With Dallas now besotted with craft beer, no bar can open these days without an essential feature: a multitude of taps. The lowly spigot with Bud, Miller and Coors won't cut it; new bars need a whole wall dedicated to 40, 60 — no, make that 100 — taps.
For a novice beer drinker, or even an experienced one, the sight of that many taps can overwhelm. You want to try one of everything. And, with taps, unlike bottles, you actually can taste before you buy.
But how many tastes? Navigating the craft beer scene calls for a new kind of etiquette, wherein the bartender must be patient and the customer must not be a greedy, sample-grabbing hog.
Navigating the craft beer scene calls for a new kind of etiquette, wherein the bartender must be patient and the customer must not be a greedy, sample-grabbing hog.
"We offer samples and have never set a limit," says Kevin Afghani, owner of Craft & Growler in Exposition Park. "We do have people who come in and ask for endless samples; it is a reality. I give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they're trying to figure out what they want.
"It's something that comes with the territory. You try and be as accommodating as you can. I consider it a cost of doing business. At the end of the day, when you walk into a bar, you do buy something."
It brings to mind that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Larry David is waiting in line for gelato, and the lady in front of him is a "sample abuser." She asks for sample after sample, beyond the point of reasonable, before finally ordering vanilla.
You don't want to risk getting stuck with a beer you don't like, you're trying to find the perfect one, but by your 12th sample, you can't help but notice that the bartender seems to be slapping the glass down extra hard. That or he's pretending you're not there.
"We don't have a lot of people who want a million," says Alyssa Clark, from Holy Grail Pub in Plano. "We have had people who don't know anything about beers, so they want to keep sampling everything. And then you get certain people, all they want to do is sample. But we're not going to say no if people ask."
Not every establishment is so friendly. Meddlesome Moth can often be so busy that its bartenders will smack the glass down brusquely after one or two tastes. Another small bar with a wall of taps that we won't name has been known to flat-out say no to any sample requests at all.
"We know we're selling complex stuff, and people might not know what the hell it is," says Goodfriend co-owner Matt Tobin. "But that's part of why we do this. We love craft beer."
At World of Beer in Dallas, the magic number is four, says bartender Byron Fiss.
"I haven't seen anybody push it, but when you reach the point of three or four samples, after that you need to put some money down," Fiss says. "Either that or you begin to look like you're just out to get a cheap drunk. But most people know not to, or are too embarrassed."
At Goodfriend Beer and Burger Garden, the bell starts going off at about six samples.
"We don't ever tell people no. We smile," says Goodfriend co-owner Matt Tobin. "If you get to six or seven samples, and they're still asking, we might drop a funny comment like, 'Really? You’re going to get loaded for free!' You say it with a smile so that the customer knows you're not really pissed. But we very rarely have to do it.
"That's where the expertise of your staff comes in. You want to start off the conversation by asking, 'What do you normally drink? Dark or light?' Right there, you've narrowed it down to two to three samples. We know we're selling complex stuff, and people might not know what the hell it is. But that's part of why we do this. We love craft beer."
CultureMap Dallas bon vivant Jonathan Rienstra recommends asking for samples upfront. "That way, they're not just standing around, waiting," he says. And he never asks for more than three.
"This is a bit crass, but there's an old saying that goes, 'Touch it more than three times, and you're playing with it.' I think the same holds for samples," he says. "And I think bartenders need to be patient, because there are so many new local beers these days."