Monday, July 26, 2010

Why Bother?

I was well prepared for a week of limited drinking when in Florida last week, not just because previous experiences with Floridian beer had been so comically bad but because I find that I don't drink much beer when it is hot. Of course I had a couple of 6 packs of Boston Lager in the fridge for evenings, and later on in the week I picked up a case of Honey Porter, also from Samuel Adams, which was a decent enough beer. One thing I wasn't prepared for though was a trip to the Daytona location of the BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse chain.

I was well prepared, notebook, pen, phone camera all sorted, I even remembered to save the pictures I took of the beers in the sample flight, the plan was to write a "7 Beers, 21 Phrases" type post. I scrapped that plan, evidently, sometime between finishing the sample flight and getting tucked into a cheeseburger. Why scrap the plan? Were the beers bad? Were the pictures hilariously awful?

Well, no, the pictures are ok, nothing special mind. The beers were generally alright, nothing beyond alright that is, and in the case of the Tatonka Stout and the PM Porter barely scraping into the alright status which is of course a mere one step above "meh". Of the seven beers on the flight, just one was decent enough to order a pint of, though I didn't bother. The Brewhouse Blonde is a smooth Kölsch style beer which was nice in the Florida heat. As someone who is not an avowed hop head, I was left wanting more hops in most of the beers available, and in the case of the porter and imperial stout, I wanted more body and oomph as well.

So the beer was uninspiring, that's not a crime at all - after all I am sure that we all know places where the beer doesn't do anything for us. However, I have never before been in a brewpub which sold beer other than it's own, and personally I find that a little disconcerting. Walking into the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was not a set of nice shiny tanks, no copper brewing kettle or any other brewpubesque things you expect to see. The first thing in your line of sight is a bank of tap handles, tap handles for various breweries from around the US.

Perhaps I am just being a little idealistic, but if I owned a brewpub which brewed beer that has won a raft of awards, I wouldn 't be selling mass produced beers at the same time, especially not Bud Light, which I saw a couple of people drinking. From my exceedingly unscientific review of what people were drinking in the vicinity, only 4 or 5 people from about 50 were drinking beer at all. 2 were the Bud Light drinkers, 2 were myself and Mrs Velkyal, while the final drinker was supping on something pale golden. Every one else was drinking soda of some definition, and the place was full, full of fizzy pop drinkers - real fizzy pop that is, not piss poor lager.

This all got me to thinking, a dangerous habit for sure. The food was ok, nothing spectacular, and I can think of several better places in Daytona for food. Why then go to a brewhouse restaurant if you are not going to drink beer? Could it be that going to a brewhouse is the cool thing to do these days, so people go despite not having any intention to try the beer? If that is the case, what does it say about the "craft beer industry" in the US as it becomes more and more mainstream? I left BJ's very disappointed, not because of the beer, but because so few people were actually even trying it, and it seemed as though the restaurant gave patrons as many opportunities not to bother as possible.

Thankfully we stopped in St Augustine on the way back to South Carolina, and as usual we went to Rendezvous for a beer, or two. We discovered that Mrs Velkyal's mother likes raspberry lambic, that Left Hand Milk Stout is pretty damned nice, and that Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale is everything Newkie Brown can but dream about. Back in Columbia itself naturally meant a trip to the Flying Saucer, and yes it is as good as always, and in Amanda, we had an excellent waitress, and revelation beyond revelation, I finally found a pilsner worthy of the name - Victory Braumeister Pils - Saaz.

9 comments:

  1. I quite enjoyed my BJ's experience. Nothing spectacular but I found it was a nice place with good food and good beer.

    However I did not notice Bud light and other mass produced stuff, perhaps everyone else not at my table was drinking crap? Or perhaps Northern California (as I suspect) breeds a higher class of beer drinker that expect more.

    I do agree that I see no point in having a brewpub, even if it is a very large chain and providing mass produced fizzy crap on tap.
    It happens even in Ireland with places like Messrs Maguire serving more Carlsberg etc than their own house beers.
    I have no problem with a brewpub serving guest beers from other local breweries though.

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  2. Yes! Braumeister Pils is really good. I wish they would bottle it and give it wider distribution.

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  3. It is superb, all that Saaz goodness! If I had had my growlers with me, they would all be full of beer right now!!

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  4. Did you see any Cigar City in Florida? That's the only Floridian brewery I'm familiar with. They are based in Tampa.

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  5. One of the pubs had some of their collectors beers, but given my experience of paying double in that particular pub for Fuller's 2008 Vintage, I decided to keep my eye open elsewhere.

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  6. Yes, "Amanda" was an excellent "waitress", nevermind the short school-girl skirt and knee highs! I really enjoyed the Flying Dog Kolsh though ;+)

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  7. Over dressed perhaps for a girl serving good Bohemian Pilsners perhaps?

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  8. Agree that it seems counterintuitive (and probably a waste of the money needed to install and maintain the brewing equipment) to serve Industrial lagers alongside house-brewed beers. Better to rip out the equipment and put in more seats.

    However, I disagree that a brewpub should NOT serve at least a few beers from other small and/or local breweries. why can't a brewpub be a full beer bar as well. In doing so, the brewpub would gain a 'leg up' over 'just' a beer pub. For the good-beer drinker, it would offer a wonderful choice of beers. For the brewer, it would offer an opportunity to show how good his/her beers are vs. other shining examples.

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  9. "For the brewer, it would offer an opportunity to show how good his/her beers are vs. other shining examples."

    That is an interesting comment as I was discussing with a friend yesterday that the bar of industrial beer here is so comically low, that even the most uninspiring of "craft beer" is light years ahead.

    I can see a point with regard to having a few locally brewed beers available, though I would probably not see the point in having those taps exceed the number of in-house beers available - a couple of "guest taps" is more than enough. The problem with my BJs experience was that the number of guest taps far exceeded the in-house beers.

    I not sure I would rip out the equipment needed to replace it with seats, I would probably install proper stillage and a cask setup - but then that's just me.

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