How do you decide where to spend an evening out? And why would you even consider a brewery??
Well, our journey into craft beer started at a brewery...when I didn't even like beer! But after you read this blog, you'll understand why we continue to seek out more breweries to visit, even as we build our own!
Most of us are so busy with everyday life that IF we are able to go out, we don't take for granted where we go, because sometimes its hard to know when the next opportunity will be, right?! And if you’re like us, you’re looking for an “experience,” that makes portioning some of your limited and precious time, absolutely worth it.
So when we have an evening (or even just a couple of hours) to spend some time out with each other, with our kids or with friends, here's a few things we think about before choosing where we go and why breweries have won us over:
Does the place we’re going have an inviting atmosphere and good service?
Does the place we’re going have good beer and food?
What about the kids...??
Being typical humans, you can imagine that feeling like we belong in a place is at the the top our list.
Is it warm and inviting when we walk in?
Do we see smiling faces around us?
Are the staff conversing with us?
Does the staff seem to want us to be there?
Do we matter in this place or are we just another "tip"?
Maybe it sounds silly, but this is an incredibly important part of our decision making process. If we don’t feel like we belong, we won’t stay and we definitely won’t return.
From the moment we walked into our first brewery, we noticed a different "feeling" than we had experienced elsewhere.
The minute we walked in, the staff welcomed us like we had been there a hundred times before...like we were old friends (granted, we know some amazing places in Okotoks that do this same thing so although it wasn't "unique" it earned some points!). The people around us were smiling and happy and many were even playing games like cribbage and scrabble - it was like sitting in a friend's living room! And when it was clear to the staff that we were craft beer "newbies," they went right to work helping us figure out how to navigate our first visit.
First things first...in most breweries, there aren't servers coming to your table UNLESS its quiet and they have the time to pop over. Why is this? It's because breweries want you to come to the bar...see all the beers on tap, ask questions and even sample the beer before you buy your first pint! It's like trying on clothes before you buy them...they want you to REALLY like what you're getting!
Now if you don't know craft beer (just like us in the beginning), you'll likely have no idea what to ask for when you head up to that bar...but don't be afraid! The servers are there to help you find your way through so that you don't order a Berliner Weiss when you want a Cream Ale or a Lager (don't worry, you'll get to know what these are very soon).
But like you may experience, when our server asked what we wanted to drink our very first time, we said, "we have NO IDEA!" Fortunately for us, his face lit up, because he knew we were about to have an exciting new experience, learning what craft beer was and could be. So, he went on asking us a few critical questions like what beer we normally drank and what flavours we might prefer (i.e. fruity...roasty...coffee...chocolate...even banana) and with those bits of information, helped us select four beer samples each and served them up on something called a "beer flight."
For the next 20 minutes or so we sat together and took small sips of each of our own (and each others') samples, dissecting the flavours (most, brand new to us), talking a lot about them and finally choosing a favourite and ordering a pint.
It donned on us when we finished our flights and were awaiting a pint of the beer we each liked best, that we were so engrossed in this new experience that we hadn't noticed that for a solid stretch of time we weren't talking about money, kids, work or any of the other normal "stressors" in life (yes we love our kids...but teenagers...wow). We weren't even distracted by the typical wall full of tv's...we were talking to each other about something so much more fun...and we loved it!
Have you ever noticed when you go to a sports bar or even a lot of restaurants these days, that there is always a TV or two (or 20) near by?
Now don't get me wrong...I love TV as much as the next person and I'm a HUGE hockey fan (go Oilers) ... but what I've noticed about myself, is that I will watch any dumb thing that's on the TV and in front of my face, even if I have no interest in it and while having a full-on conversation with someone. Darts? Yup...I'm watching. Poker? Yup ... watching. Toyota commercial...well, you get it. But in this brewery, where no TV's existed, we were watching each other and the beer...talking to each other...and bonding over our new found love of sampling beer (of which previously I didn't even like)! We even asked for one of the cribbage boards and played many games (of which I handily won most of...that's my story), before even considering an end to our evening.
Today, even as we build our brewery, we continue to look for that experience and hope to bring the same experience to our patrons when the day comes!
So, I've gone on and on about the "atmosphere" and "service" being number one in importance to us when choosing where we go for an evening, but like I said before, that's not the ONLY thing we consider. As purveyors of good beer you can imagine that if the beer is not good, we won't be going there.
Why does the beer matter so much you ask? It matters because if you're like me, you can't have more than one drink (two max) in a sitting, unless you're there for the very long haul, so whatever drink touches my lips, had better be incredible! And if it's THAT good, I may even grab that second one and an Uber after!
But if I find myself ordering the “next best thing”...aka a Ceasar or glass of wine (which are good, but not my go-to), because there isn’t a great beer on tap, then I’m not having the experience I signed up for and this isn't the place for me. At this point in our lives, we are beyond needing to drink for the sake of drinking...we enjoy a pint of beer 100% for the flavour! And without it, why bother?
Now for some people, it may not be all about the beer...maybe for you it's more about the food?
We get that...It seems that for us anyway, food and beer need to go together. It could be as simple as having a little popcorn or a pretzel, or it could mean ordering a full meal – just depends on the night. But no matter what…we always seem to need (want) food with our beer. And with that comes the next battle…who’s pallet wins? He wants pizza, she wants sushi…ugh. Our answer...get both!
When we went to our first collection of breweries, it was clear that most did not have food available. At least nothing more than packaged, "snacky" type foods (think chips and popcorn). This is why we often saw food trucks parked outside...there WAS food...it just wasn't their own (sound familiar?). And the best part about it was the food changed on the daily. There was always a rotation of trucks coming in and parking at these breweries so you were never forced to eat only one style of food each time you visited.
Now, having a daily rotating selection of food options was fun, but as we learned...it could be done even BETTER!
We loved those food trucks, but eventually we started visiting more breweries that allowed us to order in or bring in ANY food we wanted, and that was the be-all, end-all!! Now Mark could have his pizza, I could have sushi, and if the kids wanted PB&J sandwiches, we had the big green light to bring them from home! And trust me when I say, that is a HUGE win for our family! There isn't a restaurant ANYWHERE that all five of us want at the same time...thank you breweries for bringing us another level of happiness and peace!
So with the atmosphere, service, beer and food covered, we only had one other item to consider and I've already touched on it...the kids.
We have three teens at home (and already out of the nest) and I can't tell you how many times when they were younger that we wished we had a place to go and get all of the things I've just talked about...and bring our kids.
Now, we weren't crazy enough to think that we would sit in a brewery for 3 hours with our children (without them yes - we have a lot of crib to play!)...we just wanted a great experience that we could share with our kids and avoid the dreaded expense of a babysitter.
Now that our kids are older, it's making our brewery trips even better because they too want to play crib with us while they power down a rootbeer! Yay for breweries helping us create some memories with these guys! And really...isn't THAT the point?
So there you have it...I hope I've given you a little to think about when make your plans for an evening out and why you might want to give breweries a chance. They are different...and that's the point!
Now go out to your local brewery and make some memories!!