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On Dogfish Head, Uber Tavern, and Bartender Etiquette

Originally published at GeekBeer. Please leave any comments there.

Yesterday, a friend and I were at Uber Tavern getting our tri-weekly keg for work. We buy premium kegs every 3 weeks like clockwork and have been buying exclusively from Uber for about 6 months. (What does “premium” mean? Our last keg was the Allagash White and weighed in at $260.)

So yesterday, the bartender wheels out our keg and we decide to stay and sip on schooners of the Southern Tier Oak Aged Unearthly. I’d never had it on tap and I’m in the mood for an IPA.

I also notice that they have the Dogfish Head Punkin’ on tap. I’ve had two bottles of this and hated it, but I’m willing to give it another go because I love pumpkin beers and… well… some part of me still wants to give Dogfish another chance.

On Dogfish Head

Dogfish Head, or DFH as it’s known, brews a staggering number of different beers. They have 8 in their “all the time” lineup and another dozen or more in their “seasonal” selections.

I’ve had many of them, and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed more than 10% of their offerings. Of their year-round beers, I’ve had the 60 minute IPA, the 90 minute, the Midas Touch, the Palo Santo, and Raison d’Etre. The Midas is the only one of the bunch that I would think about drinking again — it’s a B+ beer. The rest are, at best, C+ brews.

I’ve also had the Red and White, the 120, the Black and Blue, the India Brown Ale, the Punkin’, and the Chicory Stout. For my dollar, none are worth having again. A good friend also says that the Fort might be the worst beer he’s ever had.

But I figured I should at least taste the Punkin’ on tap, as I said. And I did. And it wasn’t any better than the bottle. A list of complaints I have with the Punkin’:

  • The pumpkin character is nil. The spice character is nonexistent. I don’t know what they’re doing to completely kill the flavors of these ingredients, but it’s working.
  • The beer isn’t interesting. It starts bubbly and malty like a standard Amber Ale and finishes with hot alcohols like a shitty homebrew.
  • The hot alcohols. What. The. Shit. This beer finishes spicy from what I think is hot fermentation. It’s just bad.
  • The mouthfeel is unfit for the style and the gravity, making the beer seem watery.
It probably goes without saying that I won’t be giving DFH much more of my money.

Now before you say, “But what about World Wide Stout? And Sah’tea? Or Aprihop?”, I’m going to say two things. First, that this experience is — like all experiences — is my own, and second, that every brewery has a few good beers. The measure of a brewery is not its best beer. The measure of a brewery is the ability to pick up literally anything they brew and have it be great.

Out of the… beers DFH has released, only a handful are worth drinking.

When Avery comes out with something new, I try it. It’s not always blow-your-socks-off amazing, but it’s always good. The same is true of Stone, Allagash, Russian River, Deschutes, Full Sail, and hell, even Redhook. All these breweries make beers that I don’t like, but the consistent quality of their releases is good enough that I keep coming back. Out of the three dozen beers DFH has released, only a handful are worth drinking. That’s not the mark of a good brewery. That’s the mark of a lucky brewer.

That I’m hesitant rather than excited when someone hands me a new DFH brew says a lot.

On Uber Tavern and Bartender Etiquette

Uber is a great little spot on Highway 99 (”Aurora”) in Seattle. It’s in a weird place, but their beer selection is fantastic. It’s a bar and a beer store, and you can walk out with bottles and kegs as you see fit. We’ve been going there for 6 months or so, spending about $300/month on average on kegs and maybe $70 a month on beer. We’re not big spenders, but we’ve developed a relationship with them.

Yesterday we walked in and the bartender, a young Asian kid whose name we don’t know (yet), wheeled out our keg. We asked for pints of the Oak Aged Unearthly and started chatting with him about beer, as we usually do with whoever happens to be pouring when we’re there.

As I tasted the Punkin’, before my OAU came, I commented that the Punkin’ on tap was still bad, and that I didn’t think I’d be buying any more DFH beers — that I was pretty much done with them.

The bartender spouted what I’ve come to recognize as the typical party line: “Have you tried the Worldwide Stout or the 120 Minute IPA? They’re great. I love Dogfish Head.”

I sighed, not really wanting to get into it, but a little affronted that he didn’t assume that two guys who had just ordered a keg of Ninkasi Total Domination IPA and were drinking the Oak Aged Unearthly at 4:00 in the afternoon might have actually gone their whole lives without having the 120 minute IPA, so I said simply, “The 120 is crap. The hop character is awful and the cloying sweetness is worse than a bad barleywine.”

Then we got into it. Or at least, the bartender did. He became extremely condescending.

Then we got into it. Or at least, the bartender did. He became extremely condescending, using language and tone that implied that we were like two 16 year olds whose only prior beer experience was stealing 40s from their parents. He commented on how “everyone in the Northwest just wants more hops” and how he could “tell what kind of beer drinkers we were by what we were drinking” at the moment. He claimed that Northwest IPAs weren’t good IPAs because of the strong hop character. He went off on Seattle drinkers in general. It was a sight.

My friend and I let him continue his tirade for a while, occasionally interjecting something to try to diffuse him, but mostly just stunned that a bartender would talk to customers like this.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been in a lot of arguments and disagreements about beer. But most people seem to understand that beer appreciation is incredibly subjective and at the end of the day, everyone orders a pint and moves on. No one is out to put anyone down, everyone uses language that offers respect and appreciation for all sides of the argument. Let’s be honest here: It’s just beer!

But this guy, this bartender, seemed intent on losing his tip. It was pretty impressive the way he managed to simultaneously talk over us and dismiss our opinions as uninformed. My favourite part was when he said that there was only “one brewery where [he] would drink everything they made, and it [was]n’t American.” The amount of condescension in his tone and those words is worthy of a degree of respect, almost, since it must have taken some degree of skill to perfect.

It was pretty impressive the way he managed to… dismiss our opinions as uninformed.

Like I said, I’m all about a good beer-pinion row, but this wasn’t a discussion. It was this bartender — the guy we were paying more than $200 for kegs and beer — claiming that because we were drinking the Oak Aged Unearthly, we were unfit to comment on the quality of beer in general. If it weren’t so odd and infuriating, it would have been funny.

I think we’ll be getting our next kegs from somewhere else. Sorry, Uber. One bad apple and all.

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