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Bringing matters to a head: A few complaints about beer service

While beer is getting more attention and more practiced service in restaurants these days, there’s still a long ways to go before ales and lagers get the same respect as Cabernets and Pinots at finer dining establishments.

Proper care and service of beer is just as important, though. While Los Angeles does have many establishments that give beer the same care that wine enjoys — from Downtown’s Little Bear, where Belgian style ales are poured with a keen eye to detail, to Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach, where you know you’ll be getting proper glassware — all too often the elusive perfect pint is marred by some small issue that servers don’t know is a problem. Or they just don’t care.

Last week, Irene Virbila gave us her wine service pet peeves (and asked for yours), and here are my betes noires about ordering craft beer.

The basics

Virbila called out many wine service blunders that also apply to beer. Getting a too-cold brew is close to the top of my list of most-common faults — thankfully some patience (and hand-holding) can correct this one. All of the niggles regarding inattentive or over-attentive service also apply to beer, but an inconsistent pour-size is the most annoying. There’s nothing wrong with an eight- or six-ounce glass of beer (especially with bold and boozy styles like barley wines and imperial stouts), but beer lists need to include the pour-size so there are no surprises. An unbalanced beer list filled with high-alcohol brews or loaded with IPAs without a light and sessionable option is also far too common.

Speaking of beer lists, how hard is it to list the alcohol content, glass size, and price next to the beer and brewery name?

Proper glassware

Getting a beer in the appropriate glass for the style is a treat that tickles beer geeks, but it is by no means a deal-breaker to get a saison in a pint glass or an English ale in a tulip. As long as the beer comes in a glass I’m happy, but I’m shocked at how often I’m served a craft beer still in the bottle or can (though this happens far more often at bars than at proper restaurants, and thankfully never at dedicated “craft beer” establishments).

Also, can we put an end to the frosted glasses already? That is a terrible way to serve a craft brew.

Questionable beer

Beer is pretty hearty, but it still needs to be stored cold and consumed fresh to be at its best. There are far, far too many bars and restaurants in Los Angeles (even ones that are devoted to elevating craft beer) that store kegs at room temperature until they get tapped. It pains me to walk into a restaurant where I know I’ll be paying $8 or $9 for a glass of beer and see a bunch of kegs stacked alongside the wall, flavors slowly fading.

Even worse than warm kegs is the establishment that boasts a lengthy bottle list of craft beers. Ordering off these lists is a crap-shoot; you never know how long a bottle has been sitting in their fridge. The trick in cases like this is to order beers you know the bar sells a lot of.

Dirty lines

The most common, and one of the most unforgivable sins against craft beer, is the dirty tap line. Even gloriously fresh and delicious beer will taste like a sack of buttery nickels if the tubes that carry the brew from the keg to the glass are dirty. Without constant attention, beer lines develop bacterial infections, protein build-up, and all manner of beer-contaminating problems that you’ll taste (or smell) in the glass. If you’re ever served a beer that has a metallic twang or an aroma like movie theater popcorn or (gag) post-gym sweat socks, dirty lines are probably to blame. You should send that beer back forthwith!

A staff that just doesn’t care

As far as beer has come, it still has a ways to go before it gets the respect afforded wine, and one of the obvious signs of this is servers who just don’t pay attention. It’s still too rare to find a server (outside of the top-tier craft destinations) with even a baseline knowledge of beer styles, let alone the brews that are on the beer list.

Attention to detail is the hallmark of a great craft brewer, and of great craft beer service. Things don’t have to be perfect, it’s “just beer” after all, but paying attention to how a beer is served, and respecting the beverage is not too much to ask.

Los Angeles Times - 3 November 2014
 
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