By HAYDON DEWES
Welcome to Taproom 101. Class will begin shortly.
On my CBC Eyeopener column this week (you can listen to it here), I spoke about visiting Calgary’s brewery taprooms. Sounds easy enough right? You visit the taproom, you get beer? Well, yes and no. It’s very different to going to a regular bar. In fact, if you screw it up, you’ll walk away -. Taprooms have their own culture. You must learn the code.
When Hell’s Basement Brewery opened in Medicine Hat last year, they were compelled to issue a note to the public telling them what to expect when they visited – namely that there is no food service and that they should expect to wait a little due to the crowds. It was a smart move – the taproom culture in Alberta is still very much in its infancy, and managing expectations is key to a good time.
With the number of breweries opening up in Calgary and Alberta, customers are becoming more acquainted to the idiosyncrasies of drinking from the source, where the hours can be weird, the taproom like drinking in the middle of a factory and where an atmosphere of “make yourself at home and sort yourself out” reigns. The benefits are sublime though – fresh beer, straight from the source, at times just days (or even hours) out of the conditioning tank. And there is usually a beer on tap at the taproom that you won’t be able to get anywhere else. Bonus!
Here are five quick and easy tips to adapt to taproom life.
I don’t mean literally help yourself to beer from the taps or from the brite tanks (the big steel tanks where beer is conditioned and carbonated) but go to the bar and order your own beer. It is very rare to be served at your table and it’s almost certain that you will die of thirst before someone comes to wait on you. The breweries that have full restaurants are slightly different – they will have servers – but in most other breweries it’s every wo/man for him/herself.
Another important thing to remember is that small brewery taprooms have limited food on offer – in some cases is just packets of chips and some popcorn. They’re normally cool about patrons bringing in or ordering in their own food though. Pizza goes marvelously with beer and there are no dishes!
Buy things to take away
Microbrewery owners are, for the most part, scraping along on the bones of their behinds. Bring an empty growler with you (if you don’t have one, it’s your chance to buy one) to fill and take some beer home to share with friends. Buy your mom a sticker. Buy your dad a hat. Get yourself a t-shirt and don’t forget a six-pack to share with your neighbours. Profits of these sales go straight to the brewery owners to help them pay back their massive amounts of debt. Do your bit – it will be greatly appreciated.
Expect the unexpected
A compressor may kick on unexpectedly, very loudly. Brewing may be in process, which means hissing, yelling, thumping and steam. Some sweaty, bearded brewer assistant may drag a trolley jack through the middle of the taproom laden with sacks of grain. The usual beer you love may have run out – but it’s just as likely a new beer may be on.
Tell others about your experience
There’s nothing brewery owners love more than hearing what people think of their beer or their taproom – that’s the very reason they exist, to make the best beer possible and share it with as many people possible, in the space they very likely built with their own hands. Go to Google and leave a review, or visit www.albertabreweries.ca and give it a star rating and a review. Be honest. If something was amiss, it’s in everyone’s interest to raise it and get it sorted out. Just be constructive and civil – which leads me to my last point.
Don’t be a dick
Taprooms tend to be way more casual than a pub – more like going to a garage party than a sports bar. Chat to the person next to you, offer to share your table and talk about the beer you’re drinking. Tip your bar staff. Give honest feedback about the beer you are drinking – brewers are just as happy to have constructive feedback as they are glowing praise. Chances are you’ll find a new buddy to talk beer to. I’ve been in situations where we’ve met people and carried on brewery crawling with them. Don’t be put off by the scraggly beards and the glasses – beer people are good people when you give them a chance.