We've all been there: a new beer bar opens up down the block, boasting multiple rotating crafts on draft, an endless bottle selection, and maybe even a menu of belly-warming pub food fit for some epic Sunday sessions.
But is this bar destined to become your new favorite hang? Or is this joint just another clueless industry entrepreneur's attempt to cash in on the craft beer boom? Abide by this handy checklist and you'll have no trouble separating the best beer bars from the fake ones.
Quality trumps quantity
Experienced drinkers would take a handful of well-curated drafts over a massive 100-tap list any day of the week. With that number of options, menus get overly complicated, keeping things clean becomes practically impossible, and kegs take forever to kick, squashing the excitement of constant rotation and upping the chances of a stale pour. Who needs 25 different West Coast-style IPAs, anyhow?
The draft lines are super clean
Draft lines, those all-important little plastic tubes that connect keg to cup, can play a huge role in the way your beer tastes and pours -- and they really shouldn't. If lines aren't flushed every two weeks, they can build up bacteria, resulting in super-foamy beer or funky off-flavors like rotten eggs, vinegar, or buttered popcorn. Dirty lines can even spur nasty infections in your gut. Not a good look. And not a good place to drink.
The temperature isn't an afterthought
If a keg is kept too warm, its beer is foamy, flat, and has a greater chance of spoiling. On the flip side, beer poured too cold lacks flavor, numbing your poor taste buds into submission. While each style demands a slightly different serving temp -- lagers like it frosty, while stouts taste best closer to 55 degrees -- most good bars do their best to keep their walk-ins at a pleasant 38. And some even accommodate multiple temps for optimal pours across styles.
Your beer's got head
Good beer needs to breathe. Ample head allows carbonation to rise and accumulate on the surface, relieving the beer below of excess taste bud-deadening bubbles and providing a platform for delicious aromas. What's more, low or no head can indicate dirty glassware or improper keg temperature. So stop worrying about being deprived of that final ounce of alcohol and embrace the foam.
It thinks outside the grain
A good beer bar relies on a diverse tap lineup to charm drinkers of all kinds -- even the gluten intolerant. If you walk into a taproom and encounter a dedicated cider line or spy some quality packaged options on the shelf, you know you're in a top-notch joint.
The glassware game is on point
When it comes to glassware, most American bars are pretty ambivalent. But, as seasoned beer geeks know, there's an entire exhilarating world beyond the shaker pint. In beer-savvy places like Belgium, for instance, each brand of beer comes with its very own glass, specially constructed to showcase its particular appearance, aroma, taste, and mouthfeel. Here in the States, a great beer bar will offer a variety of glassware, with barkeeps well versed in which shapes and sizes best complement each style.
It drinks local
Walk into your neighborhood pub and scan the tap list. Were most of the options brewed out of state? Maybe even across the country? Aside from specialty joints like Belgian or German beer halls, great bars should reserve at least a portion of their menu for local drafts. Not only does this practice cut down on shipping's environmental impact, it also guarantees that the beer you're about to imbibe is of the utmost freshness. So make sure your bar supports the little guy -- what benefits the community benefits your glass.
You can try before you buy
While I'm in no way advocating for ice cream shop-level sampling, a quality beer bar will never shy away from offering its customers a little taste before they decide on a pint. Some places even offer flights for more indecisive clientele. In a marketplace as crowded as craft beer's has become, even the nerdiest of beer experts can get lost in the shuffle. There's no shame in asking for a sip -- the best beertenders always value education over expediency.
The bartenders know their stuff
The dudes manning the sticks should be adept at talking shop with any customer, from Stella-swigging newbies to over-saturated neckbeards and everyone in between. The last thing a great beer bar wants is to turn a potential craft convert off with false information or a poorly trained staff. So, if your bartender can't explain the difference between a porter and a pale, feel free to get the hell out of dodge.
Beer isn't paired with attitude
At the same time, nobody likes a wiseass. With all the different styles, brands, and unfamiliar terms, craft beer bars can be super-intimidating places for newcomers, and facing off with a snobby staff is just another barrier keeping drinkers from making the switch to craft. Even fancy-pants beer bars realize that beer should be approachable, interesting, and fun -- it's only beer, after all. Everybody should be able to get behind that.
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