Thursday, October 21, 2010

The difficulty of getting a good draught beer in Beijing

Three warning tales

1)  My friend and I are drinking Stella, but we're out of sync: I finish well before him and order one more beer for myself.  The waiter brings one for both of us.  We politely point out that we only ordered one this time, and decline to accept the second one.  Twenty minutes later, when my friend finally orders another, they bring him what is fairly obviously the same glass of beer we saw earlier: the head's been freshened up, but there's almost no carbonation left in the drink itself, and - to a discerning beer drinker (it's my friend Leather Britches: he's Austrian, and thus a complete beer queen) - it's already starting to taste noticeably 'off'; not bad, but just slightly stale.  He again sends it back, and the waiter scarcely protests; a fresh beer is brought promptly.  Another 10 or 15 minutes later, when I am ready to order another Stella, they bring me the same beer again.

Where do you think this happened?

2)  I order a Carlsberg.  I rarely do this - don't like the beer at the best of times, and it's often appallingly badly kept in Beijing.  But in this particular bar everything else is too goddamned expensive (and, although we've gone there to watch a sporting event starting at 2pm, the just-about-affordable 'happy hour' doesn't kick in until mid-afternoon).  They bring me a glass of undrinkable skank, one of those that's so tainted you can tell it's off by the smell, without even having to taste it.  I point out that the beer has gone bad, expecting to be offered a replacement or an alternative; I am disappointed - the staff just nod and smile and get on with something else.  After 10 minutes or so, I go up to the bar and demand an alternative drink - a bottle of Tiger.  Some time later, the foreign manager finally appears, confirms that the beer is off and that I should get a replacement for free.  When we settle up our bill, the Chinese manager tells me that I won't be charged for my first drink... but then charges me for it anyway.  I suspect that she's thinking that the drink I've been promised "for free" is the undrinkable pint of draught that I sent back untouched.  I query her on the point and - reluctantly - she agrees to give me the Tiger for free.... except that, apparently, she doesn't know how to 'cancel' items on the computerised till.  (What?!  So, you can't remedy overcharges or incorrect orders or changed orders??  How about just writing a note for the foreign manager and letting him sort it out?  In fact, I think this was purest BS, since she had already changed the bill once [having initially charged my friend and me for something we hadn't even ordered], and then managed to adjust my supposedly complimentary Tiger to 'happy hour' price - an extremely token 'concession' that did more to irritate than console me!)  For the sake of a quiet life, I paid and left.  But I don't think I'll ever be going back there again...

Where do you think this happened?

3)  There's a bar I find myself walking past quite often.  It has long been just about the only bar in my neighbourhood that has Stella - a particular weakness of mine.  The place changed ownership a few months ago, is now, I think, entirely Chinese-run.  They still advertise Stella, and have a big sign in the window touting a two-for-one promotion on draught beer.  However, since the changeover, they have had ZERO CUSTOMERS.... so I am a tad wary about the condition of their beer.  Eventually, curiosity - a thirst for knowledge as much as for beer - impels me to step inside one afternoon.  I ask if the Stella is on; they say yes.  I ask if it is covered by the two-for-one deal; they say yes.  I ask them how long they've had this particular barrel; they are unable or unwilling to tell me.  I decide to try a beer anyway, though there's a very strong chance that this keg is now three months old.  I persuade them - with great difficulty - to discard the first glass out of the tap (since I am quite obviously the first person to order a glass of Stella on this day.... week.... month; and they quite obviously never clear the lines).  The second glass they pour is - surprise, surprise - undrinkable skank.  They are surprised and querulous when I decline to drink it or pay for it.  Another place I'm unlikely ever to be going back to...

Where do you think this happened?

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