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How to Spot a Good Beer Bar

I’m normally a wine drinker, but when I was pregnant with the twins, I really started craving beer. I’d be drinking my hot water with lemon, but loved the aromas and color of beer in a way I never have before. Now that the kids are here, my husband and I enjoy a craft beer on date night. But it can’t be just at any bar, it has to be at a Good Beer Bar (GBB).

Here’s how to spot a good beer bar:

1)   The offerings on draft are written on a chalkboard.

That means the beers rotate through the bar on a frequent enough basis that the bar has given up printing what’s on tap on their menus.  Also, bonus points if the date that each keg was tapped is listed.

2)   The offerings of bottled beers should be large.

I’m talking long enough to take up an entire page of a typically sized menu. Bonus points if the bartender hands you a three ring binder when you ask for a list of their bottled selection.

3)  There’s a sweet spot for the ambiance.

A good beer bar is certainly not brightly lit, but should not be too dark to be able to read.  It should also not have ferns of any variety.  The music should be at a low volume as Beer lovers can be chatty and prefer to have their conversations at a lower decibel than the apple martini crowd.

4)  A GBB will understand if a customer is overwhelmed by their selection.

In order to assist someone in making a decision it is common for a bartender to offer a shot-glass sized “tester”. This was a wonderful revelation to me.

5)  An honest GBB bartender would be able to help you pair anything on the menu.

If you’re on the fence about the place, ask for a wine list. When the barkeep goes to retrieve it, consider leaving to search for a better bar.

6)  Beer can be more than a lifestyle, it’s a calling.

Bartenders at a GBB are the “true believers” and should see their role as part mystic, part shaman, part educator.  If you seem indecisive about a beer to choose from and the bartender seems uninterested in assisting you in your quest, then something is amiss.  If you haven’t already, try #5.

7)  A GBB will have beers that match the season.

Crisp, cool fall weather will pair nicely with spiced pumpkin ale.  Summer time heat can be beat with a refreshing wheat beer, possibly brewed with a hint of summer time fruit.  If you are looking at a summer beer on tap in January, it’s time to consider moving on to find a proper GBB.

8)  Count the number of beers they have on tap.

A true GBB will have at least 8, preferably more.  Remember to discard any domestics (especially light ones) from your count.

9)  An “Around the World” beer club.

They’re not as in vogue as they once were, but an established GBB should be expected to have had an “Around the World” beer club at some time in its operation.

10) You can pour your own.

See photo above taken at Augustiner Bräu in Salzburg.  Actually what I’m doing is cooling off the mugs under cool water so that when I take them to be filled the cool temperature will create a nice foamy head.  But we all can dream can’t we?

What’s your favorite GBB? Be sure to include the city and your top pick!

This Post Has 18 Comments
  1. Nicely written blog, spot on!

    In my neck of the woods, Rapid City South Dakota, I have to nominate the Independent Ale House. A quick perusal of their website will show you why. They do have wine(item 5) but let’s face it, some people just don’t like beer and even though it may be a major character flaw, I still want to spend time with them.

    You are not alone in your love of beer smells, when pregnant with our first child, my Wife and I had a ritual, when I was served my draft, she immediately got to sniff it. She craved the smell of the beer, especially Killian’s.

  2. Great column. A couple of my favorites are Four Peaks brewery in Tempe, AZ. My favorite brews are the Kilt Lifter and the Sirius Black. In San Diego check out Hamilton’s in the South Park neighborhood and Tornado in North Park. Thanks for posting this great column. Congratulations on the new addition to your family. I will be looking forward to more beer related columns in the future.

  3. My specialist subject (and as a beer nerd and mom, I certainly recall that period of only being able to sniff and admire some of my favorite beers for months)! We’re lucky to have many great beer bars here in and just beyond Philly, including some on my own train line;Teresa’s Next Door and TJ’s Everyday are world-class, and we have a fabulous new ‘brewcafe’ called Tired Hands, which is making some of the most creative (and, more importantly, successfully creative) beers anywhere, along with some amazing home-baked bread. I could go on and on…

  4. The Golden Bee located and the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs is one of my favorites. Good selection of beers, with a few local brews on tap. It’s an actual english pub that was originally imported to New York. You can’t beat it for ambience. Enjoy. Don’t forget to say hi, I may be sitting right next to you.

  5. Capital Ale House, Richmond Virginia has a few hundred brews from all around the world. The Beer “menu” could double as a tent if opened and laid on it’s side. Think of the New York Times as a beer menu, live bands, & the food is great too ! I can’t wait for your new special on T/C ! You look great ! Hang in there, you’ll need a beer before long !

  6. Sam, thanks to your show my husband and I went to the Augustiner brewery/beer hall in Salzburg (as pictured here). We had the best time! And drank a beer in your honor. Thanks for all you do — we travelers appreciate it very, very much!

  7. when in Bavaria, be absolutely certain to visit the Andechser Monastery in Ehrling, Bayern, Deutschland. The monks have been brewing Germany’s favorite beer for 600 years. Tour the classical Rococo cathedral, the grounds, and the wonderful bierstube.
    You won’t go wrong with any of the wonderful on-site concoctions. PROSIT !!

  8. Max’s Taphouse in Fells Point, Baltimore MD! Over 100 on tap. Probably 1 thousand in bottles. Well cared for and several menus updated daily. Beer Mecca!

  9. That’s cool that a number of bars will actually let you have a shot-glass sized “tester” so that you can try more of their selection. Recently, I’ve moved to a city, and I want to find some good nightlife. Your tips will help me find a great bar that I can start going to.

  10. Aloha Samantha! This was hard for me to choose between the Tap Room in St. John USVI, and the Kona Brewing Co. in Kailua-Kona on the Big island. Both have an amazing rotating lineup not to mention some of the best eats on the island! If you go to St. John, be sure to visit St. John Brewers @Mongoose Junction in Cruz Bay. In Kona, they’ve added a new outdoor music venue next to the Brewery. I saw Jimmie Vaughan & Lou Ann Barton there once! Okole maluna! a hui hou…

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