I'm sure many of us have had similar situations where we try a new beer only to discover, to our intense disappointment, that it's thoroughly unpleasant. We can't send it back, or ask for it to be replaced, because it's not actually off. With this sort of experience in mind, Mark concludes his article by asking the following questions.
" If I ran that place and I put those beers on the bar, would I continue to serve them after tasting them or would I pull them off the tap? How much responsibility should the bar/pub have on serving beer like this?
It damages what I think of the place as well as the breweries. But what can they do? Make the call that says they don’t like the beer or serve 70 pints of it and hope for the best? As the only fault is the flavour, then can the customer return the beer and ask for something else? When a bad beer gets to the pub then who should deal with it and how?"
Speaking from personal experience those are difficult questions to answer. When I ran the Cask and Glass, an off-licence specialising in serving cask ales to take away, I personally tasted every draught beer that went on sale. I also regularly tasted the beers throughout the time they were on sale, just to make sure they were still up to scratch. This is something I would expect every self-respecting licensee to do, but sadly many don't follow this practise, as we all know to our cost. ( I would also like to add that I always gave people the opportunity to taste the beers before committing to buying a full 2 pint or 4 pint container).
Despite this attention to detail, something of a dilemma can arise when you order a beer you are not familiar with. You go through the ritual of tapping and spliling the cask, you draw some off and are pleased it has cleared nicely and appears suitably lively in the glass. However, when you come to taste it, it's just not right. It's not off in so much that it's oxidised, sour or infected, it's just plain bad! The beer could be overtly bitter or cloyingly sweet. It could be too thin, unbalanced or just badly brewed. It might even be as the brewer intended and it's just down to personal preference that you don't like it. If you're a regular beer drinker though, with faith in your own judgement, you know deep down that for whatever reason something is not right with the beer and worryingly you could be left with 70 odd pints of beer that you will struggle to sell! As Mark says "When a bad beer gets to the pub then who should deal with it and how?"
As a licensee or bar owner, the first thing to remember is not to panic. I quite often found that beers I personally didn't like still sold; some people even enthused about them! There was one brewery who's beers were so un-balanced that I'm not surprised they're no longer trading. I won't mention their name but they were based a dozen or so miles from where I live and their beers all had a "cricketing theme". One beer in particular was so overtly over-hopped you could smell the resins in the glass - they were that over-powering. Now I like hoppy beers, but there has to be the right amount of malt flavours to balance the bitterness, and that balance was certainly lacking in this particular brew! It definitely wasn't to my taste, and I don't think it was to many other people's either, but strangely enough the odd customer or three enthused about it and despite my initial fears I still managed to sell the beer. In practise it was very rare that I was ever left with beer that had to be thrown away, and given the earlier comments, this often amazed me.
As drinkers we all like to think we are good judges of beer, and no doubt we are in our own way. However, we're all different and what appeals to one person may not necessary tick the right boxes with another. So just because you think a beer is "bad", it doesn't necessarily mean that others will judge it the same way.. Therefore put it down to experience and make a note to avoid that beer, or indeed any beers from that brewery in future.
And if you're running a pub or bar and you find yourself in this position, wait and see what happens first before deciding to take the beer off sale. If you get loads of negative feedback, then fair enough, cut your losses and remove it from sale, but don't be too hasty. If you DO have to take it off then you owe it to yourself, your customers, and also the brewery responsible, to pick up the phone and tell them why you had to stop selling their beer. Any self-respecting brewer should be able to handle criticism. so long as it's constructive and fair, so tell them the truth, without being too negative about it.
If you find the beer sells, but moves noticeably slower than normal, and in addition you receive only lukewarm praise for it, or indeed no praise at all, make a mental note not to order that one again. The brewery concerned may still phone you, especially if they are looking for repeat orders. Again, tell them the truth about the bad experience you have had with their beer. At the end of the day you have the final say, and it is your reputation as a good licensee/cellarman that is at stake here.
The bottom line in all this is whether you are a drinker, a licensee or a happy combination of the two, over time you will gradually build up a mental picture of those beers you rave about, those you enjoy, those you tolerate and those you wish to avoid altogether. Sure you will get caught out from time to time, especially as you become more adventurous in your sampling, but that's part and parcel of the joys of beer drinking. Learn from these experiences; revel in the good ones, put the bad ones behind you and move on. There are always more beers out there for you to sample, enjoy and, if you're a licensee, there's the added bonus of serving the best of them to an appreciative public as well.