The Beer Menu as Reference Guide

I take great pleasure from bellying up to a bar, familiar or not, and slowly perusing the beer list to find a delicious selection.  The list is usually comprised of a few obligatory American brews, perhaps some microbrews, and potentially a fair number of imports.  More bottles than draught taps, of course, but a good mix to be sure.

But what happens when that beer list, that tried and true staple of bar tops everywhere, arrives in a bound book, whose pages number more than a dozen?  A list whose choices number so great that it’s necessary to read the list online, before you even arrive, for fear of delay, hesitation, or indecision?

When is the beer list too much?  How many choices are too many?  And if there is such a number, what number is reasonable?  I have a few thoughts on this particular problem, which has become increasingly common.

First off, I’m not faulting restaurants for rolling out the book-length menu to showcase their massive beer selection.  It’s easier than ever to get rare imports from specialty stores, groceries, or ambitious restaurants. Accordingly, those restaurants understandably wish to showcase their efforts at bringing such selection to their customers.  What I’ve realized, however, is the restaurant’s ordinary responsibility – narrowing the beer list to a manageable size – has gone out of fashion.

Restaurants now make their name based on their beer lists.  A few years ago, this wasn’t a noticeable problem because only a few venues qualified.  Those were notorious beer joints that only adventurous drinkers frequented.  Today, every new restaurant boasts such a list, oftentimes overshadowing the traditionally more prominent food menu.  Restaurants offer some well-intentioned yet perfunctory bar snacks alongside their Bible of a beer list.  But the message is clear: instead of making carefully deliberate selections, the Powers That Be err on inclusion over exclusion, resulting in the epic lists we now regularly encounter.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful; in most situations like these more is better. But in such circumstances, after thumbing past the umpteenth page of choices, the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in: I give up hope of adventurous drinking and order something I recognize.  I can always re-read the beer list later and track down an interesting choice at my leisure from the low-pressure comfort of my home, when the bartender or waiter isn’t soon expecting a decision.

Choice is welcomed, but so is a little limitation.  Not in every circumstance or location, but maybe in some.  Focus on what is good and perhaps rotate the list once and awhile, by season for example.  And while it’s fun to marvel at the great lengths of a restaurant’s beer menu, I can’t say I’ve ever encountered waitstaff who enjoy returning to my table, for a fourth time, to see if I’ve made up my mind.

Published in: on August 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm  Comments (3)  
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  1. I try and pick something new, but rely on region and type (i.e. Czech pilsner or Belgian blond ale).

  2. What if more restaurants went the flights of beer route with possible food/beer pairing suggestions? Or how about a chef’s tasting menu with a predetermined beer to go with each course (modest pours of course, not a full pint? That would kill two birds with one stone. They could have the big list for those afflicted with Food and Drink ADHD like myself, and you would have someone helping you navigate by simply making the decisions for you.

  3. variety is good, but too many choices makes my head hurt

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