CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Those of you that have followed my column are familiar with my lamentations about the lack of basic "beery" knowledge by Charleston area bar staff.
But things are rapidly changing for the better in area establishments, especially within places that consider themselves "craft beer bars." We can still count decent local craft-beer bars on one hand, but hey, we are a small town. I rather have a few places that turn their inventory rather than a multitude of bars that are still sitting on kegs of last year's Christmas ale.
Pies and Pints on Capitol Street requires all of its wait staff to participate in periodic beer training and to keep up with what is new on the beer menu. The restaurant even has a program to reimburse employees the cost of taking and passing the Certified Beer Server online course offered by The Cicerone Certification Program, the preeminent certifying organization for beer cicerones, which is basically the beer equivalent of a wine sommelier. This program benefits Pies and Pints by increasing customer satisfaction and is also a good resume builder for the employee. All servers and even managers must pass the test before they can work. The formula seems to be working; in fact, Pints and Pies are ready to open location No. 3 in Worthington, Ohio, in November.
Then there are the journeymen like barman David Linsell at Sam's Uptown Café, also on Capitol Street. David cut his teeth working at some of the nation's most recognized beer-bars in Philadelphia before relocating to Charleston a few years ago. David's knowledge and experience has certainly rubbed off on the rest of the bar staff at Sam's. The beer selection there varies wildly from OK to good, but whatever they are serving David will direct you toward the jewels on the menu.
A person's passion for beer cannot be underestimated as motivation to serve it up better. "Washboard" Dave Thomas, bar manager at The Boulevard Tavern, loves craft beer, and he makes sure his bar staff serves it up with as much as that passion as much. The same can be said for the bar staff at Bluegrass Kitchen on Washington Street East. Owner Keeley Steele prides herself in having unique beers on tap whenever she can get them.
So what makes a bartender a capable craft-beer server?
First and foremost is some care for the product itself. You need to at least learn the basics of beer ingredients, production and, for pete's sake, proper service! Craft beer should never be served in a frosted or even refrigerated glass. The glass needs to be beer clean, which means free from soap and rinse-agent residue to allow the beer to form a proper head.
One if not the most important value-added trait of a craft beer server is that they can lead the customer to a new and better beer experience. Today's beer consumers are curious; they hear of all the wonderful depth and flavor craft beers have to offer, but are overwhelmed when confronted with a huge beer list. They need a bit of guidance to get them tasting a brew that is affable to their tastes.
If you find yourself out and about and suddenly have a great craft-beer experience, thank the person serving you. They will appreciate it. (Even better if you tip accordingly!)
For more on the craft of beer, see Rich Ireland's "Beers to You" blog at thegazz.com.