The Problem With Tasters

We’ve never been keen on asking for tasters, mostly because of we have a powerful aversion to making nuisances of ourselves, though we do understand all the arguments in favour of the practice. On our recent trip to London, however, we saw a kind of worst-case scenario played out, which only increased our antipathy.

A solo barman on a quiet afternoon was approached by a party of five, all of who wanted to taste everything before making a choice. Way more than a pint of (expensive) beer was given away while a queue of thirsty punters grew and grew, getting more impatient with every further request the party of tasters made: “Can you tell us which hops are the Kernel again? And what was that first one? Kelly, you should taste that first one Dave and I tried before you choose.”

We can’t see any way the barman could have wriggled out of this situation. Saying “Right, you’ve had enough tastes, now just choose!” would have seemed rude. He might, perhaps, have suggested serving a couple of other customers while they decided, but then what if we’d started asking to taste everything, too? The traditional publican’s response would be a passive-aggressive sign: “POLITE NOTICE: it would be appreciated if customers could refrain from asking for excessive numbers of tasters at busy times”.

Tasters work well when customers are suitably cooperative and community-minded — that is, when they have a couple of tasters rather than ten; and when they pay attention to how busy the bar is — but then that’s true of lots of aspects of pub culture.

Actually, come to think of it, maybe we should have made this is a You’re the Landlord scenario? How would you have handled it if you were behind the bar?

30 replies on “The Problem With Tasters”

I think you have it bang on, the barman should have moved on or at least said, if you are not sure, have a think while I serve somebody else. That said, maybe it’s not as easy as it sounds here if you are in the firing line.

I have no problem in asking for “a” taster, it’s normally just to check something unknown that I want to test before committing to a full pint, but not to that extreme. Taking the piss methinks….

Notices in pubs – particularly polite ones – are a pet hate of mine. A quiet word is always better than a forest of laminated paper.

In the situation above, I think you answered your own question. Give people tasters, serve others behind while they decide. If it means they have to wait a bit longer to then be served, then they get more time to form an opinion on what they want…

I never feel comfortable asking for tasters. The way I see it, a pint costs about £3 odd. If it’s not to my taste I’ll go on to something else next, if it’s off I’ll send it back.

Have some balls, make a decision. If you order a beer that you don’t like (that isn’t off) just see it as an education in a different style/brewery.

I can see why you got annoyed. I never ask for a taste for the same reason as you, also if there are more than two unknown beers on I’ll get halves anyway so if I don’t like one sas Maxwell says o what.

Strangely the first time we went to the Greenwich Union the barman pretty much insisted I try all the Meantime beers before serving me the Meantime Red I had ordered in the first place.

I was firmer (but very polite) when I went up 😛

TO be honest unless a beer is super expensive as Zos says order a half, most I have paid for a half is about £6. But I knew the brewery and knew the bar kept excellent quality beer so I don’t mind spending the money.

I pretty much agree with you. I will only ever ask for a maximum of two tasters unless I really don’t like what I’ve had and feel it’s necessary to go for a third one. If I don’t like any of those, I’ll go for what I know. There was one incident of this recently in a pub in Norwich, didn’t like the first two I tried, went for a third try and didn’t like it so I asked for a pint of a beer that I have previously enjoyed and the lady behind the bar said “After all that, you pick something different? No more tasters for you today” in quite a rude manner.

I think tasters are a good idea – I’ll often ask for one if I don’t recognize any beers on the bar, but not if its busy and if there are a couple of us there – we’ll always share them.

I’d imagine if you are selling a load of unusual beers – you want people to try them rather than the safe options. So you’d probably rather give away tasters and sell a wider range of beer than the alternative.

The group in your story do sound like a bunch of wankers though.


Drinkers tend to know what style of drink they like, so to taste everything is unfair and selfish.
I have been in pubs were drinkers, have tasted all the new range and then said no I will have my usual. One landlord now asks what style you like, and will recommend a couple and let you taste them.
He’s never off the mark.

I prefer this personal service, and his customers old and new appreciate it.

With groups the barstaff should probably give a taster per beer not per person/beer. Give a slightly bigger measure and let them sort out tastes and flavours and passing them around . If you dont trust your fellow drinkers opinion or for them to scoff the lot you shouldnt be out drinking with them.
I know barstaff who just think people are trying to get extra drinks as they do it every time under the pretense of testing todays condition.

I regularly ask to try before I buy. However, I’m very much of the opinion that if more pubs were encouraged to serve thirds this could be avoided! I would happily buy 3 thirds for the price of a pint then take my decision from there!

What a delightfully English conundrum! I suggest legislation.

Great material for a Real Ale Twats strip.

asking to try everything is taking the piss. Most times I’ll see something I want without needing to ask for a taster. If they’re all unknowns or a pub that may not have a high turnover of beers (ie, lower quality) I’ll ask for a taste first.

Steve’s first sentence says it all. I never even ask for a taster – I do sometimes say “what kind of beer is the $X?”, which generally gets a taster, but I genuinely wouldn’t mind if the barperson just said “it’s a hoppy golden ale” or whatever. Apart from anything else, once I’ve had a taster I generally feel obliged to have that beer, or at least explain why I didn’t like it. This whole “ooh, that one’s nice, but I think I like that one even better…” mentality – it’s beer, FFS. Have a different one next time.

Essentially, if you think it’s OK for more than one person to ask for more than two tasters, you’ve got a very different view of the role of the bar staff – and of your importance in the scheme of things – than I would be comfortable having.

Like Phil, I don’t ask for tasters, but sometimes get given them anyway if I ask what style of ale something is. Often I don’t actually _want_ a taster; I just want an answer on the order of “it’s a mild”, “it’s quite hoppy”. I suspect a fair proportion of these unwanted tasters are due to the barstaff not knowing anything about the ale (sometimes they tell me this explicitly).

yes definitely to that last part kake. I’m frequently surprised by barstaff not even knowing what beer is on where, let alone what the beer is like.

It can get very frustrating to remain polite when people act as you said, but I think giving tasters is the right thing to do, I just wish people would talk to the person serving them first! In a pub that has good beer on the staff should be knowledgable, and given a basic description of what the person wants, be able to pick a couple that they think are most appropriate. This is easier for customer and staff, we know the beers, they may not, normally if someone starts asking for silly amounts of tasters the easiest thing to do is to narrow their options down for them.

While this situation seemed to be taking the piss, I’ve been observing in Tap East how useful and reassuring the offer of a taster is to the various bewildered coaches, athletes etc.

I almost never ask for tasters. Mostly because I shy away from having to look a barperson in the eye and tell them all their beers are shit and I don’t fancy any of them. It makes the decision harder, not easier.

As an experienced bar person, I wouldn’t have let the tasting situation get out of hand in the first place, but having done so, simple. You tell the customers to take their time and let you know when they have decided. Then you serve other customers. Lots of them.

I think asking for more than two tasters is dodgy and you always have to take into account the needs of other customers by not blocking the bar. That applies in other scenarios too.

At GBBF I offer samples when people are unsure, but I use my judgement too. If the bar is chokka, I don’t ,or just leave a quick splash of one they might like and move on

On the other hand it is fun and educational if you have time. Whatever happened to common sense?

I visited the Wellington in Sheffield (the one near Kelham Island) earlier this year and they had a prominent sign saying “Our tasters are called halves”. I got the impression that they’ve had too many scroungers (they usually have about 12 beers on including some brewed out the back).

I’ve had so many pints that changed character as they warmed up in the bar that I don’t think a taster is a good guide anyway.

Incidentally, but off the subject, the Wellington also had signs announcing a “Challenge 60” policy.

the Wellington also had signs announcing a “Challenge 60″ policy.

I’ve thought about it, I’ve slept on it, I’ve given up and googled it… nothing.

A what policy?

I just didn’t want to give the impression that the Wellington is one of those pubs that are festooned with notices saying what you can and cannot do (like a place in East London with closely typed A4 sheets setting out their ‘Childern and Dogs’ policy). Most of the posters at the Wellington are for local events (beer festivals, whatever) but they have adapted some Sheffield Licence Watch ‘Challenge 21’ signs to ‘Challenge 60’, on the basis as I understand it that we seem to be going that way so they might as well be ahead of the game….

I really hope that it just turns out to be a nice piece of humour.

Nothing wrong with asking for tasters, but I think two is about the limit. That, by the way, is between the group. If the barperson did waste a pint of beer in tasters, then that sounds like he was giving a good measure to all of the group. Now that is wrong.

I think once they had tasted a couple the barman could have said “If you are interested in trying our full range, can I interest you in purchasing a tasting tray, all for only £4?”.

I sometime ask for a taste of some unknown beer, but its a bit of a waste of time really seeing as I don’t recall every saying anything other than “oh yes thats nice I’ll have a pint please”. I’m unfortunately too polite to say “No actually I’ll have something else that was foul – what about that one?”.

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