Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 4:43 p.m.
A good beer bar needs several things: good grub, an extensive tap list and a knowledgeable beer geek to do the pouring. Papago Brewing Co. (7107 E McDowell Rd., 480-425-7439) has killer pizza (check), 32 taps' worth of delicious craft brews (check) and Zach Ogle (double check). A native of Fort Collins, Colo. -- a virtual beervana that's the home of New Belgium, Odell and a number of other world-class breweries -- Ogle's been surrounded by good beer his whole life, and has been sharing the beer wisdom he's built up with Papago's thirsty patrons for two years.
How did you become a beer geek?
I grew up in Fort Collins, Colo., home of Odell, New Belgium and lots of other breweries. My parents actually worked at Budweiser. They've been there for like 25 years. Beer was always just around. Easy Street Wheat from Odell is what we drank in high school -- that was our party beer. It was always just around. I was a junior in high school and I and a buddy of mine went by the liquor store once and found somebody to buy us beer. It was a Flying Dog 12-pack sampler -- two each of six beers. First craft beer I ever had. It was great because there were two set of six bottles, so we didn't have to share anything, and we were 16 so of course after six bottles we were toasted, and we hated them. Hated them! IPA's, all that shit -- we thought it was terrible, but we drank it because it was booze and we were 16. But we drank them and just kind of kept doing it, and by the time we were seniors we were going to this bar in Denver called the Falling Rock, and we got geeky about it.
I'm not geeky about it in the same way anymore. I've gotten past that. I know beer better than anything -- some people know wine, I know beer. But at home, I drink Pacifico.
What's it like dealing with beer geeks all the time?
You get a lot of beer geeks who like beer so much, they never take the time to enjoy one anymore. They'll complain about the beer the whole time they're drinking it. I get that -- there's definitely stuff I won't drink. But instead of just complaining about it and drinking it anyway, I'll just order something I like. You also get people who'll pay for sample glasses -- they'll get eight little samples with a different beer in each one, then get online and rate each one, presenting it as if they've had that beer. Yeah, you've tasted an ounce of it, but it's not the same as drinking that beer.
Beer, it takes years to learn, and the more you know, the more you realize you don't know anything. It's like with anything else: the more you know, the more there is to know. We have customers that know their shit. Chris, the guy sitting over there at the bar, grows his own hops and is a big-time homebrewer. He knows what he's talking about. But at the same time, the best beer geeks are ones who know they don't know anything. I'd rather have somebody who knows what he wants and orders a Bud Light than somebody who's going to hem and haw for half an hour and not order a damn beer.
Is it a requirement at Papago to be a beer nerd?
I care more about For better or for worse, you've got to like to drink. To be in this industry in general, most of us are drinkers. It just helps with the job. I can tell you as much as you want to know about beer, but if you don't drink it, you'll never know. I've got a book at home called The Wine Bible. I've read the book, but I still don't know shit about wine. You've got to drink it.
Papago is a beer-only bar. What's different about working here than a bar that serves liquor?
It's not a normal bartending gig. Everyone here does the same job: we're all behind the bar pouring our beers while we're also waiting on the tables. On busy nights, I go around the restaurant enough that I'm basically a server, but I prefer that because it's harder out on the floor.
The problem with being behind the bar all the time is that it's like you're on stage. You're almost expected to put on a show, so getting on the floor for a bit lets you get away from that. You meet a lot of bartenders who come off as almost callous. They don't really open up because they've spent so many years behind the bar putting on that façade that when they're not back there, they're almost jaded toward people.
What's your favorite thing about bartending here?
Aside from the money -- because my favorite thing is the money; I've got a degree in finance and I don't plan on using it anytime soon -- I like the service side of it. I like when somebody wants a recommendation and I give them a sample, and they're like, "Yeah!" I like being able to give somebody something new and see their face as they go, "Yeah! I get that!" I can't tell you how many girls I've gotten into beer because of Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter. It's cool when you can get people to try some new stuff.
What's your least favorite?
Drunk people -- like, wasted people. We don't get as much of it here as most bars do, and beer drunk is a different drunk. It's silly and sleepy and stupid. It's not fighty -- we don't have fights at our bar. It's usually stuff like having people fall asleep at the bar. It's not a fun part of the job, but it's also an expected part of the job.
You guys have access to taps all the time -- do you ever mess around and mix different ones together?
Constantly. We do a hop suicide, which our customers love. Anything hoppy we have on, we'll pour them together. We also have a game called Dare, where we'll mix two, three or four beers together, give it to one of the bartenders, and he has to guess what's in it. That's a fun game, and it's actually kind of useful because it helps you to focus your palate and concentrate on what you're drinking. Enough of our customers know now that we're comfortable mixing beers that they'll just come in a say, "Give me a blend." It's the same thing as blending wine -- you can get a high-quality meritage for not a lot of money that will be as good as a single-varietal cabernet or merlot that's much more expensive. If you're blending, you're eliminating some of the weakness of one grape or another -- it's the same with beer. One IPA might be too sweet, another might be drier. I've been to beer bars where they're snobby about blending. They're purists. We're definitely not like that.
What's a favorite blend you've created?
I like to do Kasteel Rouge with our Elsie's. We call it Kelsie's, and it tastes like one of those rum-soaked chocolate-covered cherries. Delicious. I also had one guy come in, and he gave me this: "Okay. I'm in a cabin in the woods by myself, and it's snowing, and it's dark, and there's a bear clawing at my door. I want a beer that tastes like that." Normally I would've been irritated, but it was so cool the way he made this whole story up that I sat back and mixed something up, and he liked it!