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Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Beer Number

Sometimes I will ask someone "How is the tap selection at Joe's Bar & Grille?" and they can answer things like "good", "crappy", "great" etc put that doesn't really convey much information unless I know their tastes in beer.

What I really want to know is how good a chance is there that there will be something I would enjoy drinking.

After sitting and staring at the taps at too many places, I've come up with a "Beer Number" concept and I could use some help in refining it.

A couple of points before I start:

1) It is not really of use for specialty beer places. Its more to identify those places that have 30 beers on tap and nothing worth drinking or only a few taps but worth a visit. So comparing the number of two specialty beer places doesn't really make sense.

2) I am trying to make it as objective as possible -- I know it's impossible to make it totally objective but I want to avoid injecting too much personal bias.

3) It is built on the premise that in general smaller breweries make better (or more interesting) beer than larger breweries.

OK, here is how it works: Each tap handle at a places gets assigned a number:

If the beer is advertised nationally on TV/Cable it gets a -1. The theory is they are spending money on advertising and not the beer. I understand that some places need to have a mass market beer or two for but one or two negative points shouldn't hurt them too much. But lots of them means that most of the beer they serve is mass crap and they probably don't move much of the good beers so it likely not it the best of shape.

If the beer is a "craft beer" (and I realize that is subjective) it gets a +1

If it is a large brewer but not one advertised nationwide in the US then it gets a zero -- doesn't help but doesn't hurt. In this category would be most of the "imports" -- beers like Newcastle, Guinness, Bass, Becks, etc. Now some of those I would personally give a -1, but if they don't advertise they get the benefit of the doubt.

In addition, like in Ski Jumping, there are style points:

+1 If the beer is a seasonal. I think this is good for a couple of reasons: it implies the taps change periodically. And even a large brewery's seasonal beer can be interesting.

+1 If cask beer. I won't be as doctrinally strict as CAMRA -- cask breathers allowed. But keg beer served with a beer engine gets no bonus -- maybe even a deduction :)

+1 If a rare beer, not usually found on draft in the area.

There is a place that I often go to lunch, a neighborhood sort of place. They have seven taps: one is Bud Light (-1) and another Murphy's Stout (0). There is always Anchor Liberty, a beer from Firestone and usually a beer from Stone in San Diego. The other two rotate though one is usually a wheat beer (American style) or some light ale. I would say there is on average a least one seasonal so the "Beer Number" for this place would be 5 of 7.

Another place nearby that we often take out of town guests -- good food, good service and a great view of the Marina. They have 25-30 taps -- lets say 28 for discussion's sake. They get at least -8 for the mass market beers and usually have three +1 beers: Anchor Libery (which even after 10 years they still list as "Anchor Steam Liberty" :( ), Widmer Hefeweizen and a beer from Kona Brewery (more on that later). So they score -5 of 28. Not a good sign.

Now some questions for the collective:

1) How do you score contract beers? Myself, I would treat them like any other beer brewed at that brewery. The Kona beers on the mainland are brewed (I beleive) by Gordon Biersch so I would give them +1

2) How do you score beer brewed at a smaller or specialty brewery that is owned by a large brewery or brewing group? Again, I would make my decision on the brewery (and the beer), not the owner.

3) Do you count taps or beers. Some places my have (say) four Budweiser taps because they serve a lot of that beer. I would score that a -4 (one for each tap). The only problem is another place (the new Father's Office in LA) has 72 taps -- two each of 36 beers. Their score would be inflated.

4) How do you score beers like Pilsener Urquell, Leffe , etc that may have once been decent but are nowhere near what they once were, but are still better than mass crap?

One suggestion I have had was we have a maximum score -- that beyond a certain point there is really no new information and the the places like the Yard House with 200+ taps the beer quality will start to suffer.

Any thoughts?