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Is it okay to send a beer back if it doesn’t taste right?…

Posted January 9, 2012 | 5:58 pm, by Mirella

I just came across this great article called “When Craft Beer Goes Bad: A Guide to Refusing a Beer” on the American BA website. It includes a handy chart that details common issues with beer service, what causes them, and how they can be resolved. It’s certainly got me thinking…

The article is saying that: “Ultimately, you should be able to send back any beer that you are unsatisfied with…but consumers seem to have hang-ups about doing this.”

I would certainly include myself in that category. It’s always difficult to send a beer back. I was surprised by the following statement in the article: “The likely outcome of asking for a different beer would be a server who is perfectly happy to bring you a beer that you’ll appreciate and enjoy.” Ha! I would say that this is far from being my experience in Toronto. Most commonly, the response from the server will be “people have been drinking it all evening and no one has complained” at which point, I usually have to either convince the server to taste the beer, or get the bar manager involved in order to get a different beer. Even worse, I have on occasion been on the receiving end of a patronizing lecture from the server about how this is the way that beer should taste and it’s likely just too challenging a flavour for me. Not fun.

The more I learn about beer, the more confident I am in sending beer back. There are now instances when I do not hesitate to return a beer – and that is when:

  • I know for sure that the beer in question is tasting very differently from what it is supposed to taste like
  • I know that the problem likely occurred due to mistreatment at the pub
  • I am able to provide feedback to the server.

Otherwise, if it’s just bubbles on the glass or mild oxidation, I am very hesitant to send it back for the following reasons:

  • In the case of bubbles on the glass, if one glass isn’t beer clean, it’s likely that most of the glasses in the establishment aren’t because, in most cases, it’s the dishwasher that’s the issue.
  • In the case of mild oxidation, it might be that this beer is moving more slowly than the other beers that are on tap, because it is unusual / a less popular beer. In this case, I would rather encourage the pub to keep this beer on draught by drinking it, than send the beer back in favour of a brand that moves more quickly.

While I do agree that “the consumer is just as responsible for blowing the whistle on bad beer …It will help ensure that the experience future craft beer enthusiasts have are never negative”, I feel that it is important to be mindful. While beer appreciation is certainly on the rise in Ontario, we still have a long way to go and raising a stink about small things like glasses not being beer clean or making a fuss over a small issue is not constructive. It’s just going to support the notion that beer appreciation is snooty and discourage others from exploring beer. When it is a minor issue, I would argue that it might be more constructive to simply point the issue out to the server and keep the pint.

Whether to send a beer back or not is often a tough call to make. In the end, I think the article sums it best  “Strive to be a steward of beer; not a beer snob.” I wholeheartedly agree. This is one of the reasons that I set up the Off-Flavours workshops that I ran in the fall. It is helpful (and fun!) for people who love beer to learn to identify problematic beer and be able to confidently provide constructive feedback when a beer is off. The more we all learn about beer, the more we can share.


Categories: Serving Beer, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Comments 2


  1. In Toronto, servers are generally required to account for (monetarily) all product sold during each shift. Also, they encouraged NOT to bring back a beer ‘just because a customer doesn’t like it’. In order for the beer to be returnable, it has to actually be defective.
    Therefore, if you get the manager involved, he/she is able to remove the product from the bill, and is aware there is a problem with the product, (rather than an uneducated customer).

    On the other hand, if the server simply pours, and rings in a new pint, they are left to pay for it at the end of his/her shift. Unfortunately servers and bartenders can be accused of stealing if all product sold is not rung in and paid for.

    I think this is why you have been met with so much resistance in your experiences with bad beers in Toronto.

    Comment by beertender on January 9, 2012 at 9:04 pm

  2. Thanks for taking the time to share what’s going on behind the scenes.

    Comment by Mirella on January 9, 2012 at 9:18 pm

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