So sorry to bother you…

20 Jul

“It’s not just about the beer – it’s about the beer community too.”

How many times have we said those exact words to a Miller Lite-drinking friend?  Trying to convince them that even though there’s no vortex bottles or commercials featuring an ode to calorie counts associated with craft beer, there’s still a population of great people interested in coming together to enjoy it.

Craft beer is a special thing, but so is the craft beer community.  The people you meet are part of the appeal, and make us want to seek out local breweries and watering holes when visiting a new town.  You can’t get a lot of the local stuff in grocery stores.  If you love this beer and want to drink it, you need to go some place that serves it where you will undoubtedly find other like-minded beer people.  And it’s not just the people who drink the beer who are special, it’s the people who make the beer too.

We’re fortunate in Charlotte that we have some great breweries run and staffed by great people.  The product is good, the people are chill, and there’s very little gimmick.  If you have questions about beer, hops, brewing, whatever, people are quick to share insight and advice.  Quite frankly, we’re spoiled.  So it’s disappointing when we seek out a local brewery while on vacation and have a poor experience.  Last weekend we visited Pisgah Brewing Company for the first time ever, and sadly we’ll probably never go back.

If you’re not familiar with Pisgah, it’s a little brewery located in Black Mountain that features organic beer and lots of live music events.  It’s tucked back away in an industrial park, and you’re left to your own devices to find it since there’s not a whole lot of signage.  Truly, the navigating that was required wasn’t a problem – we like adventure.  But the 8.5×11″ piece of paper on the door that serves as signage for the brewery seemed a little half-assed, and fell miles short of welcoming.  I can just imagine the owners sitting around some table in a back room begrudgingly deciding to let the annoying people who want to drink the beer see where the magic happens.  If only this place were magical.

Now, the tap room is interesting in a good way.  There’s a decent bar, an upright piano in the corner, and a good-sized stage for live music.  Clearly beer drinking isn’t all that happens here.  There’s a framed photo of Patrick Swayze above the taps, looking down benevolently on you as you drink…or maybe that’s a reference to Road House warning us not to start any shenanigans?  It’s impossible to say, since we never got more than two words out of either staff person we saw.

We went with two of our closest friends, and together we’re quite good at entertaining ourselves.  But as we bellied up to the bar, it seemed like we were putting staff out by asking to drink their beer.  And never mind asking questions –  I’d never had a fresh-hopped pale ale before, so I asked what their wet hop pale ale was like.  The response I received was “We use wet hops with this.”  Really?  I must have raised an eye brow quizzically, because after a pause I was also given the advice that “fresh green hops” were used.  Um, Okay?  Any other synonyms for “wet” you want to throw my way?  Maybe he thought he’d let the beer talk for itself…or maybe he thought I was an idiot.  I just got the impression that I was being a nuisance.

“Seriously, I can look at Beer Advocate on my phone when I’m sitting at the bar…but I’d much rather learn about the beer you make by asking you,” is what I wished I had said.  But I didn’t.

I should mention here that we were the only people in the tasting room at that point other than a guy who seemed to be a regular.  So it’s not like there were a ton of other customers vying for the bartender’s attention.  Granted, they were setting up for a music fest outside, so I’m sure everyone there had a dozen things to do at once, but after pouring round one for us, the barkeep fled.  I don’t need you to babysit me while I drink my beer, but seeing as we had identified this as our first visit to the brewery, several of us had ordered flights to sample some different things, and I’d already asked for some elaboration about one of your beers, wouldn’t it have been in your business’ best interest to stay?

Sadly, there wasn’t anything that wowed me.  The wet hop was interesting, but that was about it.  Everything seemed kind of one-note, but the barkeep wasn’t around to make any recommendations for things that might be more intriguing.  Normally I can leave a place with a good taste in my mouth (metaphorically speaking) even if the beer is mediocre – as long as there’s some at least an effort on the proprietor’s part to ensure a good time is being had.  As it was, we felt like we were being a bother, and even though there were half a dozen other great beers from different breweries on tap, we decided to leave.

So we headed back into downtown Black Mountain to visit The Trailhead, a new restaurant and bar featuring craft beer and upscale pub food.  We were exasperated from our experience at the brewery, and mentioned it to the bartender, who was very friendly.  In fact, all the staff were friendly.  When the first bartender went on break, the bartender covering for him engaged us in conversation about what we were drinking and made recommendations from the menu.  What a relief – a complete 180 from Pisgah.  We learned the history of the restaurant and surprise – the owner of Pisgah Brewing is actually a co-owner of The Trailhead.  Huh?

How is emphasis on service and pride in one’s craft exhibited in one establishment but not the other?  How is it that we felt welcome in one place almost immediately, but the other had us squirming in our seats and wondering if we’d done something wrong to deserve the bartender’s indifference?  I get that we’re tourists and in your mind we’re not likely to become weekly regulars.  But if you’d made any effort at all to connect with us, you would have discovered that we live only about two hours away and have plans to make trips back.  You’d also learn that one of our favorite things to do is to tell those unfamiliar with craft beer  about the breweries we’ve had good experiences at, and that when we like your beer we’ll seek you out.

We get that we’re just two people and therefore won’t turn the tide of business for you (not that we would want to – we want all NC beer to be successful), but in our experience it’s not the norm for local breweries to treat customers that way.  How would someone who’s not familiar with craft beer take it?  Where’s the welcoming sense of community that invites people to try good beer?

All I’m saying is that if your staff at the brewery wants to be left alone to make the beer, maybe consider hiring a person or two dedicated to educating the pesky public in your taproom.

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One Response to “So sorry to bother you…”

  1. mark weber July 20, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    I think after that experience you need to visit Cape Fear Wine and Beer as soon as possible!

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