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Beer "Service" if You Will

JAB Oct 23, 2009 09:13 AM

Thankfully, beer has come a long way and while there's room for improvement, for the most part, it get's it's proper due on most menus now. Beer "service" however is still lacking. Is it too much to ask that:

1) It's fresh
2) It's served at the proper temperature.
3) The glass is chilled.
4) The glass is replaced for each serving.

I'm disappointed much more often than not to the point that I'm pleasantly surprised to have good beer "service".


  1. b
    beanbagchickenwing Oct 23, 2009 10:15 AM

    Alas, sometimes it is too much to ask...

    Freshness is a crap shoot when dealing with beers that have no bottling or best-by dates anywhere on the bottle, carrier, or case. The beer may have been just delivered to a bar/ restaurant/ store that day, but sitting in various warehouses for months before hand. If you encounter a beer that you are certain is stale, alert your server promptly, but be sure you know all about the particular style of beer you are drinking because it is bad form to try to return something because "it tastes funny" when you had no prior idea what a particular beer tastes like - that's what asking your server is about. "What does this taste like?" I have once witnessed a fool loudly request "a dark manly beer, not all this girly stuff" only to be served something that he wasn't man enough to even get half way through, while the rest of the bar and staff laughed at his ever-reddening face.

    Proper temperature varies depending on the style of beer. If you are the owner of an establishment with limited space, you don't always have the space or money for multiple coolers set at multiple temperatures, and if you have beer on tap, where all the kegs sit in one cooler, can you really have a different cooler set to different temps for each keg? And what about when one keg runs out, and you have to replace it with a different style of beer? Do you also have separate storage areas for keg stock at different temps? As you see, this is getting more complicated and unrealistic by the sentence, so kegs all get stored in one room at one temperature. Some bars do have two separate coolers for different draught lines, but usually just two - one for cask beer, one for all the rest. My local bar added three new tap lines, and had to have a new, separate cooler installed for them right under the tap handles, instead of downstairs, behind the wall etc. with the other, already full cooler. I like to order a beer before I'm ready, and let it sit for a bit.

    Chilled glasses in the beer geek world are a no-no. Most beer in America is served too cold rather than too warm, and chilling a glass merely prolongs the time it takes for a beer to warm up to it's proper temperature. If the glass is frosted - not just chilled - the thin layer of frozen condensation of water will melt into your beer, diluting it slightly. Remember - too cold, and you lose a lot of flavor.

    As for glass replacement, where you been drinking? I've never had a bartender take my used glass and refill it unless they were out of clean glasses. Maybe in a restaurant they leave your glass when you are ordering another of the same, but if you are ordering a different beer, it is never difficult to just say, "excuse me, but may I have a new glass with that?"

    Hope this helps. Also, sign on to popular beer web sights like BeerAdvocate and RateBeer. They are the Chowhound of the beer world, and have many reviews of beers, breweries, brewpubs, bars, and restaurants by city and state. There are better beer bars out there that will go the extra mile for proper beer service, so happy hunting!

    1 Reply
    1. re: beanbagchickenwing
      JAB Oct 23, 2009 10:29 AM

      Thanks for your thoughts but, to an extent, you mised my point. I was aiming my post at restaurants that serve beer more so than beer bars. Concerning the glass replacement, if you have to ask...

    2. shaogo Oct 23, 2009 10:42 AM

      It's of the utmost importance that skilled personnel clean the beer lines/cooling coils *every week.* It's easy to taste the foul product of a dirty beer line.

      While I respect what the poster above says about serving temperatures, sadly, he's in the minority. Beer drinkers who're not conoisseurs demand that their beer be as close to 32 degrees F as possible. Especially in summer, the icy-cold beer we offer in our restaurant is the reason some of our customers come in. It's so easy to check temperatures and maintain modern refrigeration equipent, I just wonder why more places aren't careful about their beer service, temperature-wise.

      Finally, about freshness: the folks at Anheuser-Busch introduced the most comprehensive freshness-dating system in the industry a few years ago. They call it a beer's "born on" date. Their distributors actually come into our restaurant every two months and inventory the bottles and kegs, looking for beer that's past its prime. If they find old beer, they remove it, and it's replaced the next day -- free of charge. If freshness is your thing and you're ordering draft beer, why not order a product distributed by Anheuser-Busch? They don't just carry Budweiser -- they have Long Trail Ale, Widmer Hefeweizen, and other great small-batch beers.

      2 Replies
      1. re: shaogo
        JAB Oct 23, 2009 10:50 AM

        I'm thinking that the temperature issue is an economic one. However, if my 1st isn't right I won't be ordering a 2nd or 3rd.... or possibly even a return visit(s).

        1. re: shaogo
          Jim Dorsch Oct 23, 2009 05:46 PM

          I hear you on the issue of chilled glassware. I would like to see at least the option to drink from glassware that has not been chilled.

          I don't believe freshness is the problem it was a few years ago, and not just because AB applies 'born on' dates.

        2. JessKidden Oct 24, 2009 04:20 AM

          Well, I don't think anyone will argue with wanting the freshest possible beer (save those drinking vintage beers) but my experience has been bartenders either have no idea or get highly insulted when one asks, "What was just tapped?". Not that I mind insulting them, since I've been equally insulted by being served bad draught beer.

          But on the #2-4, the opinions of both the casual beer drinkers and the "beer geeks" are going to vary greatly on what is good "beer service" and most establishments are going to go for what's easiest for them and most accepted by the majority of customers.

          "Proper temperature" is going to be what ever the bottle cooler is set for and whatever temps work best for pouring the draught selections.

          A chilled (and especially a "frosted") glass is NOT wanted by many beer geeks, especially in light of the fact that most beers are already going to be served too cold. My standard request at any bar these days is "I'll have a XYZ IPA in an unchilled glass". (This works to my advantage in my local lately- where all the "shaker pints" (14-16 oz'ers) are in the refrigerator and the most common "warm" glass in a Guinness Imperial Pint "tulip" - so I wind up with more beer, that's closer to my preferred temperature, for the same price).

          The new glass for each beer is, to my mind, a relatively recent phenomenon- it was always common, both while sitting at the bar and, in the case of drinking bottled beer, even at tables to re-use one's glass. To me, it seems rather wasteful to expect a new glass with every refill unless it's a different beer/one is eating buffalo wings, etc. It also means I have to remember to ask for an unchilled glass every time I reorder.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JessKidden
            MGZ Oct 24, 2009 07:48 AM

            Similarly, I don't like chilled glasses and find a new glass for each round wasteful (unless I am changing flavors). I feel like every time I am given a new glass, there is a renewed chance that I get one that hasn't been properly rinsed - nothing worse than tasting the detergent!

          2. k
            kwjd Oct 25, 2009 09:34 PM

            I think glasses being served chilled is one of the biggest problems in service. I cannot think of a single beer style that should be served with a chilled glass. If I'm at a restaurant where I see others have had chilled glasses, I always ask for a room temperature glass.

            3 Replies
            1. re: kwjd
              Jim Dorsch Oct 25, 2009 11:10 PM

              I suppose one might want a light American lager in a chilled glass.

              Publicans must perceive a demand for chilled glassware, because they surely wouldn't provide it if they could avoid the cost and hassle.

              1. re: Jim Dorsch
                chuckl Oct 26, 2009 09:44 AM

                about the only thing American adjunct lagers can say about themselves is that they're cold -- they don't have anything else to offer and they certainly don't want beer drinkers focusing on the taste of the beer because they've worked very hard to insure that there isn't any. So in that regard, anything to keep the beer cold would be considered a benefit.

              2. re: kwjd
                LStaff Oct 26, 2009 09:10 AM

                I usually be sure to request a non-chilled glass when I know I'm at a bar that serves it that way by default, but sometimes, usually in the summer, I enjoy a pale ale or ipa in a chilled glass for my first one. Sometimes necessary too as some places just can't keep their beer cold enough in the summer.

              3. Chinon00 Oct 27, 2009 01:07 PM

                Brewpubs tend to get things right (i.e.: fresh, never outrageously cold, suitable glassware, never chill glassware and knowledgeable about product).

                1. MOREKASHA Oct 28, 2009 01:06 PM

                  I agree w/all except for the chilled glass. It's not too much to ask. However, it's hard to get it right. That's how I learned to drink bourbon. Too many pourly served, stored beers. Thank you Michael Jackson, RIP

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: MOREKASHA
                    TroyTempest Oct 29, 2009 07:46 AM

                    i really hate the frosty mug. The thin sheet of ice melts into your beer thus watering it down all the more.
                    Oh and the pint that is 1 1/2 inches short if you don't count the head. I hate it when that happens.
                    I don't mind a beer being too cold(except for the aforementioned frosty mug problem). It'll always warm up. I just order the second one when the first is about half done.

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