“The beer here is flat and warm!” I overheard this statement being exclaimed by a confused and disappointed patron at my neighborhood craft beer bar recently when greeted by a friend. He was referring to a pour of the recently resurgent “cask ale” — not necessarily a style of beer, but rather, an alternative way to serve it. The once-forgotten serving method results in beer that is indeed warmer and flatter than your typical keg pour, but for good reason. Along with the so-called “nitro” pour, casks have gained traction as a respectable way to serve beer at bars around the globe. These serving styles bring unique characteristics to the texture and flavor profile of beer that can’t be found in standard kegs or bottles.

That isn’t to say that cask or nitro pours are any better or worse than beers from a traditional tap, bottle, or can. Each method, paired with an appropriate style of beer, can enhance the drinking experience. But the first step, so that you don’t end up confused and disappointed like the poor guy above, is to understand what these methods are, why they exist, and, most importantly, why you would want to drink flat, warm beer in the first place.

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“What are you in the mood for?”

The wily-looking, unshaven bartender posed a seemingly simple question as I claimed an available barstool at the newest craft beer bar in town. I glance up at the beer list, a chalkboard hovering unassumingly above the tap wall, and rapidly devolve into a sort of confused panic.

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One day I hope to sit down with Heywood Gould — the novelist and screenwriter who wrote Cocktail, the movie — and have a drink with him. Maybe even a Cognac or Polish Martini. That’s what Heywood used to drink as a bartender in Manhattan during the 1970s. Definitely a few shots of Old Overholt Rye Whiskey. That’s what he drinks now.

The reason is simple. Despite having become a successful writer, Gould still speaks like a bartender, the type of bartender I’ve always enjoyed sitting across from: a raconteur, keen observer of humanity, and someone who understands that the reasons people enter a bar are varied, but rarely do they really have to do with flaming orange peels or flipping bottles. MORE

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“I’d go with the Ewephoria. It’s under the ‘stoic’ category.” I scanned the menu for a description of “stoic.” It read “big, hard cheeses.” I peered over my glass of red wine from the Douro Valley as the attractive bartender flipped painstakingly perfect, wavy, grey-streaked hair out of his blue-grey eyes. I bet it is, I thought to myself.

The bartender at Tria, the Philadelphia wine and cheese bar, may have gotten the job based on merit alone. But placing attractive people at the front line of any business in the service industry isn’t just useful when it comes to female bartenders in nightclubs with barely-there outfits. The memory of an attractive person preparing your food or drink, no matter where it is, must stimulate some sort of pleasure center in your brain that keeps you going back. (It certainly keeps me going to a certain coffee truck between classes.) MORE