How to Spot a Fake Beer Bar

By: Ezra Johnson-Greenough

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Most bars serve beer. But that doesn’t make them “beer bars,” those oases for discerning beer-lovers looking to really nerd out on the best brews in the world. But the term “beer bar,” like so many others, has become bastardized to the point that it’s hard to tell whether you’re in for a world-class experience or a glorified frat party. These are the signs that a “beer bar” is using the moniker a little too liberally… and likely pouring conservatively.

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Misleading and out of touch, the domestics, premium, and/or imports section on a beer menu should be limited to Applebee’s and airport bars from the ‘90s, but occasionally they’re unwelcome holdovers from another era, like Christina Aguilera or Regis Philbin. Not all “domestic” beers are even brewed in the US. There’s a good chance your Guinness was brewed in Canada. “Premium” is just a word. It’s about time we just start calling beer “beer.”

It’s hard to call Sam Adams a “microbrew” anymore. By 1984, the term “craft beer” was born as the once-tiny microbreweries were increasingly industrialized, yet breweries shelling out 6 million barrels a year are still called “microbrews” in some places. Even “craft beer” has become irrelevant these days, with constant redefining and multiple interpretations to the point that no one can be expected to clearly understand it. The only place that should be selling “microbrews” is a retro ‘70s throwback pub with shaggy carpet walls that smell of smoke and stale “microbrew.”

The only thing worse than a beer bar that only stocks “microbrews” is one where the manager believes the size of a brewery’s output directly correlates to quality. Trust us: some pot-bellied beardo stirring cans of malt extract into a dirty pot on a turkey fryer does not make better beer than Sierra Nevada. I’m all for supporting the little guy, but just because your buddy told you that your homebrew is great does not mean you should start brewing professionally. That’s not to say that there aren’t great nanobrewers, but they are likely to start producing a lot better beers after they move out of the garage and into a practical facility with professional equipment. In the meantime, can I get some beers on tap by someone with a brewing degree, please?

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Just because a beer is from another country does not mean it should be served in a snifter, tulip, chalice, or other glassware of the week. A hefeweizen is of German origin, but I can’t imagine anyone serving it in anything smaller than a pint glass. All Belgian beer is not high alcohol and does not demand a smaller pour. Feel free to pour a 4% Berliner Weisse or a Radeberger pilsner in a pint glass, or even a mug.

We don’t call PBR “Amerikuh beer” or refer to kung pao chicken as “China food,” so you should probably not call Belgian beer “Belgium beer.” I’ll continue to call bars that do this “stupid” rather than “educationally challenged.”

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We really don’t mind fruit in our beers if that’s what the brewer intended, but I need a wedge of fruit on my glass like I need a bed of lettuce for my fish & chips or a sprig of parsley on my salmon. Nothing will kill a beer’s head and aroma quicker than a wedge of citrus on its rim. In the name of good marketing, Widmer Brothers invented the lemon wedge garnish for its hefeweizen. It was so successful that every amateur thinks garnishing any wheat beer with a citrus fruit is just proper serving etiquette. It’s not. At all.

I don’t care what anyone says: nitro is not the wave of the future, and it doesn’t make anything taste better. Nitrogen is a gas better used in making fertilizer and Kevlar, not making your beer creamier. The so-called “perfect pour” does absolutely nothing for your beer except cause delays. It’s becoming cliche now for dark beers to be served on nitro as if they were all meant to be, but you’re actually shaving off the subtle hop spiciness, toasted coffee and caramel of the malts, and the effervescent carbonation that effortlessly releases a bouquet that is stymied by nitrogen.

This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if I could just order a non-nitro stout, but it’s come to a place where bars often don’t even mention their stout is on nitro. If it’s not Guinness, then it should not be a given that it’s served nitrogenated.

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Look, you cannot properly taste and appreciate a beer colder than 38 degrees, leaving the optimal temperature somewhere between there and 55 degrees (depending on the style). And before you start getting your panties in a bunch about how ice-cold beer is refreshing, do us all a favor and switch to drinking wine coolers.

A pint is not only a vessel for alcohol, but also a unit of measurement that equals 16 perfect ounces. So when blowhardy bar consultants invented the 14oz cheater pint, we should have all poured our beers into the river (or over their heads). Hell, even a non-cheater 16oz pint is not large enough to get a proper head on your beer, let alone 14 measly ounces.

Cheers to Portlander Jeff Alworth’s Honest Pint Project, which aimed to rid the Earth of the scourge of the cheater pint and fell just short of becoming a law of the land. Still, the Honest Pint movement inspired many real bars to upgrade to a true imperial pint, ideally with a 16oz marker line on the glass.

Let me get this through your hop-addled heads: all beer should be served with a delightful, creamy head on top. This isn’t wine, it’s a malt-based carbonated beverage, and aromatics achieved as active compounds in the beer float to the surface and are unlocked as they reach the bubbles. 

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This is the sort of bottom-of-the-barrel situation normally only found in dimly lit strip clubs and dance clubs full of idiots, but I have in fact found myself being served a “craft” beer out of a plastic cup from a so-called taphouse before. If you are served in a plastic cup, return it and ask for a glass. If they don’t give you a glass, leave.

There may be no faster way to tell the ownership either knows nothing about or cares nothing about good beer than a frosted pint glass. Nothing unfurls our man buns faster than a miniature iceberg melting into a beer like the polar icecaps. Beer is not meant to be served ice cold, and I am not necessarily prescribing warm beer either, but can we settle on a temperature that’s not going to leave my tongue stuck to the glass like the kid from ?

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