Ordering a beer used to be simple: 1) Belly up to the bar, 2) ask for a Bud or a silver bullet, and 3) wallow in a pit of flavorless despair.
But today, upon stepping into Toronado (547 Haight at Fillmore, 863-2276) one of the city's best beer bars, you're hit with nearly 50 tap options — none of which is described on the board. You could spend two hours every morning scouring beer blogs to keep up, or maybe try following these simple guidelines.
First, be cool. If you walk into Toronado or Zeitgeist (199 Valencia at Duboce, 255-7505) wearing a suit and tie, you might get the stink eye. Being flashy, shouting at the bartender, and waving cash around isn't the best way to get served. Beer has become more well-respected and elegant, but it's still a 99 percenter's drink at heart. Feel like a gruff bartender is hazing you like a newbie? Take it in stride. Have cash on hand, speak up, try not to monopolize a bartender's time on a busy night, and tip a buck for every beer that you order. You'll be a regular in no time.
Second, know your flavor preferences. If you aren't familiar with the specific brews on the menu, expressing your likes and dislikes to the bartender can go a long way. Most beer destinations aim to educate the consumer. At bars like City Beer Store (1168 Folsom at Eighth St., 503-1033), Monk's Kettle (3141 16th St. at Albion, 865-9523), and Beer Revolution (464 Third St. at Broadway, Oakland, (510) 452-2337), knowledgeable, beer-geeky bar staff are pleased to advise you or even pour a sample. Like lighter beers, but tired of drinking Miller High Life? Your bartender may guide you away from the champagne of beers, and toward a more flavorful, local lager such as Moonlight Brewing's excellent Reality Czeck pilsner. If you like Kombucha, the bartender may suggest a sour beer. Drink Four Barrel coffee every morning? A roasty imperial stout could do the trick. Heck, mention that you wish you were hiking in Tahoe, and you might be offered an IPA with a resinous, pine-scented aroma. Don't underestimate a bartender's creativity.
Lastly, if you blush at the thought of asking a stranger for help, your phone is likely smart enough to consult the interwebs. Simply pull up Ratebeer.com and enter the name of a beer on the menu. Not only will you discover the style and a numerical rating, you'll also be able to browse in-depth reviews to gain knowledge of a beer's appearance, aroma, and flavor.
Remember, knowing is half the battle. Beating your liver into submission is the other half.