Legend holds that in 1962 manager Casey Stengel assembled his New York Mets, to this very day still baseball’s worst-ever team, and asked them a question: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
It’s the way I often feel when handed a beer list or pointed in the direction of the generic untappd-sponsored video board: “Can’t anybody here do beer?”
40-odd years since the American swillocracy awoke to face the only real challenge to its hegemony since Prohibition ended, I sometimes have little choice but to conclude that we’ve lost considerable ground in terms of basic better-beer education.
Beer with a Stoic is an industry exile’s effort to make sense of an uncomprehending world. After all, it’s not whether you win or lose, but that you still know how to play this game.
A customer is approaching. They appear a tad uncertain. You greet them with a smile.
“Hi, it’s my first time here.”
“Thanks for coming by. What can I do for you?”
“I know this is a ‘beer place,’ except I don’t like beer at all. What else do you have to drink?”
“We have wine and spirits, even alcohol-free seltzer, but if you don’t mind my asking, which beers have you tasted and didn’t care for?”
“Oh, I’ve tried them all – Coors Banquet, PBR, Bud Light, whatever. They’re all nasty.”
“Agreed. But here’s a wee taste of a beer style we call ‘anything that isn’t gimpy golden-colored fizzy lager.’ We have many examples on draft.”
A timid taste is taken, and the clouds grandly part.
“Wow, this is beer? This tastes like bananas/coffee/citrus/pumpernickel. I had no idea beer could be like this.”
“Yes, it can. Let’s find one for you.”
I’m not saying it always works this way, although you’d be surprised how often guests who explicitly insist they “don’t like beer” react with excitement to genuine stylistic choice, primarily because they’ve never once tasted beers that differ from the standard mass market/popularly priced golden lagers, which all taste exactly alike, and differ only by label art, price point and which specific shareholders receive their dividend checks.
Consequently, if all they’ve had is High Life, Michelob Ultra or Silver Bullet, you can recommend almost anything that is not a standard golden lager, and there’s a very good chance they’ll be intrigued precisely because the experience is so novel.
Therefore, you’re not only appealing to beer aficionados (ones not unlike me) by aiming for the sort of well-balanced draft beer lineup I’m forever advocating, as comprised of different styles, shades and strengths. You’ll also be providing choices for guests who’ve never been enamored of poor attitudes like this back bar conversation:
“Just give ‘em the lightest beer possible, and they’ll be fine.”
It’s not that simple, except when it is, as when a guest informs you “I’m a Bud Man, damn it.”
Sadly, this is the expression of a fixed mindset, and while it isn’t impossible to exert influence, the task is far more difficult. Ironclad brand loyalty suggests an internalized badge of self-identity somewhat akin to religious affiliation or political party. Specifically, it’s what they need to be seen drinking, and the task of broadening their outlook is slow and incremental.
However, there is good news, too. Those guests who drink the same mass market beer like clockwork, each and every time, generally make few demands about their beer’s mode of delivery.
Granted, some among the more chronologically advanced might be heard saying oddball things like “I’m a bottle baby tried and true” or “cans have an awful metallic flavor.” These rote habits of thought were picked up long before the advent of the internet, but whether the preferred package is a bottle or a can, it will most often be consumed without the assistance of a glass or cup.
Because with draft beer in a standard glass or cup, who can tell what’s being consumed?
And, if brand identity is anonymous, it’s no longer brand loyalty. Remember, one must be seen drinking a particular brand.
As such, if drinkers of mass market/popularly priced brands usually are satisfied by cans or bottles sans glassware, you needn’t tie up a draft line with PBR, Coors Banquet or Old Style.
Rather, your draft lines should be plotted with the same precision and care as the food menu or cocktail list, and not merely handed over to the whims of sales reps and itinerant bartenders, or used to pander to the fleeting whims of the cosplay demographic.
To repeat: they’ll drink the least expensive vintage-label can in most cases anyway.
It’s not merely a question of aesthetics. It’s about profits. Mark up draft Guinness and Coors Banquet the same percentage, and watch as you make more money off each pour with the Stout.
You’ll still be making a healthy mark-up on bottles and cans of the various brands of domestic pet shampoo, although the existence of Mexican corn lager probably should be prompting me to dive into free trade agreements and mega-corporate acquisitions, and I’m tempted to make an exception for Yuengling (this will be the topic of a future column).
It’s just math.
This is nothing personal.*
* My current favorite sports business podcast is Nothing Personal with David Samson, the former baseball executive. If sporting dollars and sense interest you, check it out.
Beers with a Stoic closes a circle that dates to 1978, when my first college class was “Intro to Philosophy.” Later, philosophy and history were my major and minor, respectively. Stoicism comes to us from ancient Greece, positing that to embrace the virtues of wisdom, courage, justice and moderation, we can attain “ataraxia,” or a sense of inner tranquility and harmony in our own lives, focusing on matters we can control — thoughts, emotions, and actions — while accepting the things we cannot, like the actions of others, or the natural course of events taking place in the world around us. No one is perfect, least of all me. But we all keep trying, pausing here and there for a beer. For more: Stoicism.