Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Category: Editorial (Page 1 of 10)

Death by a Thousand Cups

A bartender’s hand slips off a freshly washed pint glass that falls to the floor with a crash. The sound of its destruction triggers cringes from patrons, some uttering small groans of disapproval. The expense of replacing a pint glass is negligible, folded into the overhead costs of running the drinking establishment. Unless an employee is exceptionally uncoordinated, such accidents don’t noticeably diminish the bar’s glassware inventory.

Across town, the employee of a small brewery takes stock before opening the tasting room to the weekend rush of beer enthusiasts and their friends. The racks of clean glasses seem sparser than they were last week. Or the week before that. Or the week before that week.

The cause here isn’t a careless bartender or busser. It is, literally, thieves.

Many operators of the small brewery tasting rooms that have popped up across Maine in the past year or two face the same questions after every busy weekend: How many tasting glasses are left, and when will we need to order more? The more popular the brewery, the more likely they are to fall victim of this type of petty crime.

The cumulative financial impact has compelled some brewers to attempt to police their tasting rooms, a task they are, understandably, reluctant to do.

“We have to spend more time than we’d like looking after taster glasses,” Jake Austin, of Austin Street Brewery, told me. “That’s time that could be spent talking to people about our beer and our brewery.”

Most of the affected breweries that have branded tasting glasses also offer those glasses for sale, often for only a few dollars. So why does this thievery continue week after week?

Maybe it’s because the glasses are tiny and pretty. Maybe the tasting room guests are trying to look cool in front of their friends by pulling off a mildly daring heist. Perhaps they’re so entitled as to believe that because they paid for a beer, the glass should be theirs when they finish it. Or maybe the small samples they’ve consumed have simply eroded their already weak impulse control.

There are actions that can be taken to make glassware less attractive to thieves, and several Maine breweries have taken those steps. Breweries can use unbranded glassware, ask patrons for a taster-glass deposit, or switch to plastic cups on busy days (please, don’t). They can invest in security cameras, post scolding signs, or spend more time monitoring patrons. But all those measures have drawbacks — they’re a hassle, an expense, or both. Switching to unbranded glassware robs breweries of opportunities to promote their brand via social media — all those photos of your pals hoisting tasters on Facebook and Instagram.

Unfortunately, glassware isn’t the only thing snatched from local tasting rooms. Posters, artwork, flight boxes, tasting paddles, and even a potted plant have all walked away from brewery tasting rooms in recent months. This indicates a more general attitude of entitlement that, as with glassware theft, ultimately leads to higher costs for everyone.

Instead of expecting our breweries to invest time, money and staff for extra security, let’s join together in an effort to raise awareness of this problem and help to self-police it. I believe we can change this culture of entitlement if we try hard enough. The pilfering of one taster glass obviously won’t be the ruin of any single brewery, but the collective kleptomania will lead to higher prices and a less convivial atmosphere for all.

Go to Austin Street Brewery and order a taster glass of Patina Pale Ale. Go to Rising Tide and get a flight of four beers served in their wooden tasting box. Go to Foundation Brewing Company and look at the little outline of the state of Maine on the back of your sample of Forge.

If, while enjoying your samples, you see someone trying to steal something, call them out on it. Maybe give them a nasty glare, or mutter a quick, disapproving “Dude” (which is also effective on women). And when you’re done, bring your tasting glass back to the employee at the taps — because it’s the right thing to do.

Can Women Be Heard In a Bar?

Whenever I am asked about being a woman in the “male-dominated beer industry” I always get the sense that the person asking the question is waiting for me to respond with a story featuring an egregious act of discrimination based on my gender. And, truthfully, I feel like most of the times I leave them disappointed.

That’s not to say that serious things don’t happen – I certainly have friends that have been put in scary situations that go beyond sexism right into harassment – but I just don’t personally possess a  story that everyone can point at and get angry about (a fact for which I am personally grateful).

But what I do have are accumulated experiences that, viewed singly, are incredibly trivial.

  • I’ve walked into a beer bar with a male friend and he’s been handed the beer list, and I’ve been handed a flipped-over menu and told, “here’s the wine section!”
  • I’ve been told that beer is probably “too bitter” and I might not like what I had just ordered.
  • Every time there’s a costumed event, it is suggested that I should dress up like a “beer wench” serving brews in low-cut outfits at Oktoberfest.
  • I’ve been on the receiving end of countless eyebrow-raises from bartenders when I order something high ABV, very hoppy, super dark, or sour.
  • I’ve been assumed to be under the bar tab/bill of male friends without ever being asked (even when ordering at the bar).
  • People at beer events greet me (the beer writer who often attends events solo) with a question about where my husband is (and why he’s not with me).

There are millions of little things like that in my beer-drinking life. And at any one time it’s something that I brush off, it’s something barely worth mentioning when I’m staring at the face of a hungry interviewer prodding for more. But it can be a daily part of being a woman in the beer world.

Those accumulated incidents have been  hard for me to articulate. But the other day when I watched this, I realized I’ve never seen it expressed so simply and clearly:

I love what they’ve done here because it’s an expression of a common situation – one most don’t think twice about. There are a lot of assumptions out there about what women do and do not like – but beer doesn’t have a gender, and anyone is welcome to enjoy what they enjoy. The more we are all made aware of these biases (especially in such a simple and clear manner), the more action we can take to correct it.

However, in the YouTube comments affiliated with the video, some have accused it of being scripted, or picking just the incidents that fit their point. Others argue that it’s a pretty “stupid thing to get worked up about,” and that only terrible, distracted service staff would ever do this.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it matters if this happened to the couples every time they ordered a drink, or it it took 5 times, or if it was in a busy bar or a slow restaurant. Stopping to examine our own assumptions is healthy and so is having empathy for those affected by the actions of those biases.

Let’s keep looking and make sure that we’re providing a welcoming environment in which to enjoy the beer that we all love.

 

 

The Session #104 – Don’t Stop The Music

 

session_logo_no_friday_text_inside_200I’m starting with a plea: Please, if it doesn’t have to end, don’t stop The Session. 

The Session has been in existence as long as I’ve been a beer blogger, and has provided me with points of view and access to the minds of other writers and bloggers for years. You (collectively) have provided examples of thought-provoking and interesting writing when it used to be so much more difficult to connect to – and continue to be a place to find new perspectives when the general social media world is becoming saturated with fluff. Though I’m not what you would call a regular contributor (though I have hosted a few), I do read, share and comment – and the posts and collaborations and thinking involved in their execution gives me inspiration to reflect on my own writing.

I think gathering a community to discuss common topics in writing is still essential in any niche. There are so many bad pieces of writing out there about beer that it is still refreshing to find a chunk of dedicated bloggers actually talking about things beyond the clickbait and the listicles.

Maybe in our increasingly fractioned lives we need to just find another way to be reminded – or a swift kick in the ass to remember why we are all doing what we’re doing. Perhaps it’s a simple an email list? Perhaps a little more encouragement from colleagues and hosts reaching out to those who should contribute? I know this places more of the work on the host, but I think a small amount of effort there could make significant gains.

I admit I hadn’t paid attention to the slow decline of people willing to host – and I’d like to volunteer right here and now to host a future session. Sign me up.

If I do know one thing – if it must end, let’s end on a high note. Go out with a bang instead of a whimper. Let’s set a number – getting to the end of 2015 perhaps? Or hitting a convenient (albeit meaningless) round number of total posts (110? 125?).

The rationale behind this type of exit would be to announce it – promote it – and reap that last sentimental groundswell of effort.

Has anyone ever quantified it? How many posts? How many words? How many different writers {Yes, Alan, I’m calling them writers} have contributed?  If it must end, let’s end with a triumph and a swell to celebrate the original purpose and the work put in by all.

Cheers -Carla

As the Crow Flies

Mama’s CrowBar, a popular watering hole on Portland’s Munjoy Hill, will serve its last beer this Labor Day. Owner Tricia Pryce Henley will be hitting the road this fall in a refurbished camper, nicknamed “Honey,” leaving her beloved city of Portland to visit friends, family and fellow poets while figuring out what’s next.

It might be easy to let a bar in a city full of them close without much acknowledgement, shrugging and muttering something like, “Oh well, guess that’s how business goes these days.” But Mama’s was not just a bar. This place had a significant impact on its rapidly changing neighborhood, on the landscape of craft beer on the peninsula, and on the community that gathered around its taps. And the CrowBar isn’t simply going out of business. Its closure is the culmination of a long and tangled legal battle between Henley and the building’s owners — which is a particularly painful way for a well-loved establishment to meet its demise.

Though its story is unique, the closing of the CrowBar seems symptomatic of the development pressures affecting the now-trendy Munjoy Hill neighborhood, as well as working–class enclaves facing gentrification in other cities. “I think what’s happening to this bar is happening to little huts and taverns all over the place,” Tricia said when I paid her a visit at Mama’s last month.

This 10-stool Congress Street bar, formerly George’s Tavern, had been sold and was operating as Awful Annie’s Irish Saloon for several years before Tricia took it over in 2009 and made it Mama’s. She arrived with a mission. When she first sat down with the beer distributors to place orders, eyebrows raised over her refusal to serve Pabst Blue Ribbon (on grounds that it contains corn syrup). People told her she couldn’t run a bar in this town without carrying PBR. Tricia raised more eyebrows when she insisted on making Allagash Black (her favorite beer) a flagship of the bar, instead of the much more popular White. Her opening tap lineup consisted of Allagash Black, Allagash Curieux (a bourbon-barrel-aged tripel), Brooklyn Lager and Sebago’s Frye’s Leap IPA. The draft list made some people think she was crazy.

Allagash Black has remained a fixture at Mama’s. I’ve yet to find another bar (or even brewery) that features a Belgian-style stout atop its offerings. Mama’s CrowBar has also been a supportive home for new breweries. “I met Nathan Sanborn [co-owner of Rising Tide] right here, sitting at the end of the bar with an unlabeled beer in his hand,” Tricia recalled. “Oxbow delivered their first keg for the bar on a skateboard.” Not one can of PBR has been served.

As we sat and talked, Tricia checked in with everyone coming and going. She made sure her customers had what they needed, even if all they needed was to sit at the end of the bar and read a book. As one of the relatively few female bar owners in Portland, Tricia has been an outspoken advocate for women in a male-dominated environment where bars are often considered places for men to either pick up or get away from members of the opposite sex. She established the CrowBar as a “safe space” where harassment of any type — hate speech or degradation of anyone based on their beliefs, race or sexual orientation — was not tolerated. As patrons witnessed Tricia and her staff make good on their promise to intervene when harassment took place, the number of female customers grew along with the overall diversity of the clientele.

Any new bar on the Hill will have a hard time replacing or replicating the ethos Mama’s established — assuming its owners even care to do. “New businesses in Portland are disconnected from the people in Portland,” Tricia said. “The people of Portland do care how their actions affect other people, and then these businesses roll up and they open and they don’t [care]. They don’t think about their neighborhood.”

It would be naïve to believe our favorite neighborhoods and taverns will never change. My hope for Portland is not that everything remains the same. I hope that throughout the inevitable changes, bar owners and brewers and proprietors of small businesses of all kinds will have the courage to defy conventional wisdom and stand up for the people and the values of their neighborhoods. If the story of Mama’s CrowBar can teach us anything, let it be that.


 

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