My wife and I recently took a week-long road trip through the Pacific Northwest, stopping at as many breweries and pubs as we could along the way (similar to how we spent our honeymoon in Ireland). I love road trips. You get to travel on your own schedule, make your own itinerary and can experience a city like a local, exploring the good – and the bad.
The Appeal of Approachability
Cascade Brewing Barrel House is a brewery in Portland, Oregon that specializes in sour beers. Their work is exceptional and highly sought after, commanding comparatively high prices for a bottle of their beer. It is a must-stop for any beer fan when in Portland. We walked into the taproom, taking a seat at an over-sized barrel being used as a table and ordered a glass of the 2015 Elderberry. Coming in, I knew I wanted to bring a bottle of something home, but I wasn’t sure which beer I should splurge on. I thought it best to ask our server, a very friendly man with the best moustache you could ever have the pleasure of seeing in real life. He lit up when he was asked about beer. He talked with passion about the nuances of the Blackcap Raspberry, the Strawberry, and the Blueberry. He discussed the aging potential of each, using his hands emphatically to illustrate his points. I wanted to spend all afternoon drinking and talking with this guy. It was clear how much he likes talking about beer and how much he enjoys what he does. I eagerly took his advice, trusting his expert insight, and left with a bottle of 2015 Blackcap Raspberry, which will live in my cellar until it is time to celebrate a special occasion. Stopping here was a prime example of how businesses should be run. This man was incredibly knowledgeable of his product, and very willing to have a conversation. I left smiling because of my experience here, and contemplating what I’d look like with his moustache. I think I could pull it off.
The Impact of Indifference
The opposite of my experience at Cascade came in Seattle a couple days later at Elysian Brewing in Capitol Hill. Elysian has everything going for it. It is in a vibrant neighbourhood, they have a beautiful building, and they have been one of the leaders of the craft beer scene for over 20 years – but I left very disappointed. Our server was nonplussed and indifferent to our presence in the bar. Both the food and the beer were lacklustre, the
burger was bland and the beer had sat so long before being brought to the table that the foam had fully dissipated. Maybe I arrived on an off day, however, I don’t think this is the case because we were two of only thirty people in the restaurant (which seats 200), and other bars along the same stretch of road were overflowing with patrons. Perhaps their spirit has died off a little after their purchase by InBev, but it simply wasn’t good enough, especially following a week of top-notch brewery and taproom experiences across Oregon and Washington. I was expecting so much more from such a stalwart of the Pacific Northwest craft beer community. With so many quality places to get a beer and a bite, it’s unacceptable to have something subpar, and that is exactly what I got from Elysian Brewing in Capitol Hill.
I love travelling and I am willing to spend on quality experiences. I leave happy and I am glad to have spent my money in an establishment when I am served with a good beer, crafted by passionate brewers and presented by friendly, knowledgeable staff (extra points for a server with a tremendous moustache). When I am met with disappointment due to a restaurant’s indifference, I am left with a bad taste in my mouth – literally and figuratively. When one or – in the case of Elysian – both of these factors are missing, I will not darken your door a second time. Bars and pubs are in the business of pleasing people. I’m not one of those who believe the customer is always right, but when you are in the business of providing people with a good time, passion needs to be your rule.