Know When to Fold
I was in Louisville recently for the launch of a new bourbon (more
on that very shortly in The Latest). When
all the tasting and lunching and such were over, I found myself with my
friend and Malt Advocate boss John Hansell, loose on
Bardstown Road with over two hours to kill before we even had to
arrive at the airport. As he and I often do when we’re done with
whiskey business, we went for a beer.
Brews looked kind of early-90's-brewpub: some funky
illustrations, lots of chalkboard info, pretty simple beer names (Summer
Wheat. Nitro Porter. Pale Ale), and a tiny brewing system that
looked as if it might be cobbled together from institutional cooking
vessels. Wads of atmosphere, in other words. It came highly
recommended. But the brewhouse was not exactly spic and span, which
should have been a tip-off.
John ordered a sampler, eight small glasses of beers. He started
at the light end, I started at the dark end, and we were going to work
towards the middle. Well, damn. The Nitro Porter was
funny-tasting; some nuttiness, but a weird, unpleasant earthiness thing
going too. The Pale Ale was really bitter (and why not; anyone can dump
more hops in) but without much else going for it. And they were
the two best on the tray!
What to do, what to do? John and I came to the same decision: time
to cut our losses and hit the street. He went outside to ask a guy
at a sidewalk table about where else to go, I threw a fiver on the bar
(the sampler was $4.25, not that it was worth that), and waved
It seems like an easy decision to make, but it still kind of went
against the grain. How many times do you decide to finish a so-so
beer just because you paid for it? How many times do you keep
drinking out of sheer inertia? How many times do you walk into a
new place, see a boring selection, and go ahead and order a
beer anyway, just because you feel you’d be embarrassed to walk
out without ordering?
Don’t do it. You owe yourself more in a day. And where’s the
impulse coming from? I know where mine comes from. "A (insert
college or fraternity of your choice here) man never leaves beer
on the table!" That got drilled into my head twenty-five
years ago. I was 19 (yes, I was drinking underage; read all
about it), I was drinking Rolling Rock and Olde English 800, and
I barely had enough money to afford that. Drink up, that’s buzz
sitting there! I’ve gotten past drinking for buzz, why can’t I
get past needing to belong to The Clean Mug Club?
I remember the first time I walked out of a place without ordering a
beer. I was out with my brother-in-law, Chris, running around the
Hudson Valley, hitting bars and sight-seeing. We drove up through New
Paltz and over the Shawangunk Mountains, and on the way down the back of
the ridge we stopped at a Ukrainian place I’d always wanted to
try; built like a rustic hunting lodge, lots of dark wood and fretwork.
We walked in and asked about beer: Boring, Boring Light, and St.
Pauli. We’d already been drinking porter and IPA, there
didn’t seem much point to backsliding, and I said, "Well,
okay, I guess we’ll just keep rolling." And we left. We
talked about it for ten minutes, like we were justifying our decision
to ourselves. I still remember it, more than ten years later.
Why not leave? It should not be embarrassing for you, it’s
embarrassing for the bar! You’re not insulting them, you’re
simply making a choice. You’re making the choice to get what you want,
not what someone else decided – incorrectly –
that you’d want. Look over the offerings, see if they have anything
you want, and if you don’t want anything they have to offer –
beer, whiskey, food, waitstaff pulchritude – go somewhere else
where you can get what you want.
And what if you do like John and I, get what you think you want,
only to have it turn out to be…off? (By the way, I almost wrote
an entirely different Buzz on that: how beers can drift out of whack in
a small or isolated market without enough outside feedback, and I
might write it in the future...but this month I wrote this one
You can get into a big deal with the server, or the manager, or the
brewer, if you feel you need to try to help make their beer
"better." Just remember: your opinion of
"better" may be just that: your opinion. Consider
limiting your fighting with the place to beers that are sour, infected,
flat, off in some obvious way.
You can sit there and suffer, and finish the awful thing. But why
would you want to do that? If it’s foul, forget it. Order
something else, or better yet, ask for a taste of something else first,
a good way to avoid the whole issue in the first place.
Or you can simply pay your check and leave, like we did. They may
think you’re just a lite beer weenie, who can’t handle their
all-grain goodness, but what do you care? You’re strolling down the
street with only a fading bad memory, looking for the next place to
catch your eye.
It’s not as easy for the discriminating drinker as it is for
the Bud Man or the Coors Light girl; they can find their buzz-gruel anywhere,
and chances are it will be in technically excellent condition. But you
only get so much liver action in a day; heck, you only get so
much in your life. There’s no point in wasting it. If you don’t
really want to be drinking what you’re drinking…why the hell are you
We sure didn’t waste our liver action in Louisville. We walked
across the street to Za’s Pizza Pub,
and sampled four great taps and admired their fine bottle list…and never
missed the beers we’d left on the bar at Cumberland at all.