I was recently down in Baltimore revisiting the beer scene that I covered last year during Saint Patrick's Day or actually Saint Patrick's week. I discovered a bar or taproom called Max's. As a certified beer nerd I took one look at Max's beer selection and was suitably impressed. They have 70 beers on tap (approximately). And they have on the order of 300 bottled beers in their cellar. As I said, I am a beer nerd; however, the sheer quantity of choice with which I was presented at Max's forced me to confront what was behind the attraction of variety.
Automatically beer nerds like to drink at places which (a) have micro brewed beer, and (b) have lots of variety. Being able to choose from on the order of 400 beers makes the drinking experience, for the beer nerd, much more interesting even though the drinking session may include only two or three beers in any given tasting session.
Since the beginning of January I have been drinking at a pub, Callahan's, that is not too far from where I live. The beer selection at this pub (while not nonexistent) does not rise to the standards of Max's. The place I have chosen as my local is not really of beer bar. It's more of a mid to high end restaurant with interesting architecture and a lively pub scene. There are about five beers on tap only three of which I would consider drinking and the bottle selection is similarly limited to about twenty beers. Not bad, but considering that most of the 20 bottled beers are from the mainstream producers my local is not a beer nerd's haven. One thing my local is noted for is its selection of single malt Scotches. It has approximately 50 different kinds of Scotch and Whiskey.
The first time I went into Callahan's almost everyone had a bottle of megabrew sitting in front of them on the bar, but what they were really drinking were shots of hard liquor. (The open bottles of megabrew seem to be a place holder at the bar, as many of the patrons are smokers and thus spend half their time at Callahan's standing out in the cold enjoying their other habit.) Because the single malt Scotches are so expensive, few of the regular crowd were actually drinking from this amazing selection of distilled malt beverages. But once I saw the selection, being a beer nerd, I reasoned that anyone who appreciated single malt Scotch would be similarly impressed. So I called up one my good buddies who is a single malt nut and we arranged to meet at Callahan's for a Scotch tasting.
I'm not going to tell you about the evening of drinking Scotch with my friend since this is a beer blog, but that tasting session led me to understand something about variety and how variety contributes to the craft beer phenomenon. Let me explain with an example.
I discovered at Callahan's that I liked Scotch, and I have been tasting it more often since that evening with my friend. But last night instead of having a bit of Scotch I opened up a bottle of Poire William which my wife had ordered for us after our trip to France. As I sipped the Poire William I mentally compared it to my experience of and enjoyment of Scotches, and realized that I could easily enjoy a Poire William just as much as a Scotch. Instantly I wondered how many varieties of Poire William were produced in the world and how many I could get -- you see, my first reaction was the urge to explore varities. I realized immediately that the personality of a beer nerd, or a Scotch nerd, or a Poire William nerd, is the drive to explore the varieties and differences between various interpretations of the beverage.
Basically the variety of choices in the beverage "phase space" (one of those ultra-nerdy terms I stole from Physics 101) is an intangible which has a real effect on the beer nerd's tasting of the beer in front of them.
I know I haven't answered the question about what makes a good local watering hole but variety is something that cannot be completely discounted. So the fact that my local, Callahan's, has only five beers that I would actually consider drinking, affects my drinking experience. I'll be reporting back here in the future about my beer culture observations drawn from my experiences while drinking at Callahan's.