First off, this isn’t something that should happen very often, however in the world of beer occasionally something goes wrong or in some cases there’s something wrong with the way a beer is being served. This guided has been written in a way to help you politely navigate that rare situation where something just isn’t quite right with your beverage. It is not intended to encourage you to refuse or return more beer, rather it’s a suggested way to improve your experience in dealing with bad product. If you follow these steps, the process of returning a beer should go smoother.
In advance – Reduce your odds before you arrive at an establishment. If it’s a new place to you, feel free to ask the server if they freeze or chill their beer glasses so they can provide one that hasn’t been chilled in advance of your order. It may make sense to call ahead and ask what’s on tap and how often they clean their draught lines (and let us know what they say). Keep a watch out for dipped spouts, foam top offs, and other poor draught beer practices during your visit. Not all of this is possible every time, but a little preparation can go a long way in avoiding a bad beer experience in the first place.
Step 1 – Check yourself first before asking to return or replace a beer. Is this a beer you know well? Is this your first beer or your fifth beer? Did you eat something that may not agree with it? Do you only sort of like it or is it totally un-drinkable? Did you realize this after drinking half the beer or after a couple of sips? Is there one or two side bubbles on your glass, or is there a clear finger smudge of them? Please check yourself first and make sure the situation is reasonable before you bring it up with your server or bartender.
Step 2 – Approach the bartender or your server and kindly let them know that something doesn’t quite taste right with your beer. This should be all that you need to do in order to get an offer of replacement, however if no such offer comes feel free to simply ask if it’s possible to replace the beer. If needed, give clear feedback and do not under any circumstances troubleshoot or lay blame on the establishment (we’ll get to this later). Things like “this beer normally doesn’t taste this bitter” or “I’m getting an X flavour at the beginning” or if it’s the case “I’m really just not enjoying the beer at all” will do the trick.
Step 3 – If you suspect dirty beer lines, it might be a good time to switch to a bottle product. If it’s a place you know well and have never had an issue before, it could be a variety of issues related to the keg, the line, the batch of beer, the keg pressure and so on beyond poorly maintained lines. Make a sound judgment call based on your experience. Do follow up with the brewery politely by e-mail the next day. They’ll chase down a line issue and help ensure the establishment serves their beer in the best possible manner (some will even pull their kegs depending on what they find). Similarly you can follow up with the owner of manager of the establishment the next day.
Step 4 – It’s ok to educate a little, sometimes it’s good to explain to a server or new bartender that multiple beer bubbles sticking to the side of the glass indicate residue (usually fingerprints, residual food scraps or soap scum) or that you don’t want a frozen glasses because you feel that it can take away from the beer flavour, especially craft. But, avoid telling them how to run the place as this never goes over well as most places prefer not to be told how to run their business, even if it’s a bit flawed try to focus your specific situation at hand.
Step 5 – Share your experience with us, we’d like to know good or bad so we can do our best to help advocate for the right changes.
I’ve followed this process for a long time now and I’ve never had an issue sending back a beer. I don’t do it very often, mostly because I typically only order beer in places that I know will treat it right, however on the odd occasion I’ve had an issue I’ve never had a problem getting a refund or a replacement. Even in the rare case that I’ve hated a beer I ordered, despite nothing technically being wrong with it, establishments have been more than willing to give me a replacement beer at no extra charge.
Remember to be honest, be polite, be specific, avoid laying any blame and please report back and you’ll do just fine!