Our experiences of the past few days in Bristol have led us to ponder the rights of the consumer when a beer is not technically ‘off’ but just plain unpleasant.
In a restaurant, we’d feel reasonably happy complaining about a dish if it was, e.g. burnt, cold or mouldy. (Well, not happy, exactly — we are British, after all.)
If, however, we ordered something advertised as ‘super hot’, would we complain if it was either too mild or too spicy? Probably not. What if the sauce was too salty for our taste? In a cheap and cheerful curry house, no; at a ‘posh’ restaurant, maybe.
What if we ordered something ‘wacky’ — chocolate fondant with ketchup, say — and then didn’t like it? We would probably blame ourselves for making a bad choice, or not ‘getting it’.
So what about pubs and bars?
If you choose something that is technically in good condition but simply tastes dreadful, do you take it back?
“I’d like this pint changing: the pump clip says it’s really hoppy, but it’s actually quite bland.”
It’s not the done thing, so we don’t do it. We are, however, likely to become wary of the brewery, and think less of the bar for failing to ‘edit’ or ‘curate’.
With beer, it’s not always clear that you’re ordering something ‘weird’, especially if you’re not a beer geek. It can also be hard to tell where intentional weirdness ends and ‘offness’ begins, especially as sour beers become more common.
We’ve yet to see a tasting note on a behind-the-bar blackboard that says something like ‘smells like antiseptic and tastes like mud, but meant to be like that’. (Because no-one would order that beer?)
Some bars very wisely do give warnings — ‘You’ve had this before, yeah?’ Tasters are also helpful. After Russian roulette at one bar in Bristol, we appreciated all the more that at Brewdog, it was almost impossible to order a beer without being given samples and advice.
While some publicans might get hacked off at people who try taster after taster, surely in the long run it is the best way to achieve a satisfactory consumer experience if quality beer is at the heart of your offer.
Photo: The Sound of the Sea at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant, by Jessica Spengler. (Flickr, Creative Commons.)