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Beer Back

June 15, 2012

First the good news. After only a couple days of moderate eating since my return from California, my accumulated weight gain is less than five pounds.

The bad news is that later today I am scheduled to meet with my doctor. Together, we will finally go over the blood test results I’ve been avoiding, and I will learn how my cholesterol levels are doing.

That could potentially mean not just a shift back to a more draconian diet, but also it may require some kind of regular, moderate exercise. I’m not sure which one of those I find to be more onerous. So naturally, on my last day of living in uninformed bliss, I decided to grab one last deep fried buffalo hamburger from Swifty’s.

When I eat that thing (ordered rare) all is good with the world, and I truly enter a state of bliss. Seriously. I can feel waves of happiness cascade over me. This isn’t a metaphor. I get a strong physical sensation of joy (somewhere behind my eyes).

But this isn’t about the bruger. I’ve already gushed about that. This is about the beer. And what must be the heartbreak of beer lovers everywhere. What I’m confused about is why I don’t hear about it more.

Bad beer.

Now partially I blame this from just coming back from several days with my friend Doc. He sends things back. All the time. Sometimes, just for fun. And his lovely wife J (who I just learned likes to be mentioned in these posts) married him anyway.

I hate sending things back. Somewhere in the archive of almost 1,000 posts I’ve surely mentioned this. But sometimes something is just unpleasant and you need to deal with it. Hanging out with someone like Doc helps give you the confidence to pull a move like this when it’s needed. Because it’s never fun, and you never know how your complaint will be received.

But the beer I ordered to accompany my beloved burger was bad.

Over the past several months I’ve been paying a lot more attention to beer. I’ve been sniffing, tasting, observing heads, contemplating lacing, and considering how many shades of brown exist in the universe. Luckily, I’ve yet to become a beer snob. I’m really just a competent novice. But I do feel like I’ve got a good handle on what beer should taste like.

The Brooklyn Summer Ale seemed like a good pick at the time. It was on tap, I was sitting outside, and I was going to be eating a spicy deep fried burger with more fries on the side. I wanted something a bit light and refreshing, with maybe a bit of citrus I’ve come to expect in summer ales.

What I got was something dull and flat with a musty aftertaste. It wasn’t bright or clean, and it brought no pleasure. This wasn’t about picking the wrong beer, nor was it about clashing with the food. I had my first sips before I even ordered the burger, so my taste buds were still in good shape.

So after I placed my food order with the waiter. I told him, “I don’t think this beer tastes the way it should, I’d like to have a Southern Tier IPA instead.” To the waiter’s credit, he took back the bad beer without hesitation, brought out the new beer, and everything was right with the world.

As a relative neophyte in the beer world, I’m wondering how often things like this happen. I know that ordering glasses of wine is a minefield, and I’m starting to think beer may be very similar in this regard too. I know that some kegs can sit around a little bit too long and beer lines don’t always get the maintenance and cleaning they require. But there may be other potential pitfalls to look out for when ordering beer in bars.

Beer geeks, I’m eager to hear from you on this.

By the way, my choice of the IPA wasn’t accidental. I figured that a beer based on a formula built for heartiness at sea, would probably be a good bet for other potentially arduous conditions on land. This logic served me well, and it may inform future beer choices when drinking out at places that don’t cater to the beer cognoscenti.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2012 10:26 am

    Sometimes beer is just bad. I don’t like Brooklyn’s beer either. I give a brewery a few chances – sometimes I don’t like one kind of beer but love others. Magic Hat is like this for me – Ravel was awesome, but I don’t think they make it any more. I pass on the other beers. Similarly, I’ve never liked Brooklyn’s beer. I’ve also never liked Brown’s, the beer at the Pump Station, or Chatham Brewery. I find them all bland, watery, flat, and tasteless. Other people love them. I don’t know. I guess it’s me. Skunked beer tastes actively gross, not just unpleasant, though. If you thought the beer wasn’t a pleasurable experience, but not actively nasty, you probably just don’t like it.

    • Angelos permalink
      June 15, 2012 10:39 am

      They make Ravel, but it’s seasonal. Look for it in late November, early December.

  2. June 15, 2012 10:37 am

    There are lots of places that don’t clean their lines frequently enough. I don’t go to Dino BBQ any more because their beer always tastes like crap. One of their servers try to convince me the Southern Tier 2XIPA was supposed to taste skunky, “because IPAs have a lot of hops.”

    OK there, sport.

    There are also refrigeration and CO2 volumes to worry about, but that’s a book, not a blog comment. No, really, I have a book on setting up pressure systems for everything from soda to beer. There are a lot of complex formulas that take into account length of the lines from the keg to the tap, elevation change from the keg to the tap, etc.

    The lesson is, flush your lines regularly.

    And Daniel, OF COURSE you return a bad beer. The consumer is king. I don’t throw $4-$10 away on bad product and say “oh well.”

    On the other hand, people who return things for sport? They’re dicks.

    • June 15, 2012 10:44 am

      I’ve never had any bad beer at Dinosaur. I usually get the Outrage IPA. That’s funny that someone told you that beer was supposed to taste skunky. LOL. Was it just some waitress or a bartender or managerial type? Obviously that person doesn’t know their beer. And if it’s tap that’s a really bad sign. I can see a bottle, even a brown bottle, getting skunky, but not a keg that’s completely impenetrable to light and should be stored cold.

      • Bill permalink
        June 15, 2012 10:54 am

        A keg can get skunky. Put it outside in the sun for a day. Or in an unconditioned storeroom for a month. Instant skunk. And yes, I’ve not had a good beer at Dino BBQ either, as noted below.

  3. June 15, 2012 10:39 am

    Usually bad beer on tap is just a dirty tap line. Bars and restaurants are supposed to clean their tap lines regularly. Certain types of beers require more frequent tapline cleaning than others. It’s possible you had the bottom of the keg and got a glass full of sediment. If it was flat that might account for it since there’s a ton of air in a near-empty keg than there is in a near-full keg. Maybe the keg had a leak.

    I’ve rarely encountered literally bad/spoiled beer on tap in the Capital District. I’ve had quite a few that tasted awful but that’s how they’re supposed to taste (i.e. anything from Mendocino – yuck!). The sour, flat, dirty beer is actually a rarity. It’s not a “minefield” at all (unless you just have extremely bad luck?). And you’re much more likely to encounter that at a place that doesn’t know their beer, like an Applebees or other such chain place. The venue you patronized sounds like they know their beer by the fact they had both Brooklyn and Southern Tier on tap. And the fact they took it back without putting up a fuss (pun intended) saves their reputation for me. Where did you go, by the way?

    Brewing is most definitely NOT a Six Sigma process, so bad and spoiled and contaminated bottles, cans, kegs and cask are going to happen. All beer nerds will agree that sending back a bad beer is no big deal. If anything you did the place a favor by letting them know they’ve got a problem. Now whether they shrugged it off and kept serving that beer or investigated and did something about it is what separates a bad beer place from a good one, respectively.

    • Bill permalink
      June 15, 2012 10:56 am

      There’s hefty QC in brewing, Chad. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Six Sigma or similar is applied in the macro breweries.

  4. June 15, 2012 10:42 am

    Beer on tap has to have some kind of pressure to pour, unless it’s cask-conditioned which is a small-batch and expensive setup you’re only likely to find in a serious beer bar. So the flatness was probably due to nobody checking the CO2 recently. The mustiness could have been due to its not being cold enough so the spices used in these summer beers tasted funky instead of, I don’t know, festive. Definitely not a fan of summer beers. It could also be stale from sitting around but this year’s Brooklyn Summer Ale has just been released, so that’s less likely.

    As for IPAs, I hate to be a wet blanket on this score but today the term refers simply to a high-hopped ale that probably doesn’t keep any better than any non-IPA. The Southern Tier is a good specimen, though. You did better than with your first choice.

    • Bill permalink
      June 15, 2012 11:01 am

      You can cask large batches. All you’re doing is putting the beer into a container and letting it finish itself naturally. If you brew 100,000 barrels of beer, then you can certainly make 225,000 casks of ale. You just need a big storeroom for them as you won’t be shipping them any time soon, which is why they are a rarity and often left to smaller “specialty” batches.

      Mustiness and temperature/spices have nothing to do with each other. Mustiness is a sign of oxidation and/or infection. And yes, IPAs keep longer than Pales. But since ABV is all over the place despite the beer style, and since we have a cool thing called refrigeration, it doesn’t matter anymore. We’re not shipping barrels of unrefrigerated beer from the UK to India anymore. ;-)

  5. June 15, 2012 10:52 am

    The number one culprit is unclean beer lines. Dinosaur BBQ in Troy and Ravenswood in Clifton Park are good examples of where to find bad beer. I don’t know if they don’t clean their lines enough, or just don’t clean them correctly, but that flat musty flavor is a direct result of “funk” building up in the beer. The “funk” is less mold (though it can happen) and more a combination of yeast, beer stones and bacteria getting caught along the soft rubber tubing. So, it’s not to say that the beer is bad, but the lines are gross. It’s the equivalent of pouring bottled water into a dirty glass; the result is dirty water.

    Beer can certainly go bad in a variety of ways. Improper storage is a common problem. Too warm, too humid, too much light… All these can ruin a good beer before it’s ever opened. There’s also cases of improperly sealed containers, the wrong beer aged too long (low ABV beers have a short shelf life), being refrigerated off and on (from cooler to shelf to cooler to shelf)…

    If you think your beer doesn’t taste as it should, send it back. If it was a draught, more times than not it’s the lines, so go for a bottle. If you want to know more about what might be causing that bad taste, here’s a guide:

    • June 15, 2012 10:58 am

      I hope someone from Dinosaur reads these comments. If they have a history of dirty taplines and other mishandling of beer they should correct it immediately. It costs more to bring in new customers than it does to retain existing ones.

      • Bill permalink
        June 15, 2012 11:03 am

        Well, this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this, even to them. Their bartenders (as Angelos pointed out) don’t seem to care, and often make excuses and try to pass it off as a characteristic of the beer (doesn’t work on brewers, guys, it just pisses us off and makes us hate your establishment), rather than taking the care to make it right.

  6. June 15, 2012 11:10 am

    We almost went to Swifty’s for the buffalo burger last night! Glad you snuck one in, and hope the doctor brings good news.

  7. -R. permalink
    June 15, 2012 11:24 am

    Beer, especially on tap is certainly a minefield. Between the pressure, freshness, temperature, and issues of hygiene ordering a draft beer can be a maddening experience if one isn’t familiar with the establishment’s practices. The issue of the beer itself and the myriad of styles within each type (top or bottom fermented) are strictly a matter of personal taste. I’m an IPA fan, but I certainly do stray out of the friendly confines of hoppiness from time to time. I am no fan of flavored beers anymore than I am of flavored coffees (the flavoring of which comes from a small bottle of unknown chemicals unceremoniously pooted onto the roasting beans…yuk). Do I really need elderberry, pumpkin or lemongrass beer? How about beets? So-called seasonal beers don’t do much for me either. It’s a cute but unconvincing gimmick. Some folks love ’em, and that’s nice – there’s a market for everything.

    My best advice is to sample widely, become familiar with predominant types, hone in on breweries that consistently produce a product you find palatable, and go from there. I myself can’t stand Davidson, Chatham (both use the wrong malt (for me)), Magic Hat (consistently bland insipid beer), or Harpoon (they all have an underlying taste I find unacceptable). Southern Tier makes wonderful beer across the line, as mostly does Ommegang, DFH, Firestone, Rogue, Great Divide, Flying Dog, etc. It’s all a matter of personal taste.

    ktvorwaldtvorwald – If you see it on tap somewhere (it’s not available bottled), try the Brooklyn Blast.

    • Bill permalink
      June 15, 2012 11:33 am

      Fruit/vegetable/herbed beer isn’t “flavored” like coffee (well, not all of them – some breweries do cheat with extracts). Not so much a gimmick, as many of these specialty styles have roots in history based on availability of ingredients and the desire for variety in what was then a staple product for hydration, sustenance, and in some cases currency.

  8. Gabby permalink
    June 16, 2012 11:42 am

    As a fellow long-time hater of exercise (and sweating, heat, and team sports), may I recommend the only sporty activity I can stand (and have done faithfully for 25 years)? Walking. It’s simple, can be done vigorously or leisurely, requires only comfy shoes, and is nice alone or with a lovely companion. My husband and I walk outside for an hour daily 3/4 of the year and look at it as our special, nature-y treat, and have kept off weight quite effectively (but it won’t make you all muscular, sadly). Of course, it helps that we live in a neighborhood (uptown UAlbany campus area) that is pretty safe & easy to walk, but hopefully you have someplace you could go that is good, too. Good luck with all of your doctor issues–here’s hoping you get good news!

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