How to feel smart at a brewery or beer bar

Remember the first time you were confronted with a wine list at a restaurant? That list didn’t come with anything to clue you in to why you might or might not want a wine from this country or that, made of this type of grape or that, one year vs another year. What a frustrating, potentially embarrassing situation! Now we are faced with the same sort of unpleasant experience on our first trips to any place with a nontrivial selection of craft beer.

There are lots of breweries, lots of styles, lots of beers out there now. It can be a bewildering experience to get started down the right path, with not enough clear signposts. Here are some hints for navigating that first trip or two…

  • You can ask the server/bartender, but they may not know any more than you. or the brewery’s website a best bet for quick clue. is popular but not very mobile friendly.
  • If you are at a brewpub or brewery, try the house stuff. If at a beer bar ask “what do you have that’s local” as a starting point
  • If you see medals or trophies on the wall of the brewpub or brewery, ask what they were for and try that
  • You can start with a touchstone of something you already know you like, both beer and not-beer. “What do you have that’s like…”
    • If you like (whatever)-light beer then look for these words: helles, blonde, koelsch, gold
    • If you like Blue Moon or Shock Top, look for Wit- White- or anything with names that evoke white (Swamp Head Cottonmouth, Avery White Rascal, Cigar City Florida Cracker)
    • If you see the word “Pale” or acronyms with a “P” you will notice some bitterness
    • If you see the word “Wheat” it will probably not be bitter
    • If you like gin, try a Saison or “farmhouse” anything
    • If you like whisk(e)y try a barrel aged anything. You’ll probably recognize the oak/vanillin
    • If you like a big robust cabernet, try a wee heavy, old ale, belgian dark strong, Baltic porter, or doppelbock for some big rich stone fruit flavors
  • Most craft beer bars will list the ABV (alcohol by volume) of the beers on the menu board. Bigger is not always better, it’s just one factor in the whole experience.
  • If you take away anything from this, make it the concept of “flights.” For the price of a full pint of something you may or may not like, you can get four to six 4oz pours of different things and experiment.
This was originally presented at the Venice, Florida Rotary Club meeting on February 25, 2016 by Fred Dunayer and Danny Williams

Aftermath of the Lobster Trip

Eight empty kegs is all that remains. Eight dirty kegs each waiting for their turn at the keg washer in the blue cooler. Annihilated supply or new opportunity? I choose opportunity!

Empty kegs after lobster trip

Dead soldiers all standing in a row

We also found out the 15 gallon brew kettle in the background is a great way to cook up pounds of shrimp at a time,or boil a bunch of lobsters.

Brewing for the Lobster crew

Preparing before brew day includes recipe formulation, gathering ingredients, and growing up enough yeast for the amount of beer being made.

Start of a sweaty, windy, rainy day – grinding the grain.

Sometimes I have a little helper to pour the grain in the hopper.

After the grain is ground up, it is mixed with hot water (and flaked corn in this case, for the Cream Ale) and left for an hour so the enzymes in the grain can do their magic.

Here is the rainy day brew setup. The Easy-Up is not quite waterproof, but it is a lot better than a poncho. Wind got to be a problem later in the day; it was hard to keep the kettles at a boil.

Later the wind got so strong we had to attach a rope to tie the tent to the rolling table that holds the mash tun. Eventually we gave up on the tent and just took it down.

First batch (Cream Ale) is in the white “cubes” to cool overnight. In the kettle is the Belgian Dubbel, a new style for this group. Had to use the electric heat stick to maintain boil. The wind just blew the heat from the propane flame away so fast it could not boil it alone.

1.062 means about 6.5% by volume for the Dubbel when it is all done fermenting.