumer – and sometimes I wonder about it myself.

Then I come across an article like this one in The Globe and Mail newspaper and it all comes together. In case you don’t want to read the whole story, or the link breaks because the Globe puts the story behind their pay wall, here’s the gist: With 50 million Brazilians joining the middle class in the last decade, that segment of the population is now about equal to the percentage that is poor, about 30% each.

This new middle class is aspirational, and they want to spend their money on items to which they previously had not enjoyed access – the story highlights perfume and cell phones – like craft beer. I’ve seen the gestation of this at bars like Melograno and FrangÓ in São Paulo and I expect to see a lot more of it on my next visit, whenever that might be.

Item 2: I continue to hear American brewers fret about the number of breweries popping up in their country, worried about the so-called “bust” that they think must surely follow the boom. Too many breweries, too many SKUs (brands listed with distributors) and too confusing for beer drinkers are a few of the concerns I regularly hear voiced.

Umm, folks, ever heard of the United Kingdom? It’s a land of about 62 million people, where the total number of breweries just surpassed 1,000! And while they have their own issues to deal with over there, I’ve not yet heard much in the way of griping about the number of breweries and possible saturation of the market.

To put that in perspective, to achieve the same ratio of breweries per capita, the United States would have to add about 2,900 breweries to their existing total, more than doubling the number in place today.

Item 3: This is not so much a numbers thing as it is a bit of a rant. Although it does relate to Item 2 above.

Yesterday’s Shanken News Daily carried a story headlined “Craft Controversy: Rotating Drafts Spark Concern Among Brewers,” in which it was suggested that “some craft brewers are beginning to show concern that the very diversity that they have long promoted…may actually be damaging to their companies and the craft beer category.”

The piece goes on to quote Bob Sullivan, vice president of sales and marketing at Kansas city’s Boulevard Brewing – a craft brewery I know and quite like and the tenth largest craft producer by volume in the U.S. – as saying that bars which rotate their draft taps rather than sticking with a specific line-up of brands are hurting the industry by not giving breweries an opportunity to build their brands.

More egregiously, the story quotes Jim Gray, national draft director at the beer importer Crown Imports, purveyors of Corona and Tsingtao, among other brands, as complaining that “retailers who are focused on rotating draft handles aren’t focused on building brands” and that these beer sellers are only interested in “the shiny new toy that is offered to them each month.”

Here’s a piece of advice for you, Jim and Bob and any other salesperson out there trying to flog draft beer: The job of the licensee is to keep their customers happy, not to build brands. (Ahem, that’s YOUR job.) And if customers want variety in their beer selection, as a vastly growing contingent of beers drinkers do, well, that’s just the new playing field. Get used to it!

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Filed under beer & the web, beer & travel, beer industry, beer news, beerbars, Brazil, drinking quality, magazines and publishing

Good News/Bad News for Craft Beer in Brazil

If you’ve had a chance yet to look at the Emerging Markets chapter of the new World Atlas of Beer, you’ll know that my co-author and I are quite bullish on the future of craft beer in Brazil. With a fast-growing middle class, rapidly improving craft breweries and both the summer Olympics and football’s World Cup around the corner, we can’t help but think that things look bright for the country’s ever-expanding premium beer segment.

Since I’m writing about Brazil, I figure I might as well add a gratuitous cover shot from the Brazilian edition of The World Atlas of Beer.

And apparently we’re not the only ones.

The global research firm, Mintel, has just come out with a report that suggests “strong and premium beer” are the big growth segments in Brazil, with data showing sales had improved 18% year-on-year to 2011.  In the report, Sebastian Concha, research director, Latin America at Mintel, is quoted as saying:

“The fact that premium beers are gaining more market share from the standard beer sector highlights the changing consumer mindset in Brazil and how beverage habits relate to this. Huge opportunities lie with Brazil’s hosting of key live sports events in the coming years. With a strong sporting prowess in Brazil and a product closely linked with sporting culture, beer manufacturers who can capitalize on local enthusiasm and blend this to ensure a premium product positioning stand to benefit.”

Now, admittedly, by “premium” Mintel means primarily imports and niche domestic brands like the Kirin-owned Devassa and Heineken-owned Kaiser Bock, but it doesn’t take much imagination to figure that the crafts should be able to capitalize on this movement, as well. After all, what was then just InBev unwittingly helped along the rise of craft beer in North America by promoting the hell out of its imported brands.

Which, unfortunately, is also where the bad news comes in. Moments after I received the Mintel report, I also found in my inbox a news item about the intent of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Brazilian division, AmBev, to open a chain of bars called Nosso Bar across the country. Organized via a semi-franchise arrangement, the bars will reportedly present a clean and gender-neutral image and be designed, of course, to fiercely promote AmBev brands such as Brahma and Sköl.

To be clear, I don’t believe that the latter news in any way outweighs the former — I remain convinced that the future is bright for Brazilian craft beer, despite the barriers the breweries still must overcome — but with AmBev and the other large breweries seeing great revenue potential in South America, the road ahead will likely be anything but smooth.

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Filed under beer & travel, beer and beverage books, beer industry, beerbars, Brazil

The Beaumont-Webb Travelling Road Show

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting much of late. Indeed (gulp!) for the last three weeks. There are reasons for this.

Reason number one is travel. As those of you who follow me on Twitter (@BeaumontDrinks) will know, I’ve been all over the place lately, and keeping on top of my various columns and assignments is almost all I can manage when I’m on the road.

Reason number two? That would be the prep time I’ve been spending getting organized to write my next book, but more about that at a later date.

And reason number three is the impending North American release of The World Atlas of Beer, the book I’ve co-written with Tim Webb. We’re pretty damn happy with it, and initial reviews have thus far been most encouraging. So we’re going to take this sucker on the road!

That’s right. Starting in early October, the esteemed Mr. Webb, himself the author of seven editions of the Good Beer Guide to Belgium, and I are going to be making a series of appearances across the United States, with most events already organized and some with details TBA. Here’s how it all is shaping up:

October 4: During the afternoon (exact hours TBD), Tim and I will be signing books at Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia, followed by a World Atlas of Beer dinner at the Belgian Cafe. See www.monkscafe.com and www.thebelgiancafe.com for details.

October 6: We’ll be at the World Beer Festival in Durham, North Carolina, appearing at both sessions. www.allaboutbeer.com/gather-for-beer/world-beer-festival/durham-nc

October 7: Come visit us at the Flying Saucer in Raleigh, North Carolina. Event details TBA. www.beerknurd.com

October 8: We’re flying into Dallas to see how Texans react to Tim’s British accent during a beer dinner at the Meddlesome Moth. www.mothinthe.net

October 9: Back on the road, this time to the Austin Flying Saucer for another appearance with details TBA. www.beerknurd.com

October 10: Once more with feeling, this time at the Sugar Land, Texas, Flying Saucer. www.beerknurd.com

October 11 – 13: It’s Great American Beer Festival time, and we’ll be there signing books during the Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoon sessions. God knows what else we’ll get up to… www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com

October 14: Tim is off to Seattle for an as-yet-undisclosed event at an as-yet-undecided locale, but I’ll be popping up in Chicago for a beer and whisky tasting at Rockwell’s Neighborhood Grill. Hey, it’s a bye week for the Bears, so what else are you going to do!? www.rockwellsgrill.com   

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Huge News in the U.S. Beer World

If you live in the United States and drink craft beer, chances are you’ve come across, or at least heard of, one of the 39 outlets of the Yard House, a chain of beer bars each of which typically boasts one hundred or more taps. Based in Irvine, California, the company has been experiencing huge growth of late, opening new restaurants and breaking into new territories at a torrid pace.

And now they’re been sold. For $585 million. To Darden Restaurants, operators of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains.

Nation’s Restaurant News has all the details here, but the pressing issue for me is what Darden will do with the Yard House concept and how it will proceed with regard to its beer selection. I’ve known Yard House’s existing head beer guy, Kip Snider, for many a year, and whatever else might be said about the man, he has always placed quality beer and staff knowledge high on the agenda at the company, no matter how fast they opened new outlets.

Will Darden maintain the same focus on the “craft” part of craft beer? Time, I suppose, will tell, but in my opinion they’d be foolish to pursue any other course.

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Sh*t Bartenders Do (But Shouldn’t), Pt. 2

1. Give a knowledgeable customer a hard time about returning a beer. It slays me how waiters will take back hundred dollar bottles of wine without comment, but tell some bartenders that a $6 beer is skunked or oxidized or riddled with diacetyl and you’re in for the fight of your life. Key words: “I know this beer and it’s really not supposed to taste like this.”

2. Pour a draught to overflowing and then set it down in front of the customer without a coaster or cocktail napkin (or three). My shirt may not be fancy, but it’s usually clean and I like to keep it that way.

3. Ignore a customer who just sat at your bar so that you can finish chatting with the waiter at the service bar. Gaz Regan calls it “mindful bartending,” and the man has a point. Pay attention, and if you can’t get to someone right away, at the very least make eye contact.

4. Garnish a beer without asking first. I know that some places like putting lemon wedges on hefeweizens and orange slices on Belgian-style wheats, but that doesn’t mean every customer wants it. Particularly when fulfilling at order at the bar, it takes no time at all to ask if i want fruit or not.

5. Serve a bottle of beer and then walk away without even asking if the customer might like a glass. Because, you know, not everyone wants to swig from the bottle all the time. Or ever.

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Sh*t Bar Patrons Do (But Shouldn’t)

Yesterday’s post highlighted a few common bartender sins – and yes, there are still more to come – so in the interest of fairness, and in answer to Couzin Ed’s request from the Comments section, here are a few examples of equally lamentable behaviour by customers.

1. By all means, when business is slow, chat with the bartender. Part of the job description is socializing with the patrons, and assuming that you’re both reasonable people, it’s likely that some common conversational ground can be reached. But remember that when things get busy, your ongoing chat comes in a distant second to the task of getting other people drinks, and when it’s three deep at the bar, well, that may not be the best time to start up a debate over the relative worth of an American versus a British style IPA or the best gin for a barrel-aged Negroni.

2. When you have a specific way you would like a drink mixed and/or served, tell it to the bartender. Do not wait until she serves it to you one way to declare that you’d prefer it differently.

3. Never, ever click your fingers/wave your bills/yell “Hey buddy!” to get the bartender’s attention. Wait your turn, catch his eye, and be pleasant. You’ll get your drink faster.

4. Know what you’re ordering. As per another comment on the previous post, do not order a drink simply because you heard it in a song or saw it on a television show and then try to return it because you don’t like it. You bought it, you’re stuck with it.

5. Treating the bartender like your personal servant is not cool. “Please” and “thank you” go a long way.

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Sh*t Bartenders Do (But Shouldn’t), Pt. 1

1. It’s a given, I think, that martinis should be stirred and not shaken, but I understand that some easily influenced souls actually prefer a diluted, cloudy mess in their martini glass. Still, when I specifically ask you to stir rather than shake my martini, please ONLY stir it. Don’t give it a stir and then plop it into one of those precious tiny shakers for a good shaking up at the table.

2. A Manhattan contains sweet vermouth, and a sizable amount of it, at that. Please do not mix my Manhattan as if it were a very dry martini.

3. I accept that you may be a very clean-minded individual who washes their hands regularly, but I don’t know that as fact. So please don’t hold my beer glass by the lip when you’re pouring my draft beer. I have to drink from that thing.

4. And speaking of draft beer, when the foam you have poured off one pint settles in a separate glass, it becomes flat beer, NOT beer that is suitable for using to top up my pint.

5. If I ask for a call brand of booze that I can plainly see on your back bar, please believe me that it’s there and what I want. Do not stare at me as if I’m some sort of idiot because you don’t have enough professionalism to actually know the brands your bar stocks.

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Filed under beer & health, beer glassware, beerbars, cocktails, drinking quality