The influx of clueless drivers with Washington-state license plates indicates we are nearing the tourist season here in the desert. (Side note to those drivers: If you miss a turn, that’s your problem and no one else’s. Take the loss, and find a safe place to turn around.)
Seeing as I work at a brewery taproom, this column is a somewhat selfish endeavor: It’s a brewery-goers’ guide to taproom etiquette. This isn’t coming from an angry place—at least not totally. I would like to arm the consumer with useful advice that could enhance the experience without much effort. Let’s jump right in:
• “Is (NAME OF BEER) good?” or, alternately, “What’s good?” I happen to be honest to the point of being too blunt sometimes, but this question is weird: I work for the brewery. What do you think I am going to say to this? I will often sarcastically respond with, “No, they’re all bad, in fact,” before trying to ascertain what the customer’s preferences are. Do yourself a favor, and ask for a sample. Most places will be happy to give you a splash so you can decide for yourself. Don’t be afraid to set it aside and ask for a sample of something else if you didn’t enjoy it.
• “What’s new?” Despite my massive intellect and faultless memory, I can’t remember the last time you visited the brewery. Please feel free to do that work for me, and I will be glad to help you out accordingly.
• “What’s the hoppiest beer you have?” I dedicated a whole column to IBUs (international bitterness units) and why they’re IBUseless to the consumer. (Get it? I’ve been waiting to use that one.) The “hoppiest beer” question is loaded and not easy to answer. Hoppiness can include flavor, bitterness and/or aroma. Do you want an old-school West Coast hop bomb with a bitter underbelly, or do you want a double-dry-hopped, super-fragrant hazy IPA that has a much more restrained bitter finish? Huge imperial stouts are often very hoppy, but that’s not the first thing you take away when tasting one. I’ll do my best here, but I need you to meet me halfway if you want your needs properly fulfilled.
• “(Looks at the beer list, which does not include a particular style.) Do you have (that particular style)?” This is pretty self-explanatory: If it ain’t on the board, it ain’t available. At my taproom, there are 20 beers on tap. Is that not enough? Instead, tell me what you like, and I will help you find something similar. Also: If you have a sight issue, feel free to let your beertender know, and we’ll happily be your eyes.
• “Do you have wine/cider/etc.?” I personally don’t mind this question much (although, to repeat—if it’s not on the board, it’s not available), but I do find it amusing when people get indignant that the taproom I work at doesn’t have these things. Who’s surprised when they go to a brewery that we only have beer? The answer, sadly, is a non-zero number. If licensing were simpler, we might actually serve those other things, too. Can you tell this is getting cathartic for me?
• Wearing cologne/perfume/heavy scents. This might be the rudest thing you can do when visiting any place where you are drinking or eating. A large part of our olfactory experience is determined by our noses. We all have different thresholds for different aromas, but bathing in patchouli (which is ALWAYS gross, incidentally) is just rude when you’re in a confined space attempting to enjoy craft beer. Some of those perfume scents can crawl up one’s nose and heavily affect one’s taste experience. You would be equally vexed by someone smoking or vaping nearby while you were trying to enjoy beer. Trust me: The people around you will appreciate the lack of perfume in general if you dial it back, or get rid of it all together. (I personally think most perfumes smell like what the Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would spit out if asked to produce a perfume.) This goes doubly for body odor. This should go without saying, but your commitment to not wearing deodorant should not be anyone else’s problem. And patchouli doesn’t cover that up, either (and its association with body odor probably turned me sour on that scent to begin with).
• Dirty growlers: Most breweries offer to-go containers of various sizes, called growlers, that can be filled and refilled with beer. I can’t believe I need to say this … but you should clean them when you’re done. Yes. That might be the most absurdly obvious thing I’ve ever written. Beer left sitting in a container can quickly become a robust environment for bacteria and mold. We do clean and sanitize the growlers we’re about to fill, as it’s in the brewery’s best interest to not give out tainted beer, but if I see mold, I’m sending that growler back empty. There is no way I’m going to chance infecting a sanitized beer line with that. This isn’t a labor-intensive process: All you need to do is give a growler a very good rinse with water when you have finished the beer, and either wash it out with scentless dish soap, or stick it in the dishwasher for a simple hot rinse, before letting it dry out completely. I used to have a half-joking, half-morbid curiosity for the scents that could emanate from growlers, but I have since been cured of that. Leaving a dirty growler in a car in the desert summer heat makes it less of a container for beer and more of a small microbiome.
While some might view this list as snobbery, much of this is just common sense. Taproom employees should be able to guide the uninitiated beer-drinker to a pleasant experience, although I understand that not all breweries are created equal. It would be helpful to keep these things in mind so that you can have knowledge at your disposal—and enjoy your time at any taproom as fully as possible.
Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at email@example.com.