For our first Fervent Few community topic (Join us!), we asked our subscribers how they make decisions on what to drink at the bar. We all have a personal strategy, whether we know it or not, and thinking through those priorities reveals some interesting scenarios.
A Saturday night out with friends. You’ve picked out a bar and now it's time to figure out what to drink. Draft or bottles? How late are you staying?
Happy hour after work. You have time for one.
You just ordered the salmon. Does this place pair their menus?
The number of bottles and taps at restaurants and bars is growing. And with so many different beer styles and breweries, each beer on a 24-option tap list can be unique. Deciding what to order can be a challenge. Whether there’s only time for one or they’re settled in for a night at the bar, this is how GBH’s biggest supporters choose their beers.
[These responses were edited for clarity.]
“If I only have time for one beer: totally dependent on venue/weather/feels of the day.
But if I’m at a brewery that is known for something in particular, I'll try that.
If I’m at a brewery/bar I go to often, I sometimes weigh my decision based what I want them to keeping brewing/stocking. Sometimes I'll avoid the IPA to make sure they keep brewing/stocking the Pilsner/low ABV Porter/insert other beer than the normal 'I only drink IPAs' dude scoffs at.”
“There are a few things that come into play for me: the reputation of the brewery or beer, weather/ABV/style that I'm in the mood for right now, and the bartender's recommendation. I'll often just ask what I should try and usually get a suggestion I'm happy with.
[Note from Plachy: Weather came up a few times. I’ve never been the kind of person who only drinks lighter beers in the warmer months. But I do prefer a good Gose or wheat beer if I’m going to be drinking outside in the Summer.]
“Generally I feel like I go into a night looking for a flavor/mouthfeel. I dictate that idea to the bartender and try to get their suggestion. If that isn't an option, I look at language clues on the menu or on the draft board. I bounce between comfort in brand and something I have never tried before.
I sometimes think people underestimate the power of buzzwords or style descriptions on tap lists. When I see people out, I notice that many only use these descriptions to decide what they are looking for in their heads. I think bars that have a disconnection on this language piece often have customers that are not fulfilled.”
Follow-up question: Do you ever use social media to scout a tap list ahead of time?
“I do, but I am trying to kick this habit, otherwise I'm just going to places to chase beers rather than enjoy where I'm at. If I’m trying to decide on two different places with food and I can't decide, that's a good tie-breaker.”
“I almost always scout a tap list before I go to a bar, even if it's just to start thinking about what I may want to drink. I'm not going to waste my time making a special trip just to be uninspired once I finally see the tap list. In this technological day and age it's fairly inexcusable for any bar not to regularly make tap lists available (and frequently updated) online or on an app.”
“Personally, I like the surprise, so I rarely use any apps or websites. I try and keep the outside influence to a minimum. When I scan the tap list I look for things I've never had and usually start with something outside my comfort zone. It will either be great, terrible, or meh. But more often than not, it is memorable.”
“If I'm headed to dinner with friends and beer isn't the primary driver of why we chose the spot then generally I'll check out the list the morning of but more out of curiosity than to decide if it's where to go. I do the same for the food menu, though. It's not a strict routine, though. If traveling on vacation, I'll do research and maybe have one must go-to spot then have options in different neighborhoods depending on where I end up. But I'm not checking the beer list that day for anything, more a month or so in advance to get a feel for what's offered.”
Follow-up question: Beer dinners are a fun way to taste through beers, but what happens when you’re left to your own devices? Do you tend to pair beers with what food you're going to order at a restaurant?
“I like to get the Stout instead of dessert. Most of the time I'm ordering the food then getting the beer to pair, but there have been times when wanting the beer dictates the food choice.”
“I'll still have the heavy beer. Just might be after dinner or I'll get something lighter with dinner. Doesn't always work that way. Just a variable I consider.”
Obviously, there’s no wrong way to decide what beer you’ll be drinking when you go out but I’ve always wondered if everyone studies a tap list the same way I do. It was no shock to find out that other people don’t refresh websites to see what's on tap quite as frequently. However, it was comforting to see that I’m not the only one who has a standard plan of attack. Finally, I’ll leave you with the words of Garrett Van Shaick who decided to describe his perfect Summer night of drinking.
“Give me a summer afternoon, post Ann Sathers, and some salty dry pretzels and peanuts to wick away the IBU's clinging to my tongue. This is how I make my way through sunny season tap lists. Kölsch as needed, effervescent spicy/fruity sours to punctuate and close out. Rinse and repeat until Ubers stop surging.”
We're still talking about this on Fervent Few, our subscriber community. And a host of other topics every day. Periodically, we'll gather up the highlights and share them here on GBH.