There was a time, not so long ago, when beer was free.
When someone unfamiliar showed up at a taproom, it was customary for the bartender to tug on the taps and give him a splash to sample. The newcomer would typically buy a pint of whatever he liked best and settle in for a few pints, without snapping even one photo of them.
It all seems so quaint now, of course. People are happy to pay a buck an ounce for tasters, and to go to absurd lengths to get a beer so they can tick it off on Untappd. People will line up around the block for a Crowler of a fresh hazy plantain and rutabaga IPA, and then ship that Crowler across the country to somebody else who waited in a blocklong line for a different Crowler of hazy persimmon and cantaloupe IPA.
I’m not here to complain about the natural evolution of craft beer culture, or to bitch about what today’s cool kids are into. American beer is better now than it has ever been.
But it’s also worth noting that the customer experience at today’s best new breweries is … lacking. The vibes are bad. And once you’ve got bad vibes, it can turn into a bad scene.
The previous generation of craft brewers was focused intensely on being ambassadors for the product. They laid the groundwork for the thriving scene that exists today.
But too many of the best new breweries tend to have truly obnoxious tasting rooms. I don’t want to name names, but a recent experience at a top-notch brewery in a Brooklyn neighborhood that’s entirely industrial really stands out. This spot is in a bare-bones space under a freeway overpass and surrounded by scrap-metal yards. You can carry in food and there’s a big ol’ McDonald’s right across the street.
This place makes really, really good beer. But it operates a bad taproom. So bad, in fact, that it struck me as an example of bad tasting rooms everywhere.
Here are a few small things that should change at hip new brewpubs.
Bouncer bartenders should chill.
Before I was a beer writer, I was a music writer. And as a music writer I was always amazed by the need for club security everywhere to be dicks to everyone. Why does wearing a black T-shirt and standing by a door cause a man to start addressing other men he doesn’t know as “bubba” or “big guy?” At some of today’s better brewpubs, it feels like you’re in that experiment where they give some rando a little authority and see how fast and far he’ll run with it. All bartenders deal with assholes, and that goes double for anyone who has to deal with persnickety beer geeks. But it’s worth remembering that they’re not there to protect the beer, they’re there to pour and serve it.
Be chill about your weird rules.
So you made a house rule that people can only order one thing with a red tap handle and one thing from a blue tap handle and you only fill Crowlers of the purple tap when it’s a full moon. You also decided that there will be no sampler-size pours of the pale ale, only sampler pours of the IPA. Pricing is calculated using a slide ruler. Cool, cool. I’m sure you have solid reasons for these rules and that they are strictly necessary for the smooth operation of your business. However, they are not widely accepted across the industry or immediately understood by the diverse group of people visiting you for the first time. So be chill about it. Explain your weird rules nicely and slowly and without any condescension.
Make some attempt to match the music to the mood of the room.
I realize that complaining about noisy rooms is really old and lame, but when it’s midday, and the windows and doors are all open, there’s no reason to blare “400 Years” at 100 decibels. Most people like to talk about their $1-an-ounce beer.
Keep your facilities in basic working order.
At a certain level, brewing is plumbing. Which is why if a brewery has a broken bathroom, it probably also has bad beer. Too many new breweries I’ve been to just seem to stop caring about having a working paper towel dispenser or hand dryer. Is this a petty complaint? Yes. But if you’ve bothered to make great beer, this is the sort of thing that should be very easy to fix.