The Topic: Lack of Beer Education
This is not one of my fav topics. A few years ago a highly ranked judge decided to “educate me,” the problem being I kept proving him more wrong than right. And his education as a self proclaimed know it all: a bit lacking. Boy was he pissed. I don’t claim to be a know it all and, to be honest, I like anyone, can be wrong. When doing beer education humble is, by far, a better approach. In fact I feel that way about politics, religion and damn near anything. You try to pass on any knowledge you think you may have as politely as possible, without trying to display any sense of superiority… and be ready to learn, much like any teacher learns from students. Like “The Wizard of Beer,” a column I wrote long ago: we all can be wrong; even about topics we’re pretty damn sure about.
As a children’s entertainer I had a newsletter for a few years with the slogan, “We are all learning.” I really believe that.
Yet nothing aggravates me more than those who should be more educated than they are when it’s their job to know. I’m reminded of The Great Lost Bear, a multi-tap bar in Maine. I was doing an article many years ago and I kept asking about the beer. The bartender got pissed. Why? Because I kept gently asking questions like, “What style is it?” Or, “Is it very hoppy?” And, yes, “Is it dark or light.” Her answer back was, “We don’t serve no ‘lite’ beer here.”
Hm, do you know the difference between “lite,” and “light colored?”
Last year I did an update on several pubs in New England and at one of my favorite places: Dave Wollner; owner and brewer, I started asking similar questions of the tender. The bartender would literally walk away as I asked, and made rude noises. It was so bad I eventually said, “You really don’t like beer geeks, do you?” Retort: “If I didn’t like beer geeks I wouldn’t like my job, would I?”
God I hope she’s no longer there when I stop by this summer.
(Note: not sure, but she wasn’t there that day and the staff was great, as was Mr. Wollner.)
What brought this about is there is a new brewery in Worcester, Mass.: on Route 9, called Wormtown. I’m planning on another edition of Brew Biz. The bartender ladies were quite nice, and knew more about their beer it seemed than the aforementioned brewpubs/multi-taps. But still I found basic education a bit lacking. I asked about their barleywine and they had to keep looking it up.
Small print. Old man. Bad lighting. Couldn’t read a damn thing. So as I savored it I commented, “This is really good. Tastes like it was put in an oak cask.”
They looked it up again.
This really shouldn’t happen. When you dedicate any business to beer the employees don’t have to out talk a BJCP judge, but they should know enough to not either not have to look it up all the time, or not have an asinine attitude.
As I will explain in a second, while the ladies at Wormtown certainly don’t deserve the following comment, the others I mentioned do: some folks should really find another job. Really.
Now the ladies at Wormtown? They deserve more than just a break. It is a new brewery, after all. And they really were trying. As Betty Schultz at the Knotty Pine in Old Forge: the best boss I ever had, said: “Ken, all I want you to do is the best you can.” Yes, that was the restaurant biz and I’d still be working for her today if I could. These ladies, given the newness of it all, really were doing their best.
The others I mentioned: more their worst.
But getting back to Wormtown for a moment…
Oh, what an an incredible barleywine!
Steve Fried; brewer for McGuires in Pensacola for many, many years, told me they were constantly doing beer education with the staff. Sometimes I could tell he found it very annoying: “I told her it had a Belgian yeast in it…”
But, I understand. This is the restaurant industry, mixed with a brewery, in many cases. Or craft beer mixed with a bar in one case I mentioned. Having worked in the restaurant industry from high school into college I know staffing is tough and a constant concern. But is some of these cases… do they do any beer education at all? Shouldn’t they be checking for attitude amongst the staff, attitudes that could drive your customer base away?
If not they’re insulting the very crowd they’re trying to attract, and the product they sell.
If so, maybe they too should find another biz to be in?
Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”