How to build the perfect beer garden

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NOW THAT BEER gardens are officially a thing in Philly and – shockingly – the suburbs, it’s time for these outdoor drinking spots to get a few things right.

Because a beer garden is more than just a bar without a roof.

A beer garden is a shared place, in the sun, without solid walls and the typical constraints of a licensed saloon. It is about atmosphere and community and fun.

The Germans, who have perfected the biergarten, call that spirit gem├╝tlichkeit. It means warmth and friendship and good cheer. And it takes more than just a couple of picnic tables and a Jenga set to get it right.

Consider this a best-practices document for improving your gem├╝tlichkeit.

1. Serve your beer in actual glasses, not plastic cups.

Yes, plastic is easy. And, yes, glass breaks. But plastic is chintzy and demeaning, and it devalues the experience of a beer garden.

Glassware is still the purest way to taste beer; hoisting a heavy, liter-sized mass is as much a part of the beer-garden experience as live music and soft pretzels.

Seriously: A foamy hefeweizen belongs in a tall, clean glass, not a limp, petroleum-based containment unit.

2. If you’re going to use plastic cups, make them clear.

Appearance is a huge part of the enjoyment of beer. No red Solo cups.

3. Hire a waitstaff.

Don’t squeeze me into cattle chutes to buy a beer. A beer garden is a civilized experience, not an Eagles game.

I want to sit my keister on a bench in the shade, and I want you to bring the beer to me.

4. Get rid of those stupid hammocks.

No one sleeps in a beer garden, and snot-nose brats only use them as swings. Besides, once I plunk down in one, I can never get out.

5. Let me bring my own food.

I know, you want to charge me 10 bucks for your soggy fish tacos, but allowing guests to bring their own food enhances the spirit of community; it underscores the concept of “shared” space that you’re supposed to be promoting.

Besides, everyone knows you make more money off liquor than food. Let me bring my own picnic, and I’ll spend more on the beer.

6. Stop calling it a beer garden if it isn’t.

A beer garden is not a backyard patio, deck, porch, or crowded city sidewalk in front of a bar. It’s also not a rooftop.

If you’re going to call it a garden, plant something green.

7. Get rid of the security guards.

Those yellow-shirted rent-a-cops are a buzz-kill. You’re worried about underage drinking and public drunkenness? That’s another reason you should hire a trained waitstaff.

8. Bocce good; giant chessboards bad.

Bocce is the outdoor version of darts. Anyone can play it without putting down his or her beer.

Meanwhile, nobody has ever played a life-size game of chess to completion. It’s a giant waste of space invented by a designer who got all her ideas out of Martha Stewart Living in 1997.

9. No padded couches.

Drunken couples use them for outdoor sex. Really. Also, no Astroturf.

10. Pour something other than IPA.

I like hops as much as the next person, but I like variety even more, and summertime has plenty to offer. Here’s a six-pack of suggested styles with examples.

  1. Hefeweizen. Except in rare cases, only the Germans get this style’s spicy, effervescent flavor right. Try Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier.
  2. Pale lager. You’ll want something in the range of 5 percent alcohol, so you can drink lots and lots. Try Stoudt’s Gold.
  3. Pilsner. Philly-area versions are bitter enough to satisfy any hop head. Try Troegs Sunshine Pils.
  4. Saison. This cloudy, earthy style was the traditional go-to for Old World farm workers. Try Saint Benjamin Liaison Saison or Sly Fox Grisette.
  5. Berliner weissbier or gose. Trendy sour beer is never better than on one of those hazy, hot, and humid Philly afternoons. Try Nodding Head Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weiss or Sierra Nevada Otra Vez.
  6. India pale ale. OK, I give in; you can’t run a beer garden without one. Lately, I’ve been grooving to Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion.


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