Drinking Beer in Beer Bars

In Ireland, the United Kingdom, and most of western and central Europe, the pub culture is still intact. Many pubs and taverns are quaint, quiet places where you can comfortably enjoy a drink with the local folk, who know just about everybody (Norm!). Women and children are traditionally part of the daytime crowd. More often than not, the beer on tap is a local delicacy that’s served and drunk with pride and respect.

Despite the history of prohibition, the beer-can culture, and the lack of beer variety, some of that Old World–style pride and respect is returning to the United States in the form of dedicated beer bars. Beer bars, unlike brewpubs and gastropubs, have reputations built on the quantity and quality of beers on their beer menu.

Of course, this trend isn’t without its extremes: Some U.S. beer bars endeavor to be grand Germanic beer halls, others strive to be old-fashioned Celtic pubs, and others aspire to the brewpub concept, going as far as installing fake or inoperable brewing equipment in order to affect the ambience of a pub-brewery.

The beer police have recently reported that beer snobbery is on the rise, so watch out for those people who’ve just discovered that good beer is cool and have become beer experts overnight. As more everyday bars with good beer selections enter this expanding and competitive market, beer is sometimes forced to take a back seat to live bands, the clang and crash of pinball machines, rowdy crowds, and beer ignoramuses. Choose your destinations carefully.

Many beer bars stake their reputation on the length and breadth of their bottled beer list. Offering three, four, and even five hundred different brands of beer isn’t unusual for some of these places — and isn’t necessarily a good thing. Why?

  • First of all, stocking that many different brands in any quantity is a near physical impossibility, so your choice is likely to be sold out.

  • Second, not only is stocking that much beer difficult, but storing it at the proper cool temperature is probably out of the question.

  • Third, when a bar offers such a mind-boggling number of beers, stocks of particular beers can’t possibly sell quickly.

Instead of stocking hundreds of aging and breakable bottles of beer, wise bar owners have invested in dozens of draught lines and tap handles and now offer as many beers on draught as space allows. You can find bars that offer 10, 20, or 50 different brews on tap, much of it as fresh as just-picked hops. In the United States, craft-brewed beers occupy most of the tap space; a few bars have even made arrangements with local craft brewers to receive a regular supply of beer to be sold under the bar brand name.

To most beer drinkers, draught beer is better than bottled beer. Why? Because draught beer

  • Is fresher (the beer is delivered quickly, sometimes directly from the brewery)

  • Is usually unpasteurized (the taste hasn’t been killed along with the microbes)

  • Has probably been stored properly (people who order by the keg are typically more interested in beer quality than those who don’t)

  • Has smaller bubbles and a creamier texture than bottled beer, if poured right — especially with a handpull tap.

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