I am a beer nerd.
I like beer. I also like beer bars, I like trying new beers that I have never had before, and get strangely excited when I see something new on the tap list. I like seeing something from a brewery that I’ve never heard of before, or trying a style that I’m not too familiar with.
Part of my life as a beer nerd is that I am a sucker for those click-bait “Best Local Beer Bars” lists. If you publish such a list, I will most likely read it.
I recently came across one such list on Thrillist, by Travis Talbot titled “The Best Beer Bars in 18 Boston Neighborhoods”. It’s a pretty good list. I am more familiar with some spots than others, and there are a few that are still on my “get to” list (looking at you, Trophy Room) but overall I don’t think you can go wrong with any of these places.
Unlike Talbot’s list, however, many of these “Best Of” lists, are not written by locals, they are a result of a perusal of Yelp reviews, Google searches and fuzzy memories of a good bar someone went to once six years ago. Some writer from New York or Indiana or some such place makes a list and waits for his view count to grow. Talbot is a local guy who knows the scene here very well, but it’s true of a lot of pieces out there.
Many of these lists also promote a particular fallacy about beer bars: the idea that “More is better.” They find the spots with the most beer taps and decide that must be the place to go for craft beer. My favorite place to try new stuff, however, has about twenty taps, half of them devoted to craft beer, which are rotated regularly (often announced via a Twitter post, which makes me want to run there as fast as the bus will carry me). Let me give you a short list of reasons why I prefer a smaller selection for my beer expeditions.
I don’t get overwhelmed with the selection. Talbot lists The Sunset Grill as the best spot in my neighborhood, and I can’t fault him for that. It’s a very nice place, many of my fellow beer nerds love it. I, however, often find the selection a bit much. With 112 beers on tap, the process of finding the right beer is sometimes just too much.
I get better recommendations at a smaller place. Many spots, particularly the bigger chains, don’t take the time and energy to educate their staff on the selection, and truthfully, unless your bartender is some kind of beer savant, no one can remember the ins and outs of over a hundred beers anyway.
A smaller selection means that a good bartender knows what is there, and can make recommendations. They can tell you the characteristics of the beer, knows the style, and compare it to something else. If you are drinking with your fellow beer nerds (also known as semi-creepy wierdos at the bar), they often chime in to give thoughts on the selection. We are beer nerds, we talk about beer, it’s what we do.
Managing over 100 taps is a bitch. Everyone knows that a tapped keg has a shelf life. A well-run place can manage the tapped kegs and pull them, empty or not, when it’s time. A place that doesn’t put in the time and training to do this, however, means a skunked beer waiting to happen. A place with twenty taps, however, has a much easier job of managing things.
In my little drinking spot, changing the taps is a big deal. They announced it on Twitter like a baby’s birth, a sort of bat-signal to the beer nerds. The rotating tap systems means I know everything is fresh, the seasonals are up to date, and I’ll have something new and exciting to try.
There are many big beer bars that do a fabulous job of these things. The Sunset Grille in Allston Village and Lord Hobo in Inman Square are two great examples from Talbot’s list. I visit these places, I sample their wares, but my drinking home will always be the place with the twenty taps, and the staff that knows how to run them.