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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Pete's Pub Etiquette: "This beer's off"


Here’s one that I think will divide along the lines of drinkers versus people who work behind the bar: what’s the right thing to do when a customer complains about a beer being off? Or rather, not the right thing, but the most realistically acceptable thing?

I’m pretty sure it’s not what happened to me in the Queens pub in Primrose Hill, NW1 the other week.

I ordered a pint of Young’s Special that was full of diacetyl.  This is a concentrated butterscotch flavour that can also have a greasy mouthfeel.  Hints of it can be positively wonderful in the right beer, but when it’s all you can smell or taste in the beer, it’s pretty horrible.  It occurs during fermentation and then normally falls away to very low levels.  So apparently, these excessive levels are due either to a prematurely ending the brewing process, or to bacterial infection.  I’m not an expert, but I could immediately identify the fault.  At the end of the day, if the beer tastes so horrible you don’t want to drink it, and you can identify the off-flavour, you have to take it back.

“This beer is off,” I said.

The first thing the barman did was to pour some more beer from the barrel.  He sniffed and tasted it.  “Do you think it’s getting near the end of the barrel?”

“No, it’s full of diacetyl,” I replied.

He made it clear with his facial expression that he wasn’t convinced, that he didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, but he replaced my pint with an alterative without saying anything else.

But then, he didn’t take the beer off sale.  He continued to serve it to other punters, who didn’t complain.

And here’s the dilemma: the reason I’m writing this is that this really pissed me off.  I’d told him the beer was unfit for sale, and specified why.  He had decided not to disagree with me, but by not taking the beer off sale, he was effectively telling me either that I was wrong, or that my opinion didn’t matter.

I hate taking pints back because I’m always worried that the conversation might reach a point where I have to make a ‘do you know who I am’ type comment to establish the fact that I know what I’m talking about, that I’m not one of those belligerent old punters who mumble about ‘the pipes’.  But when I’m standing in a pub watching a barman continue to serve a beer I’ve told him is unfit for sale, my only options are to accept that he is basically humiliating me – “I’m tolerating your complaint but it makes no difference to me” – or to make a complete arse of myself and start banging on about how much I know about off-flavours.

But look at it from his point of view.  He obviously didn’t know what diacetyl is.  He saw a punter complaining, replaced the pint, job done.  How was he instructed to handle this kind of incident by the management, by the PubCo? (This was a Young’s beer in a Young’s pub – it would be interesting to know what their policy is.)  If you threw away the barrel every time a punter complained that he didn’t like his pint, wouldn’t you bankrupt the business?  And no other punters were complaining, were they?

But I still think he was wrong.  Most people don’t complain – they just don’t go to that pub again, or don’t drink that beer again.  Sometimes, they can be turned off real ale for life.  They don’t know enough about beer faults, don’t have the confidence to take on a skeptical barman.  How many punters did that faulty barrel discourage from drinking that beer in that pub again?  And if you think I’m wrong, tell me.  Let’s loose the passive aggression.

What do you think?

49 comments:

Andrew Bowden said...

I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I know a pint is wrong after a few sips, but I always have a bit more before politely going back to the bar - just to make sure. On most occasions the staff haven't even tasted the beer which suggests they probably don't know.

I have noticed that if the staff know me, they are more likely to take the beer off, or at least spend some time studying it.

I guess the question is, does the barman know their beer. If they taste it, does they know the difference between good and bad. Do they know what it's supposed to taste like in the first place... I suspect many have absolutely no idea.

Mitch Adams said...

Lets assume a) he didn't know what diacetyl was b) he didn't know his beer well enough to determine that there was anything wrong with it and c) that he didn't know you knew what you were talking about...

If he doesn't know enough about his beer he should have referred to somebody who did (after replacing your pint obviously), but in the absence of that person, I would have thought the polite thing to do would be to at least take it off sale until he could check with somebody or until you'd left!

On the plus side at least he replaced your pint, I have witnessed bar staff (not mine) tasting from the customers glass, declaring it fit for sale and handing back!

Neil, eatingisntcheating.blogspot.com said...

The barman of course did the right thing in replacing your pint, it's been a very long time since I had a complaint about a pint not result in them offering an alternative.

Your point about whether he should change the barrel is a really interesting one, because as you say, how is he to know whether you have spotted a true and fundamental problem with the beer making it unfit for sale, or whether you are just being fussy.

To counterbalance the argument... I actually wrote a piece on my blog about a number of local 'regulars' comoplaining that the worthington White Shield was off. It categorically wasn't (Is Britain ready for the Hop Invasion? Do we even like them?). It was just that the regulars were used to session bitters and milder ales, not this unusual, delicious, hoppy IPA. They thought it tasted 'too tart', and the barman warned me to have a try before buying. If he'd listened to the few old 'real ale regulars' (a phrase I invented, subject to common approval) he'd have taken the barrel off sale. Even though infact the beer was in amazing condition and tasted Perfect.

If it had been a different bar, where they knew your expertise, such as say the Euston Tap or North Bar in Leeds, then I suspect they would have listened to you. Although to be fair, in those bars they would have noticed it themselves and never put it on sale.

Mark N said...

It's a difficult one, for sure. Those that like diacetyl may not have been too bothered, although it it was way out of balance, then it's a different matter altogether. One would have thought that if just one other customer complained, it might make them consider taking it off.
But for every poor barperson, there's usually a decent one. There's a local pub I frequent, from time to time, where the staff pass samples to us, to see if we think the beer is ready to go on if the landlord's not about. Nice touch.

Ian Prise said...

Had a truly awful pint of Smithwicks in O'Neills in Glasgow, last weekend. It was just after a pint of Punk IPA in Blackfriars. We moved to watch the Rugby. Just stuck it back on the bar and left, was so disgusted by it. I didn't have the confidence to complain as I hadn't had a pint of it in ages. I'm sticking to Brewdog, and their Guest beers from now on.

Nigel Huddleston said...

Similar thing happened to me the other day, but I got the impression that the reason the bar person carried on serving the beer was because they were too dim to make the connection that it was all coming from the same barrel.

Phil said...

I've had the response you describe - "tastes all right to me", look at you as if you're a lunatic, reluctantly replace the pint but leave the beer on - in a number of places, and it always drives me up the wall. Even if they think customers are making a fuss about nothing, don't they realise it's incredibly poor customer service to make it so obvious? I think it must be pub or pubco policy in some places; the people I've had it from have all been youngish & not had the air of being beer experts (which, of course, makes it even more infuriating).

One of the things I like about JDW's is that they appear to have precisely the opposite policy. I've taken pints back in JDWs in different towns and had exactly the same response - apologise, turn the clip round, offer replacement. No funny looks, no hanging round while they taste it, no messing. Mind you, the 'lost barrel' point is worth remembering. JDWs are generally big enough to wear the odd premature barrel-change - but we wouldn't want all pubs to be that big.

Curmudgeon said...

If beer is obviously cloudy or vinegary, then there's scarcely ever a problem in getting a pint changed. But if a customer simply feels it's got an off flavour, then it's a matter of opinion. During 1984, Gales brewery suffered a yeast infection that to my palate, and that of many others, gave their beer a taint that made it well-nigh undrinkable for six months. But plenty of people couldn't detect it. Some can detect "mouse" in cider; others can't.

In your case the barman exchanged your pint because he (or company policy) felt that in the interests of good customer relations it's best to do that without any quibbling. But he has no means of knowing whether you know what you're talking about, or whether you're just some random moaning git, and so in the absence of obvious signs of unsaleability I would say he's perfectly within his rights to keep it on.

Neil said...

I had an off pint in Young's pub in Balham and to be fair to them they not only replaced it but after they tasted the beer they took it off sale straightaway.

But recently at another London pub (independent) I had a pint of Adnam's Tally Ho which they were keeping behind the bar in a cask with some sort of insulation wrapped around it. It tasted awful but not in a way that any of us could put our finger on. In those situations it is hard to complain because unless you are expert enough to know why the beer doesn't taste as it should, it's hard to complain. I've just decided not to go back instead.

Ed said...

What about a practice of having educated/trained bar staff who can tell themselves if there is a problem with a beer & sample a small quantity of each beer during their shift?

The Beer Nut said...

I'd tend to side with the house on this one: if no-one else has complained then it's not justifiable to take the beer off, no matter how many pterodactyls or whatever the bloke with the beard says are in there.

They're not campaigning for better beer in pubs, or encouraging people to discover what a bloody fine sup a well-kept pint of Young's Ordinary is (and it is).

To put it bluntly, and to raise an observation more relevant to this side of the Irish Sea: the Queen's Pub isn't really interested in beer.

That pubs should be ambassadors for good beer ought to be a given (particularly if they're owned by the fucking brewery in the first place) but it's not. If it's tenanted you could always drop a line to the owners.

Melissa Cole said...

I guess the question is did you explain what diacetyl is, why it's so bad and that it's not his fault but the brewery's?

If not then it's a bit unfair to think that the barman would know or understand the term and to knock the beer off and was he even the decision maker?

In situations like that if there's attitude given out, I always ask to speak to the manager, do so really quietly and with a big smile on my face and, other than in the Wenlock Arms, I've found it a pretty good way to go about it.

I'm conscious this sounds a bit self-righteous, it's one of those things that invariably does when in black & white, hope you know me well enough to know it's not the case!! : )

SteveF said...

Well I'm not knowledgable enough to have identified the diacetyl problem, but this exact same incident happened to me in the exact same pub, late last year. Pint of Youngs Special was off, I took it back and they gave me a pint of some other Youngs brew, but kept serving the Special.

A few minutes later, the same process was repeated with another customer. I wondered whether or not to moan a bit more, but having a dinner reservation at Lemonia down the road to get to and being a bit British, I didn't bother. But from our small sample size it does seem as though this may be a recurring problem, in which case they really should be doing something about it. I could possibly understand a reluctance if all you had was one complaint, but more than that should require action.

Incidentally, this has also happened a few times not so far away, at Quinns in Camden. I sometimes go there because it stays open late at night, but their St Edmunds ale is always (quite literally AFAICT) off. Yet they continue to happily serve it.

Tandleman said...

An age old problem, but honestly Pete, you got off lightly. (But see below) Saying the beer is "off" even if you explain why is a doubtful way of going about it. It can raise hackles. I'd have said something along the lines of "Excuse me, I don't think this beer tastes right" and then said why, explaining if need be that I drink it a lot and it shouldn't taste like that.

You got your pint changed and annoying as it is, leaving the beer on for the next punter to make his or her own judgement is wrong, but common. Of course if I or you ran the pub, the bloody beer wouldn't have been on the bar in the first place. We'd have had Tech Services out to condemn it. Part of a more general malaise and lack of training.

If I ran a pub, the first person to know the beer was wrong would be me. Never the customer.

But you are actually very right in your overall feelings about it.

Knut Albert said...

I've had the same experience in a London pub a few years ago. The core of this is that you need to have someone behind the bar that has enough knowledge of beer to be able to spot the faults. Hopefully before serving a beer that is off, but definitely if there is something wrong with it.

Ed said...

Bit of a trick one that as some people like diacetyl. I suppose it depends how foul it tasted.

If it had been vinegar or murky he would have been totally out of order though.

Andy said...

At the pub quiz a few weeks ago our lass ordered a pint and half of one beer as soon as we both tasted it we knew it was off, so we took it back to the bar, funnily enough at the same time as the people who got theirs before us, the barman looked at us, knew what was coming and took the beer off, apologised and replaced the beers with a new pint of something else.

This actually surprised me as usually i'm met with the same sort of response as you got above! It's amazing how many pubs either can't taste off beer or simply just dont care.

CleverMermaid said...

Argh! That's horribly annoying. Nothing's wrong with pulling a little rank every once in a while though. At least if you would've mentioned that you, unlike he, knew what you were talking about then other people wouldn't have to endure beer that they didn't know could be better.

BeerReviewsAndy said...

oops that last comment was from me accidently posted it from my work account...

Steve Parkes said...

Dirty beer lines are also a source of diacetyl in beer. It could conceivably be that your pint tasted of diacetyl but subsequent ones didn't taste as strongly of it. I've certainly experienced that scenario before.

Richard said...

It’s happened to all of us Pete – maybe more so than others as we’re more likely to try something new and unusual when we see it. From my experience returning a pint is becoming more acceptable – but even today when I get one that doesn’t clear after a minute or so, and the first sip tastes like drain cleaner I still feel guilty about going back to the bar. I guess that’s what makes us British!

I had a similar experience last week where my first pint was off; they replaced it with another ale – which tasted the same – leaving me drinking San Miguel (I’d ordered food so couldn’t flounce out the door). The bar staff were very apologetic, acknowledging there was possibly a problem with their pipes – but left both beers on.

If I was the head brewer at that brewery, I would have been mortified that potential customers taking a punt on a real ale would think that flavour was the norm. One of the reasons people drink macro-lager is because it will taste the same wherever they go, ale does not, and incidents like these can really damage its reputation.

Bob said...

I had this problem just last week in The Kington Arms, Cambridge. I took back a hslf of Oakham Chaos Engine, that was loudy and tasted of apples. It was changed without quibble, but the chap didn't taste it and was still serving it 45 mins later. As we left, I told one bloke to not be affraid of taking it back.

I'm jointly annoyed at the barman for not checking his beer and the other punters who didn't complain

martin said...

The main problem is that most ale drinkers know more about beer that the staff employed to serve it, who see no difference between ales and lagerade. Some staff are not allowed to taste the beer to see if it is off. A barman once happily changed a pint for me but told me he could be sacked for drinking on duty if he tasted it.

rich! said...

Reminds me of the time I had a pint in a central London pub that was serving $new_brewery beer. One of their beers had a tendency to smell a little ... "pissy" I guess is the word. I got my pint, sipped it, and sprayed it back out. Vinegar. The barman said "oh, it always tastes like that", having suffered four days of everyone being surprised by the smell. Fortunately, I knew the taste it should have, and escalated (to the barman next to him). Second barman took a sip, and acknowledged that it was the end of the barrel.

I honestly couldn't fault first barman, because I knew why he'd honed that reflex, but I did think it was a sign they weren't tasting their own beer...

Cooking Lager said...

I’m just a drinker and punter, not a campaigner for beer and pubs and if I got a dodgy pint I’d leave it and go and not return. I can accept the loss of £3 and the crap pub can accept no further custom from me. I’m out for a fun evening not an argument and too many pubs and bars are run as personal fiefdoms with a piss poor attitude to a customer complaint. It’s not worth the candle. If the beer was an unfamiliar brand I’d assume the brand is shit and I’d be right. The producer is unable to deliver me a quality beer. If I were familiar with the brand I might assume the brand has taken a nosedive. If a company cannot assure the quality of its product through the supply chain all the way to me then the product is crap. Why should I give the product another go in a “better pub”?

Jeremy said...

Pint arrives not quite right, tastes stale/off w/ a slight vomit aroma. It takes a lot for me to send pints back - this was off. Amongst the dumb responses from the staff (in italics):

"Maybe you switched pints w/ your friend?" (Gave me 2 samples to compare)
Neither beer SHOULD taste like it did.

"We drink this a lot and think its fine"
They liked the Best Bitter Special which is not what was in my glass. It is not as dark and smells like HOPS not VOMIT.

Me: "The beer is really OFF"
Them: "I wish the brewmaster was here to argue that."
Did he really just say that !?! First off, I know the brewmaster thanks… I wish he was here to see that you’re serving either green overly yeasty beer or stale off beer depending what you’re actually pouring.

As we are paying (my friends decided it was time to go after that incident) the waitress reveals that bar policy is that they are not allowed to replace a pint. If you are not allowed to replace my pint say so, don’t waste my time arguing about it! Even if I was wrong about it being off (doubtful), at least I would have left happier. I suffered through my pint trying not to ruin the night for everyone else but the group and a $200+ bar tab went across the street for the rest of the evening.
The worst part is my last 5 pints here had been slightly off, and I didn’t complain those times. Needless to say I stopped going there in favour of the less characterful pub up the street who sold beer that was in good shape!

Jeff Pickthall said...

I lived on Young's turf for nearly fifteen years and this sort of thing used to be endemic in their estate (or I was just consistently unlucky). The complication was that I was often with my old mate Chris who has a brewing degree from HW university – and he was on the brewing staff at Young's. Much to my frustration he would never ever do the "I'll have you know..." thing. Still, I did learn a hell off a lot about off-flavours during that era in the nineties.

stephanos_lemon said...

Being a younger drinker I often get a look of disdain if I take a pint back, even if it is obviously off/floating bits. The worst occasion was when the barman refused to believe me, I asked him to try it and he refused and then passed it round three regulars who all said it was off before agreeing to change it for me. Needless to say I didn't return to that establishment.

redpola said...

Jeez, you're lucky. In my local, a crappy M&B house that proudly claims to the local Camra mob that they serve real ale (they serve one, Marston's EPA, which is bad more than it's good), I have bizarre exchanges with the manager and his boyfriend which go like this:

Me: This beer is bad.
Them: It's a new barrel!
Me: Have you pulled it through? (they don't clean the old beer out of the pipes when they change barrels- disgusting)
They: You're the only person who complains!
Me: I'm the only one who cares!
They: I was trained by Tetleys so don't tell me I don't know how to keep beer!
Me: ...
Etc.

The alternatives are chilled keg John Smiths (?!) or terrible British lager.

Really, a tragic experience. All the worse that they're supported by a massive pubco like Mitchells and Butlers. Incidentally they claim they can't pull through new beer because their wastage limits are so tight.

PS I'm talking about the Homestead pub, Rotherham.

Jeff Rosenmeier said...

I feel your pain, I've had this exchange so many times that it is depressing even thinking about it.

A tip for all of you others that suffer from a pint of ass every now and then. Gin and Tonic is going to be best for cleansing the palate, not the next hand pump down the line.

ian.laker said...

In the many years of drinking cask conditioned ale, I've always hated the dreaded moment when that acetic tang hits your nostrils, before you even put mouth to glass.
Recently this really saddened me. I walked in to one of my favourite pubs, the Plough and Harrow in Bridge, Kent, It had been a while but I always loved its basic decor and quirkiness...and its excellently kept Shepherd Neame.
I didn't recognise the guy behind the bar. Turns out that he was the new landlord. He served me a pint of Late Red that was just hinting at that sharpness that tells you it's started converting to the stuff you sprinkle on chips.
My cousin and I walked round to where we usually sat to be told that he was 'making some improvements'. He had missed the point on a couple of major levels about what made this pub great. One of them was the previously reliable resiny hoppiness that typifies a great Kentish beer from the home of the Hop Garden.
I walked out for the last time - another one bites the dust.

Andrew Krone said...

Not sure if the poster is aware but most people have varying abilities of diacetyl sensitivity.

The barrel SHOULD NOT be removed on one account that a beer was bad by anyone. The Brewmaster should be monitoring ALL feedback and pulling beers are his/her call.

The barkeep is just trying to keep everyone's glass full.

StringersBeer said...

As youngsters we'd drink in a rubbish boozer where the standard response to the not infrequent "I think this might be off" was the classic "Give it here, [drinks] tastes alright to me".
Pal of mine came, one night, equipped with a dead rat which he placed (head first, tail over rim) in a half empty glass. On taking this prop to the bar and initiating the complaint procedure, he was escorted outside and got his nose broken for being a smartarse. How we laughed.

Anonymous said...

slight correction it was a Youngs pub but they no longer brew beer they buy it in from Wells and Youngs brewery. cheers

Eddie86 said...

I must admit I've only skim-read the 30 or so comments, but shouldn't the beer not been on sale in the first place?

Secondly, shouldn't we expect staff to know a bit about what they are serving?

I'd be mortified to see one of my staff replace a pint then carry on serving it to other customers.

Curmudgeon said...

A lot of comments here seem to expect an unrealistic level of knowledge from bar staff. In the average pub, the bar staff are unlikely to be real ale drinkers, and may not even be drinkers at all. Plus, as some have said, they may not be allowed even to have a sip of alcohol when on duty. So, realistically, all they can do is offer a refund or an alternative product, and are they really going to take something off sale on the say-so of one person?

In a specialist cask beer pub, obviously you might reasonably expect more knowledge, but I don't think the pub Pete was referring to fell into that category.

Anonymous said...

The difficulty for pub managers is one of staff training.

If I receive a complaint, I have the ability to make a judgement based on taste as I know my beer and I can detect a fault pretty well.

But I'm not always there.

How do I get my staff to the point where they are confident in doing the same thing? Especially if they are not real ale drinkers.

If I keep my beer well, how long would it take for me to be able to show my staff examples of all the common defects?

My current Assistant Manager has been with me for over 6 months and I have only had the opportunity to train him on one (which happened to be diacytal).

So when I'm not there, would I rather they take it off sale or not?

A tricky one - I'd be just as annoyed if they wasted 5 Gallons of good beer as if they were serving off beer all night.

But I couldn't really blame them as it's such a hard thing to get your head round if you don't like ale.

As a side note, I also work for M&B. And although stock control is tight, we are able to clean out our ale lines when we change a barrel - there are ways to keep tight without selling bed beer.

dredpenguin said...

I'm slightly confused by some of the comments here.

What does a pub have to lose by taking a the beer off?

I may be being naive here but if there is a genuine fault in the beer should the brewery not replace it?

OK the pub may not have another cask racked and ready to go so may reduce their beer range for a while, but surely this is small beans compared to serving bad beer.

Nick said...

This subject coincidentally came up at a CAMRA social last night when we were doing some tastings of off beers as a beer scoring exercise for new members.

Our view was that, in the situation you describe, we would publicise the failings of the pub through newsletter/website/etc. Pubs doing this do real ale such a huge disservice, and contribute to what I get told at any beer festival I work at - "I wish the beer was as good as this in my local. I drink lager there".

Curmudgeon said...

"I may be being naive here but if there is a genuine fault in the beer should the brewery not replace it?"

The vast majority of faults encountered at the bar are the result of poor cellarmanship, not intrinsically bad beer.

If there really is a brewing fault you should be able to detect it when the cask is tapped.

Gavin said...

Whenever I have a pint of Caledonian 80/- I can detect a hint of dirty dish cloth. I had put this down to the cellarmanship but I have detected it in pubs where all the other beer is perfect and it seems to reoccur with that brand. I used to detect a similar flavour in McEwans 80/- and it makes me wonder if it is something that I am detecting in that particular style that no one else is picking up.

The Big Dog said...

Okay, so the beer was over-the-top buttery and certainly not to your taste. I have confidence in your assesment that the beer was "loaded with diacetyl" and was significantly flawed for the style. I cannot support your conclusion that it was therefore unfit to serve.

Having done quite a bit of beer judging myself, with a large number of different judges (many of them certified), I can tell you a few things you don't seem to have considered:

1) Diacetyl in beer is not harmful, and doesn't pose any health risk in the quantities found in beer (I have heard of beers that are as high as 1ppm, but it is more likely to be a few hundred ppb),

2) Individual ability to detect diacetyl varies wildly (some folks can't detect it even in massive quantities, others can detect it down to 10 ppb), and

3) Some people actually enjoy the artificial popcorn butter flavor and slick mouthfeel associated with diacetyl.

The barman did the right thing and gave you a different pint. Others in the bar were drinking and enjoying their buttery pints. Frankly, that should be the measure of its fitness, not the fussy palate of a cranky beer gourmand, starting to show his age... (Kidding!).

If the brew was contaminated with pediococcus or brettanomyeces, they would get plenty of complaints and remove the beer quickly. If the beer was acetic or lactic, they might get fewer complaints (since its now just a "sour" beer), so maybe it wouldn't be removed as fast.

But "buttery" is a personal taste and tolerance issue much more than a fitness issue. Sorry, bud. I back the barman.

Gary Gillman said...

This is a dilemma, and a growing one in proportion to the availability of real ale and even filtered-but-unpasteurized beer. (It's less of a problem with the latter, but still).

It even happens with regular bottled beer. Recently I ordered a a hard-to-find commercial brand that has a correlatively small sale in Ontario. Once poured, I smelled the damp cardboard from 3 inches away. I left it untouched on the counter and walked out. Had I said it was off they would have thought I was from Mars.

For draft or draught beer that is sour, infected or otherwise off, I usually walk out also. If the faults are very evident though, I will ask for a replacement and usually it is given. I don't think I was ever refused in fact, but sometimes it is done grudgingly.

Gary

JulieHG said...

Here in the US, I've seen a number of responses when a beer just isn't tasting right.

Once, in a less than stellar bar, we ordered Pale Ale, and got something that tasted like Budweiser (i.e. horrid). The beer was so off that myself the 2 other homebrewers with me were pretty convinced that the owner hadn't cleaned the lines in a very long time (or was just lying about what beer was in the keg on the line to save a buck or two). He not only didn't attempt to fix the problem, he gave us the 'no one else has complained' line. Insulting at best, and we of course never went back (and finished the night drinking bottled beer).

I've also had another incident where I was sitting in the bar of a popular restaurant. The Dos Equis Amber that was poured was clearly off. The bartender on duty admitted he'd never tasted that beer, and couldn't judge, and replaced my pint with another of my choosing. However, when the head bartender arrived, he had him taste it immediately. Even though it was a fresh keg, the head bartender agreed that there was something wrong, and they put a new keg on the line right then and there. I go back to this restaurant all the time because of this response.

And trust me, being a woman gets me about as much credibility about off beer in a bar here in the US as it would in the UK (i.e. not much)

I don't think it's asking too much for them to have someone on staff who knows what the beer should taste like, and be able to make the call to pull the keg...if only until the head bartender can come and confirm what should be done. Replacing my pint should be done without question.

Anonymous said...

I've read that the extent to which you can detect diacetyl varies from person to person in a way which can't be made up for by developing your palate. Some people are very sensitive to it, some people aren't, it just depends on the way God made you. So two people can drink the same pint and it be a butter-bomb for one and perfectly fine for the other.
It might be that the guy just can't detect it to the same extent you can and, when it tasted fine to him, he replaced your pint but kept it on.
On the other hand, he might have detected it but just not have an experienced enough palate to pick it up as an off flavour.
When I first started drinking ale, I drank beers which I now know were full of diacetyl. At the time I thought there was nothing wrong with them, but that I just didn't like that particular beer (a lot of Caledonian beers spring to mind).
Diacetyl certainly requires a bit more of a palate to recognise as an off flavour than, say, misplaced sourness.

Of course, the guy might have known very well that it was full of diacetyl and either didn't care or wasn't allowed to throw out casks after a single complaint. That would be different.
But if you give the guy the benefit of the doubt and assume that he couldn't see anything wrong with the beer, I think he behaved fine.
He replaced your beer but didn't throw out a cask which, so far as he could tell, was fine. He may not have wanted to challenge you for fear of starting an unnecessary argument with a punter.

I had a worse experience recently in a pub called the Wise Monkey where I was served a pint of Hobgoblin which was distinctly warm and sour. I pointed out both things to the barman and whilst he replaced my pint with an (equally warm) pint of bitter and twisted, he kept the sour hobgoblin on. When I complained that the beer was still warm, he looked at my smugly and said cask ale was supposed to be served at room temperature (!). When I pointed out that the reason casks were kept in the cellar was that they were supposed to be cellar temperture which is a good bit lower than room temperature, he just repeated that it was supposed to be room temperature and left to serve someone else.

adrian flude said...

Pete like yourself a know a good pint from a bad, 25 years experience managing and drinking in real ale pubs; The Old Castle Inn Nottingham (an Ansells house) was my first management position in 1989, having trained as a cellarman for 9 months previously. I have to admit I didn't know what 'diacetyl' was, but suspected it was pretty incongruous, so being a mac person, I know a decent computer from bad as well, I looked it up in the onboard dictionary...to my surprise this was what was returned:

diacetylmorphine |ˌdīəˌsētlˈmôrfēn| noun- technical term for heroin

Bloody hell I thought no wonder you sent it back they're putting smack in the beer and not telling anyone...then I began to wonder whether this was part of Dave and Gideon's Big Society idea, get all the CAMRA folk fucked up on horse?

Keep up the good work!

John McNally said...

I don't think serving the beer was a slight to you, but it was an insult to all the other customers. The barman didn't think they would know any difference. Unfortunately when this happens in a real ale pub, it can convert new drinkers to lager for life.

John
Leamington Spa

matthew turner said...

well being a young and still learning barman myself this comes up from time, but im normally happy to exchange the pint for another one to the taste of the customer. i mostly offer tasters to people if its a beer they havent tried before so it doesnt come up too much, so when it does i pull myself a small sample of the offending beer to see if i can pick up anything wrong with it...and then get my boss for a 2nd opinion. but as soon as a customer states that a beers off....we will very rarely sell any more unless WE KNOW it just wasnt to taste

Murphy's Rule said...

Thanks to about the 420th comment which actually gave some idea what diacetyl did smell/taste like: "artificial popcorn butter flavour".

Is that it? At least that's edible. I went on here to find out the correct term for 'smells of piss' - I thought it might be "Uric" as in "Urea" and "Urine".
One Pub last week: tasted the new guest - an Exmoor - sharp, nasty. Two of us had a pint of Adnams Bitter and left a third - sour. I had a Pint of Young's and Mike had a Black Sheep - both sour. Lovely traditional pub across the road from a JDW. Had a half of B;ack Sheep(didn't trust a pint) in my local 17th Century - it was cloudy and sour.
Went on to the JDW and had a gorgeous pint of Farmer's Blond for £2. I'm afraid, much against my desire to support little locals, and only drink Real Ale, the two traditionals have had my last pennies.
So what's the urine smell called?