Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Why I don't need a pint of beer anymore

I was something of a regular back at the old Mahar’s on Madison Avenue. Draught beers were dispensed in 20oz “imperial pints” (technically 19.2 American ounces, but who’s counting?). I never really understood the desire to drink such a large serving, especially when you consider it’s just a few ounces less than what you get in a 22oz “bomber” bottle (and those are intended to be shared). The only time I ever ordered beer by the imperial pint was in the summer when there was a refreshing hefeweizen or witbier available. Otherwise, I would stick to 10oz half pints. I always thought this was an efficient way to order beer at Mahar’s since you were only allowed to add four beers to your “tour” per day anyway. Four 10oz servings, over the course of a few hours, meant that I could still drive home afterwards. Four imperial pints would be the equivalent of drinking an entire six-pack (and then some); I wouldn’t trust even the most seasoned beer drinker to drive home after 76.8oz of beer.

At most bars, pubs, and restaurants, the standard serving size is a 16oz pint. Usually, a single pint will suffice, but rarely will I have more than two. There are a few reasons for this:
  • I lost about 50 pounds in the last few years. There was a time I could eat and drink a lot more than I currently can (and do) ingest. I literally get full after two pints (or sometimes one pint and a meal). That’s not a matter of being a lightweight, it’s a matter of being literally light in weight.
  • Most establishments that serve draught beer only by the pint tend not to be craft-beer friendly anyway (fast casual chains are a good example). If the selection stinks, I might order a Blue Moon or Sam seasonal; but since those beers don’t really excite me, getting through a single pint may be a bit challenging. What do I need more for?
  • The shaker or tumbler glass seems to be the predominate vessel for a 16oz serving. Those of us who really know beer know shaker glasses are terrible since they do not hold a head, aroma, or carbonation. They’re uncomfortable to hold and most of them are ugly to look at. Even the way the glass rests on the lips is uncomfortable.

Thankfully, the proliferation of craft beer has led to changes in the way draught beer is sold. Non-chain pubs and restaurants are beginning to realize that offering more variety is a way of attracting customers with good taste in both food and beer. You’ll often see a venue you wouldn’t normally consider to be a craft beer establishment have a tap takeover or some kind of sampling or publicity event. They’re offering better beer in higher quantity and selling it in smaller pours so that customers can graze the taps rather than pick one and commit to it. They’re doing so through the use of 8-12oz pours via stemmed glassware and by offering flights.

In my opinion, beer flights are the best way to go when you’re out to drink beer (i.e. not out to get hammered). At least, it’s the way I usually drink beer when I’m at a place that offers it. Local venues such as The Bier Abbey, Madison Pour House and The Beer Belly all have a large number of beers on tap and they offer most of them in 4 or 5oz pours for $2-$4 each on average. This enables me the freedom to pair beer to my mood, the season, and the food I’m eating. This time of year I’m likely to order a flight of porters and stouts. In the summer, it’s wheat beers, pale ales and a gose or Berliner Weisse. Of course there are pumpkin beers and Oktoberfests to try in the fall, and saisons and bocks in the spring. Or maybe it’s just been a while since I’ve had a particular beer and I want to try it again without committing to a full pint.

What’s also nice about flights is that they make me feel as though I’ve drank a lot more beer than I have. After a dinner and a flight I’ll feel very content because I got to try so many brews. Yet, I’m not stuffed or bloated or drunk and I can still drive home without issue. It’s actually a strange sensation because my brain associates drinking multiple beers with being drunk, but my body knows I consumed in moderation.

If you’ve read any of my brewpub reviews, you know that when I go to a brewpub (or brewery tap room) for the first time, I like to sample as many (if not all) of their beers that I can. As someone who appreciates all styles of beer, this enables me to try a variety rather than just gamble and assume the IPA or imperial stout is their best beer. I’ve been to many breweries whose best suds were hefeweizen, witbier, sour, or some kind of niche style. It’s unlikely I would’ve experienced that had it not been for flights.

I could probably list off 100 more reasons why flights are awesome and you’re awesome if you like them, though I think those points have already been raised in the comments section of Greg’s blog (aside from being common knowledge among craft beer enthusiasts). A bigger issue worth addressing is: how can we can get more bars and restaurants to offer flights?