First, it's best to plan out such an evening. You don't want to find yourself one too many doppelbocks in and then get behind the wheel of your car. When I visit my favorite pubs in Chicago or New York, I am either cabbing it or I take public transit.
The Haymarket Brewpub and Grill, in Chicago, offers its beers in a wide variety of serving sizes, from 4-ounce sampler glasses all the way to full growlers. Co-owner and brewer Pete Crowley prices his beer by the ounce and, except for a slightly discounted price for growler fills, there is no "punitive pricing" for smaller servings, which is often the reality in pubs that offer smaller servings. I hope Pete's simple pricing model catches on.
It's a good idea to be mindful of the strength of the beers you are sampling. I have been given grief on few occasions because I took a pass on some awesome beer that happens also to be awesomely strong, saving that sampling experience for another time.
I was in Pittsburgh recently with a friend, and we did a whirlwind tour of some of the better beer bars, namely Fat Head's Saloon and Piper's Pub. We found it challenging to find a beer on the draft menu that was under the 6 percent abv mark, but we found a few.
We were particularly rewarded at Piper's with a 3.8 percent abv, flavor-packed "session ale" from Pittsburgh's East End Brewing Co. The beer was called Small Hop, a name only relative to the beer's bigger and stronger brother Big Hop.
I could have parked my tush in that stool, called off the tasting tour and settled in with my new low-alcohol friend for the rest of the evening. America needs more "session beers" like East End's Small Hop or Victory's Uncle Teddy's Bitter. These brewers prove that a beer doesn't have to be strong to be flavorful.
So what's it going to be, a pleasurable evening of beer and conversation? Then find a good flavorful session beer to pace you through the evening. If it's a beer adventure you're embarking on, go for the sample-size portions or simply ask for a taster. Most good beer bars will allow you to taste from their taps -- within reason -- as long as you also are buying.
For more on the craft of beer, see Rich Ireland's "Beers to You" blog at thegazz.com.