Every beer that ends up in your glass takes a different route to get there. Certain pours come right from the source, simply making the trek in a keg across the brewery to the in-house taproom, while others make the long journey down the supply line from brewer, distributor, to bottle shop or bar. Much like the men and women that work in breweries every day, each beer has it’s own story; one that opens itself to discussion.
Evan Rail, California native, accomplished beer writer and current resident of Prague in the Czech Republic, along with London dweller and fellow accomplished beer writer Mark Dredge, treated a handful of Chicago beer enthusiasts to a tapping of Pilsner Urquell at Kaiser Tiger last week. The visit to the U.S. marked the end of the road for eight select kegs brought over from the Czech Republic in a tapping of a rare unfiltered variant of the world’s oldest pilsner. But the end of the road was just the beginning of the conversation.
Americans drink a lot of beer. According to Rail, the U.S. averages about 11 gallons (42 liters) per capita, but that number pales in comparison to the Czech Republic where the per capita average sits just above 37 gallons (141 liters). The large gap in consumption, says Rail, is the role that beer plays in the people’s lives on a daily basis. For the Czech, beer is about community, discussion and living a full life, that makes itself a built-in part of everyone’s day to visit the pub, rather than a more formal weekly occurrence we see in the U.S.
With the boom of craft in the U.S., we know more about beer than ever before but the integration isn’t quite at the level of many European countries. Beer lovers in the Czech Republic knows what it feels like to pick hops, to have their hands covered in resin, to know the smell, taste and feel of the raw ingredients. That integration, Rail mentions, is now at the hands of the individuals who serve us the beer (or výčepní for tapman) rather than the brewers themselves. The saying in Czech is “Sládek pivo vaří, ale výčepní ho dělá” or “The brewer brews the beer, but the tapman (bartender) makes it.”
More than ever, a bartender’s role is in shaping the story behind beer for both people who already love it and for those who don’t know they love it yet. From understanding the proper handling, glassware and how to pour, the delivery is just as crucial as the brewing process itself. That is where beer drinkers begin to know more about what they’re drinking; by talking, consuming and learning about how that specific beer found its way into their glass.
It was a great talk by Evan and one that struck a similar note to a Q&A I did with Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting in 2012. A knowledgeable beer server goes a long way in promoting craft, which is being reflected in programs like Cicerone.org’s Beer Servers certification. Without the right delivery, the story never has a chance to be heard.