I Want a Beer that Tastes Like Beer!
by Kevin McDermott
This retail trend to make everything an “experience” is chapping my ass. All my familiar products and services have become personalized craft items, and now they’re not so familiar. I could once get a haircut in ten minutes and order a beer in four words. Now, my 30-minute “getting to know you” haircut feels like a therapy session and the beer menus read like a romance novel.
The craft fad has hit a lot of industries, but it affects me most in the microbreweries. I travel a lot and these rapidly multiplying eateries are often my only option. My last experience at one was a personalized disaster.
After being seated, we were greeted by our hipster server (Magnus). He launched into a twenty-minute lecture on the history of beer making in the Ohio Valley and how all their ingredients are locally sourced and recycled. After a small ceremony involving a gong and incense, he presented us with a leather-bound, 70-page beer menu and disappeared in a cloud of mustache wax.
The prologue of the 12th Street Vintage Records, Artisan Coffee, Craft Beer and Organic Grub Hub Menu read well, but the beer selection had me concerned. I’ve found that craft brewers have been overdoing it with their flavors and intensity to differentiate themselves in their crowded market. Beers like “Dropkick You in the Nuts Triple IPA,” “Spend the Weekend on the Toilet Stout,” “Also Used as Industrial Degreaser Amber,” and “Smells Like My Son’s Sweaty Hockey Gear but Has A Cool Label Lager” confirmed my worst fears.
I thumbed through the menu looking for something I’d enjoy but couldn’t understand the poetic, long-winded beer descriptions. They read like odes to long-lost lovers. After a very emotional reading about “Tears of Tommy Lee Jones Sour,” I thought it best not to roll the dice on a selection. I waited for Magnus, my “experience facilitator,” to return.
Five minutes passed then Magnus and his fedora reappeared. He asked if we had questions about the restaurant’s corporate boycott list or the beer.
Cutting to the chase, I asked Magnus a simple question.
“I like regular beer, like Miller High Life and non-flavored wheat beer. And I don’t like IPA’s. Do you have anything like that?”
I knew I was in trouble because I saw my server’s upper lip take an indignant curl. That gesture most likely signified Magnus’s disgust with my beer pedigree. Most of these servers graduated from a three-week transcendental beer tasting course held somewhere outside of Portland, OR. Their knowledge and spirituality in all beer related matters is indisputable. Magnus saw himself as the Beer Dalai Lama and me as Homer Simpson.
After an annoyed pause, my beerista described two or three beers that might fit my crude specifications. His beer PhD descriptors made no sense to me, so I was still at a loss.
Exasperated, I said, “Just give me a beer that tastes like beer!”
I’ve since learned a statement like that is on par with making a “your mother” joke about your facilitator. The curl returned with an eye roll followed by Magnus’s hasty departure. He came back in a few minutes with my beer. It was in a 9.78 ounce oddly shaped goblet. If I had been listening to Magnus’s earlier dissertation, I would know that the chalice was specifically designed to provide an optimum tasting experience.
My “This will Shut Grandpa up Pilsner” was palatable enough to wash down my Kale, Brussels Sprouts and Kimchee entrée, but, overall, I found my visit to be an un-personalized, un-crafty experience.
You can call me close-minded or an old fart, but I’m 55 and I know what I like. I like beer. So, while the beer aficionados gentrify all my familiar downtown joints, I’ll be hunkered down at the regular guy bar at the edge of town. It’s the one with the neon beer signs behind the steel barred windows. I’ll be slurping my domestic beer from the bottle while eating a microwaved burrito and sporting my 10-minute haircut. My bartender, Bill, will take my order from a one-page laminated menu, and there won’t be 30% craft price markup on a damn thing.
And my experience will be grand!