Blog - beers


How to order a beer in a beer bar with too many options


Walking into a bar boasting over 100 beers can be very overwhelming. As a bartender, it can be difficult when customers have no idea what they want. As a customer, it's always good to start with the basics: do you want a light or dark beer? Luckily, most beer bars have menus showing a spectrum of beers and their colors. Another point when helping customers pin down a beer is alcohol content. Regarding this last point, a good question to ask a customer is, “Do you have a preference for alcohol content (or strength) of your beer”? Informing patrons that light in color does not mean it’s light in calories or % alcoholcan teach the customer new and interesting things, which never hurts your bottom line as a bar or bartender.  For example, most customers are intrigued to learn Guinness, as black as it is, has low alcohol and body.  

Let’s say you decide you want a light beer, and you mean light in general, in every way. It’s time to step up to the bar and order. A good way to start might be asking the barman, “What do you have that is light in body and low A.B.V.?”. However, that is a lot to say. So instead you might ask, “You got anything refreshing?”. In fact, the best way for a barman to find out what to serve, is by giving them an example of what you feel like. The statement, “I’d like something like an IPA” or “Something like Heineken, but one I haven’t tried before”, can fast track us to finding the right beer for your experience - “Have you tried Radeberger? Like Heineken, but more malty”. Again, by going further, adding “Radeberger is German, unlike Heineken, which most people don’t know is Dutch,” a bartender can give a customer more to take-away than simply liquids in their stomachs.

Any good bartender working a multiple beer bar should have go-to beers. For example, if a customer wants something “light and not too strong”, we could offer Miller 64 (2.8% A.B.V.) or Beck’s Premier Light (2.3% A.B.V.) or even Amstel Light which has 3.5% A.B.V. However, these beers are too ordinary. People at bars with a ton of beers asking for suggestions usually want something they’ve never tried before, something perhaps exotic and rare. So, at my bar (Golden Gate Tap Room in SF), in the light and refreshing category, I’d suggest Bike Party Pils by Sudwerk Brewing Co. It’s delicious and locally made in Davis, California. Local brews are particularly good choices for tourists.

If you want something darker, Red Trolley Ale might be my suggestion. It has respectable alcohol content and weight, and is approachable. An approachable beer won’t be too aggressive or overpowering. But wait, you’ve had Red Trolley before? Not to worry, with over 100 beers, I always have at least two go-to beers. This time we’ll recommend something really unusual just in case. How about Berryessa Whippersnapper?! Bet you haven't heard of that before.

As a customer, you should expect bartenders to know what products they have behind the bar, and enough knowledge to guide where you need to go. If the bartender is really busy, you might have to be patient and/or help them focus by giving them clear, concise information. In general, it’s a good idea to have one or more of the following information to help the bartender help you find a new beer experience at the bar:

  1. Have a brand similar to what you’re looking for.

  2. Have an idea of the strength (i.e. hearty or refreshing).

  3. Have a preference for the color.

  4. Have a favorite region or country you’re looking to taste.

Bartenders, don’t be surprised that after all that, your customer may just want a Budweiser!


INSTRUCTOR - 2002, that was the year Timmy came to San Francisco. We can't tell you he had a meteoric rise, but he put his time in, and that's what builds the character we need to pass on to those looking for a shortcut. More than anything else, Tim knows the value of working behind the plank, stick, rudder or whatever euphemism is used these days to simply say bar.