Generalisations about beer culture

The etiquette of taking your pint back

Real ale can be a beautiful thing — nothing can beat it for its fresh taste and fruitiness. But when it’s bad, it’s horrid — sour and farty. So what do you do?

(a) exercise your rights, take it back and ask for something else

(b) leave the pub, never to return.

I bet most readers of this blog go for (a) whereas most Brits go for (b) or possibly even (c) — continue to drink it coz it’s a vehicle for alcohol on a Friday night.

It took me years to progress to option (a). Why? Well, partly because for the first couple of years of drinking ale, I really wasn’t sure if I had a bad pint, or if that was just how it was supposed to taste. Ale is an acquired taste — more acquired than it ought to be, in fact, because it’s off more than it ought to be.

Also, I’m British, and therefore not one to make a fuss or cause any possible awkwardness.

However, as my ale-drinking has progressed, I now have no problem taking back a dodgy pint. And every time I do it, it’s the same ritual:

Me (choosing a quiet moment if possible, using maximum possible “indirect” language):
Er….I think this might possibly be a bit off.

Bartender (shrugs and/or feigns perplexion): Are you sure?

Me: Yes. Try it yourself.

Bartender: Tastes fine to me.

Me: Well, it definitely tastes off to me.

At this point, the bartender usually shrugs, caves in and asks what you want instead. But they always try to convince you you’re wrong. As if you’ve got over your doubts about your own judgement, and your typical British reserve, just to walk away at this point. Must be something they learn in pub school? Or maybe the perplexion is genuine — maybe not that many people complain?

I’ve come to think you should always take a bad pint back. Firstly, they never refuse to give you a new one, once you’ve gone through the ritual. Secondly, you’re doing them a favour — lots of barstaff don’t like ale, remember, and have no way of knowing if it’s off unless you tell them.  In the case of the chain bar in central London where they hadn’t rinsed the bleach out of the pipes properly before serving me my Pride, maybe I even saved a life by fighting my way to the front of the queue to complain…


13 replies on “The etiquette of taking your pint back”

Interesting article. I’m not one for taking a beer back, although thankfully I’ve not had too many bad pints over the year (I guess that comes from being choosy where I drink).

I think it is the Englishness in me which makes me feel too embarassed to complain. That is certainly my loss.

I’m from the midwestern US where our motto is suffer in silence, and what makes you so special, so I would have to be half in the bag to complain about a bad beer. Yesterday I was at a brewpub, and I swore the guy served me an off pint, but I said nothing and drank the gross butterscotchy alt he served me.

I admire you for your ability to complain about a bad beer. I’d probably either just down it or leave it. I’d probably run through the scenario in my head a dozen times of how I’d tell the bartender it was bad and “demand” my refund, but I’d also probably even go so far as to tell the bartender it was “fine, thanks” if he asked. And I’m not even British. Makes me want to go practice returning bad beers.

Ah the english reserve has obviosly wilted in the colonies. I have no hesitation in returning a bad pint, if its off its off and there is no way the punter should be paying for it. The pub is better off being alerted to the situation.

Wetherspoons would be the obvious place where you are likely to be served a sub-par ale. I’m trying to recall if I have ever made the leap to taking back a bad pint. Possibly once or twice but it would have to have been bloody awful. I had similar concerns at first (as mentioned in the orignal piece) of doubting my own knowledge of what the beer is supposed to taste like – especially when trying an obscure microbrew for the first time.

Most of the time in these situations the beer is not absolutely dreadful but slightly on the turn. I would tend to grin and bare it, finish the pint but think twice about returning to the pub in a hurry. I’m not suggesting this is the correct thing to do and agree with the point made about barstaff sometimes needing customer feedback to notice a gone off brew. I would, however, like to think that I have the ‘nerve’ to return any beer I find undrinkable – but as other readers have suggested, would try to stick to the places where a good pint is pretty much guaranteed.

I think I would feel confident enough to take a pint back, and have done on rare occasions. Once you get over a certain age the curmudgeon in you suppresses the Britishness. If you complain you are doing the real ale world a favour as the next pint might be served to someone new to ale and could perhaps put them off for life.

More than likely, I’d have them take it back if it were that noticeable. I thought there’d be a more resounding “Hell yeah, take it back!” from the American commenters, instead of the polite Canadian/British “That’s okay, thank you anyway” method of dealing with it.

(Just thought I’d stir the “beer culture generalization” pot a bit)

Regional variation, although on the wane in most avenues of human endeavor, makes for different attitudes about what constitutes a polite interaction, or even whether a polite interaction is desired. In flyover/tundra country folks are a little more reserved and distrustful of the squeaky wheel people.

And here I was, thinking you were all going to slate me for being so timid…

The situation where the beer is just a bit stale is pretty bad for the brewers. I’m sure there’s many an ale I’ve decided I don’t like because it was in bad condition. It’s pretty hard on the microbrewers, who can’t afford mystery shoppers / quality assurance. I’m trying to get round to drinking lots of ales that I’d previously dismissed to compensate.

As for all the advice about going to reliable places – even places in the Good Beer Guide can have off days. I’m much more likely to take it back in a place I like, though.

Just thought I’d stir the “beer culture generalization” pot a bit

Heh! It probably needs stirring from time to time to keep us on our toes.

As for me, being the stereotypical American beer geek redneck type (there is one?) I am, I’d most likely take the beer back only after careful consideration. I’m not nearly as assertive about things like that as I probably should be. Truth be told, “(b) leave the pub, never to return” would stand an equal chance with just taking the beer back for me.

I think in the US the issue is less likely to arise as your beer isn’t normally cask conditioned and therefore less pront to variation. Of course you pay a heavy price for that increase in reliability.

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