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Brewery Visits Ups and Downs

By April 18, 2012Beer Travel
Sampler Tray at New Glarus

Great Divide Beer SamplesWhat do you do when you visit a brewery that doesn’t have a beer you like? After visiting nearly 200 all over the country, we’ve run into breweries of all shapes and sizes from a 1.6 barrel system at Hess Brewery in San Diego to New Belgium, who produces over 600,000 barrels a year (that’s 148.8 MILLION pints of beer in case you were counting). Some breweries have been around for over 20 years, some just started 2 months ago. Some focus on certain styles while others go with the tried and true Pale Ale, IPA, one light one dark routine. But with all these visits surely you are bound to find some that just are not good at all.

The thing is with brewery visits, as much as it should be just about the beer, it’s not. With the way we travel and try to visit breweries all across the nation, we visit at all times of the day, sometimes early, sometimes mid-afternoon. Everything from your mood coming into the visit to the vibe around you at the brewery will impact the way you remember that particular place at that particular time. Maybe the bartender wasn’t friendly at explaining the beer list or it took too long to have anyone serve you, these things come into play before you even take your first sip of beer. Which then of course, leads us to the tasting.

Sampler Tray at Golden City BreweryWhat do you do if you don’t like the beer? Usually we ask to sample a beer or two before we get a pint. Most breweries and sometimes taprooms are more than happy to let you have a little 2 oz sample, unless there is a law in the state against it. If I don’t like a beer of the one or two we sample, I ask for another. In many cases we will split a sampler tray. Generally with the amount of options available your bound to find one that is somewhat palatable. But then I wonder, what’s the point. If you don’t like any of the beers you’ve sampled do you still go ahead and order a full pint of the least offensive one?

Sampler Tray at New GlarusI’m not an expert beer taster by any means, nor do I claim to be. I know of the off flavors in beer, mainly that they exist, but I couldn’t tell you this is for sure diacetyl. I just know, I either like it or I don’t. I am getting better at sorting out flavors of a style or beer, but am not familiar with the ingredients that are behind those flavors. Lately it just seems that I DON’T like a lot more beers than I DO like. I don’t know if it’s just an off day for my palate, or if the beer really isn’t that good.

I once asked this question to our followers and one of the more thoughtful comments suggested a person should say something to the brewer/bartender about it, describe what you taste, what you think isn’t right. She went as far to say that sometimes the brewer knows it’s not the best beer, but they serve it anyway. Sometimes breweries are so overtaxed with production, they have to. I’m not confident enough in my knowledge of tasting beer to give a thoughtful critique, but I know there are many out there that would.

So I am curious if anyone has ever run into this type of situation. What did you do? Did you say something or did you just quietly slip a few bills on the bar and duck out of there as fast as you could? OR are you so privileged to be living in California, Colorado or Oregon that you can’t even fathom, amongst all the incredible brewery options you have, that this would even be possible?

[box]FYI – all the beers pictured here were good samples and breweries we would highly recommend.[/box]

Author Maria

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Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Beth says:

    This is a tough one. I’m sorta merciless when it comes to an apathetic server (Forrest is even worse). If I ask you a question about the beer and you don’t know the answer, that’s fine but if you look completely shocked that I ask a question at all, I’ll probably be sort of upset.

    I’ve also started to be more honest with servers/bartenders when they ask how I’ve liked my sample. If I don’t like it I don’t feel particularly compelled to say I did. Besides, that really erodes my praise when I LOVE a beer. BUT when you have someone who is clearly proud of their beer (or wine) it does get awkward when you don’t like it. I usually try to be constructive (it has a thin mouth feel, low carbonation, too floral/bitter/etc) so I’m not just trashing on their beer without reason (maybe they like their beer that way and that’s cool with me, I’m just not going to drink it).

    I think it’s also a byproduct of tasting a bunch of beer that we get pickier as time goes on. Beer I loved when I was 22 was a much broader list than the beer I love now.

    • Maria says:

      Constructive is always best, and you’re right, general descriptions like you list are something even I can get behind. It’s hard not to feel snobby when you try as many beers as we do, which is why I usually keep my mouth shut! (which generally is not descriptive of my personality 😉

  • DenverHBC says:

    I like that you mentioned the aspect of not liking more beers than you do. I really think the tasting experience leads you to knowing what you do not like. I run into this a lot as well.

    I drank my first craft beer, so to speak, 14 years ago. Since then, I have tasted an uncountable variety of beers. At this point, I can evaluate a beer pretty objectively from a technical level and tell you if it is a well-constructed beer or not. Notice that I said “evaluate” though. When I am tasting new commercial beers or just drinking them at a bar, it is going to have to be pretty great for me to put it on the list of things that I like. I guess my palate is jaded or something.

    I don’t think that this is a negative thing. I have plenty of positive noises for a nice beer even if I don’t like it. If a beer is truly off-putting, I will ask more questions about it to try and figure out who screwed up or if I actually hate the beer. (Summit hop over-users, I am looking at you) That is pretty rare but it happens.

    I think it is just an evolution of the taster. I am well past the concept of liking a beer because I am “supposed to” as a connoisseur. I need to be wowed by a beer, anymore. I have a ton of regular drinking beers. To get in that rotation, a brewery is going to have to be pretty special. There are plenty of beers out there that won’t cause me to make snarky comments on twitter but I don’t think I have to talk about how good they are either.

    • Maria says:

      Love your perspective here. It takes time to develop your palate and understand flavors like the overuse of summit hops, once we get there I am sure we would be more forthcoming with questions or feedback. Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

  • Merideth says:

    This has happened to us on a number of occasions. We are not ones to call people out on bad beer. They often get offended or try to explain the taste away, so there’s not much point in telling them their beer sucks. Besides, we aren’t beer experts. We simply pay our bill and slip out, which is much easier to do in a busy place. When we’re the only customers in the place it’s much trickier. If we are asked about the beer we come up with something polite to say.

  • “I DON’T like a lot more beers than I DO like” Shows that your taste and your palate are being refined by your roaming. I agree with you, either it’s good or it’s not. I have issue with people who check the Beer Advocate score on their phone before deciding if they like it. is it good? Do you want to drink it?
    Also, I had a beer person say to me recently, “I used to like Scrimshaw before it got so popular,” Well, you sir are a jackass. Beer snobery at it’s worst. Is it good? Bottom line.

  • John says:

    There have been very few beers that I cannot drink. But I have some I love and will get when they are available. When I taste a beer I don’t overly like I’ll talk to the bartender and other customers to find out what the brewery was aiming for and try some more with that in mind. It does not change my opinion but I can some what understand the beer. I have a bigger problem with inconsistency that I cannot forgive.

  • Gerard Walen says:

    I hesitate to criticize beers, unless there seems to be something obviously god awful wrong with it, and that’s usually somewhere other than the brewery that might have dirty draft lines or a keg that’s just been around too long. My personal taste does not mean someone else won’t like it. I’ve tasted beers that I don’t care for, but that get great reviews from others, and vice versa. I put beer into three categories: Love it, meh, and don’t care for it.

  • Jeanette says:

    I love the recommendation you’ve made about getting a little sample first! This tip has saved me from buying some beers I wasn’t ready to handle! Ha.

    To answer your questions, if I didn’t like any of the samples, I’d probably buy one small glass of the one I liked most. Then, try to let it grow on me.

    Like all craft/art, supporting the tradesmen/women is more important to me that the few bucks I’d spend on a so-so (in my opinion) work of brew! Maybe buying a few less ‘refined’ beers will support the future of the brewer/brewery and of the next brilliant brew?

    Cheers- Jeanette

    • Maria says:

      Why pay for a whole pint of something you’ve never had before? Samples are definitely the way to go. You may like a certain style of beer, but everyone can take a style and do something different with it. I think breweries across the nation would love that you want to support small local business, what a great viewpoint to help support the future of the brewery, kudos to you!!

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