Everyone has them – specific actions or visual cues that unreasonably set you off the deep end. It’s the sound of someone chewing, the way toilet paper is placed on the roll, or how your significant other leaves their wet towel on the ground after a shower. It’s the small bit of OCD in all of us that screams for things to be done in a perfect, orderly fashion, regardless of how innocent or petty the infraction.
As a Certified Cicerone®, we are trained in the ways of how to do and not to do things relating to beer. It’s easy to learn how to do something, a bit harder to repeatedly do it as such, and harder still to teach others to follow suit without looking like an over-educated beer snob. But it’s impossible to be a well-natured educator of beer all of the time. All it takes is a pet peeve – a dirty glass or allowing the faucet to dunk into your draught beer – to set you up on a soapbox, spewing beer facts and demanding “beer clean glassware”. Some of us are better than others at internalizing our rage, but it’s rage all the same.
These are pet peeves of a Certified Cicerone®…
Avenues Proper, Proper Burger, & Proper Brewing Co
Oh man this is so easy. I really wish people would stop using the term “full strength” beer! It implies that just because a beer is brewed at the Utah draft standard of 4% that it isn’t at its full strength. Historically, a lot of really amazing styles should be brewed at a lower ABV. One of my favorite styles is Berliner Weisse, which should be brewed no higher than 3.8% ABV according to the BJCP guidelines to be “full strength”!
I always tell people to order beer based on flavor and not alcohol content. If you want something with a lot of booze, I can absolutely direct you towards a 9% Belgian tripel or a 12% barleywine. But sometimes I just want to session a few Irish stouts or Belgian singles. Saying that a 4% or lower beer is not full strength when having no knowledge of its historical guidelines is my biggest pet peeve.
Red Rock Brewing Company – Kimball Junction
Frosted mugs/glasses or beer temps. “My beer isn’t cold enough!” I can’t stand that. And know-it-alls that really don’t know what they are talking about at all.
One other thing…the stubborn people who insist on drinking out of the bottle. It’s like a manly thing or something. Beer should be a sensory experience, so smelling, looking, foam, lacing, etc. The complexities change as it slowly warms up too.
Author of The Beer Scholar Study Guides for the Cicerone Exams
Partner at Old Devil Moon SF
Founder of the SF Homebrewers Guild
Certified Cicerone® & National BJCP judge
Certain things I see at bars have been bothering me for ages and they still happen with appalling regularity. Here’s the short list.
First, clean the freakin’ glasses. It doesn’t take much education to know that if you pour a beer in a glass and there are bubbles all over the inside clinging to sides it means it’s a filthy glass. When you know that as a consumer (and many do), you’ll notice how few bars actually do a half decent job of cleaning their glassware. Please, beertenders, don’t ever hand a customer a beer like that, it’s gross and it isn’t an issue of beer geekery, it’s a sanitation issue.
Second, tap lists at many bars have been suffering from this problem since craft beer became cool – please please please have a bunch of beers on your list that are sessionable, i.e. not high ABV. The high ABV stuff should be more of the special few, like maybe 1 in 4 or so of your beers are big ones (maybe less!). It’s super annoying to walk into a bar and be relegated to ordering the same couple beers over and over because the vast majority of the list is well over 6% ABV. Sometimes, a patron wants more than two (or three)! Do these bars not want to sell more pints? I realize this level of 6-7+% alcohol is the norm now for US IPAs, but that’s no excuse as you’ll see next.
Third, another draft list issue…if you count up the hoppy American beers on your menu and they make up something like 50% or more of the entire list, that is insane. How many IPAs and DIPAs do you really need on the menu? I guarantee that with fewer of those beers you’ll move kegs more quickly. That means you’re selling fresher, better hoppy beer. The added bonus, as if you need more reasons, is that it’ll open up your list to more variety (I bet there are hardly any German or British beers on your list, are there?). Variety is generally not a bad thing for your customers. Fresher beer and more variety – everybody wins, yay!
Finally, always have someone on staff who knows about the beer on the list. When you put a new beer on, go ahead and taste your servers on it and quickly talk about the primary flavor profile so they’ll be able to speak intelligently to customers about the beer. And have no doubt, people will ask. If the server’s answer is, “ummm, I don’t know let me get you a sample,” that’s real bad. It can be interpreted to mean that the management or ownership doesn’t care about the success of their employees. It also says something about how serious the business is about the beer, regardless of whether they hold themselves out as a craft beer bar. Take every opportunity to train your staff around beer, give them the opportunity to learn and get them involved. Who knows, maybe some of them will run with it and become your next beer expert employee! Next thing you know, maybe you’ll get great people clamoring to work at your joint because they know they’ll come away with new skills. That’s one way a business builds a great reputation in the local beer community – by cranking out great beertenders who go on to open their own places or who other businesses want to steal.
Marketing & Events Coordinator
Avenues Proper, Proper Burger, & Proper Brewing Co
My biggest pet peeve as a Certified Cicerone® (lol) has to do with beer and food pairing.
Even among people who consider themselves beer nerds, there is this assumption that wine is fancier, more serious, more valid than beer, especially when it comes to pairing with food. I think there are a lot of interesting historical reasons for this—a lot of this is related to the influence of French and Italian cuisines on American food culture while other more beer-centric cultures had a more challenging time getting their food and drink traditions across the Atlantic (I could probably talk about this for hours, but we’ll keep it short for the blog). Wine also generally comes in bigger bottles, is often stronger in alcohol, and tends to come in a larger gamut of price points that ranges upward more steeply than beer. Beer is regarded as the “every man” beverage, and taking the time to pair beer with food can be seen as too precious for the thing you enjoy while yelling at sports.* Wine culture in America has developed to a point that most people know what a sommelier is, but don’t know anything about the Cicerone program (which, to be fair, is also much younger).
Given the beer scene happening right now in America, however, I’m surprised that there isn’t a greater emphasis on food and beer pairing. The wider range of ingredients available in beer alone makes beer the more versatile pairing option, but there’s also the carbonation and its palate-cleansing effect, and generally lower alcohol content (allows you to enjoy yourself while still being able to pay attention to and enjoy what you’re eating/drinking). Beer is also usually cheaper than wine, and truly cheap beer is perfectly acceptable, while cheap wine is gross and will give you a gnarly hangover. Sure, there are beer-pairing dinners here and there, but even in places with really robust craft beer cultures like Denver and Chicago, they still feel pretty niche.
Like everything else related to beer, this particular part of the landscape is changing, and I’ll be interested to see the direction food and beer pairing takes. I would love to hear servers at restaurants offer more beer pairing suggestions, and I would love to see the day when guests at fine dining establishments reach for the beer list as often as the wine menu. But that’s what we’re doing here, right? The certifications and the studying and the endless conversations about beer and brewing are all part of an effort to educate and serve the general public who have been misled into thinking that wine is better than beer. Because it’s not.
Okay, one more thing, though, since we’re talking about it: Sours and popsicles. Go out to one of the Mexican paleterias (I like the one up on 700 N and Redwood Road, but there’s another not too far in West Valley, too) and get a bunch of popsicles (go for the fruit-based ones), and then go to the store and get a bunch of sour beers (gose, Berliner Weisse, whatever), stock up your fridge and freezer, and you’re set for the summer. And then just double-fist that shit. You’re welcome.
There you have it, folks. If ever you wanted to annoy the hell out of your Cicerone friends, you now have all the ammo you could ever need!
Pet peeves aside, many bars and brewpubs are making efforts to properly educate their service staff about beer. Red Rock Brewing Company, Proper Brewing Company, and Beer Bar in Salt Lake City, Utah all require their service staff to pass the Certified Beer Server exam from the Cicerone Certification Program. Many bars, breweries, and brewpubs across the country and world are also taking steps to make sure their staff are well versed in the art of serving beer.
I am very much excited to see my favorite beverage getting the respect it deserves. Though the occasion for drinking a beer can be as varied as its styles, it is always an elegant thing. Treat the beer well, and you will experience true gratification. Just don’t drink it from a damn frosted glass, ok? 😉