1. Alcohol’s Effects
One of the key parts to beer is alcohol. Alcohol is more than just something to get you drunk, but rather it is a factor in both taste and aroma as well. These factors aside, let’s take a look at how alcohol affects you as a person, and not just the beer as a beverage. This post is focused on the serving of alcohol more-so than beer or brewing specifically. This is vital information to understand, not only for the Cicerone Certified Beer Server test, but as a server in a bar or establishment that serves alcohol.
1. Absorption and Elimination
Alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream when drank. In the case of beer, when you take each drink of the beer, you are taking in a certain amount of alcohol. Since alcohol is very water soluble, it is easily absorbed into the bloodstream and travels throughout your body. This, repeated over and over again, is how you get drunk. Alcohol is a depressant on the system, meaning it slows down your nervous system and inhibits certain parts of the brain. This is the reason you shouldn’t drive or do other dangerous tasks when you’ve been drinking.
Once alcohol has been absorbed into your system, it is eliminated fairly quickly as well. Since alcohol is water soluble, it leaves your body in sweat, urine, and any other liquid escaping your body. Your liver also processes the alcohol into sugars, eliminating the alcohol from your system as well. Basically, 1 “drink” is eliminated per hour from your system. This means:
- one pint of average ABV beer (4-6%)
- One average sized glass of wine
- one 1 oz. shot of hard liquor
All of these will basically process out of your system within 1 hour of consumption. This varies dramatically depending on the person, their metabolism, and the specific ABV of the alcohol consumed, but it’s a good starting point for a gauge. Here is a chart showing impairment for men and one for women.
For the average person, this is fine information to have, but since we are looking at the Cicerone Certified Beer Server test, this information is vital to anyone serving alcohol. This will help you gauge the intoxication level of your patrons. The goal is to keep them from being fully intoxicated, as most states have laws against serving VIPs, or Visibly Intoxicated Persons. Next, let’s look at the indicators of alcohol consumption in people.
2. Physical and Behavioral Indicators of Consumption
Anyone who has gone out for a night of drinking can attest to the fact that there are some physical and behavioral indicators that come up after someone has had one or more drinks. These are important to notice when serving alcohol, as they can let you know when to either ease up on the drinks being served, or stop serving altogether. These indicators include:
- Slurred Speech – Slight stumbles or slurring can mean the beginning of intoxication. As this increases, the level of alcohol in the person is, too. This is a good warning sign. Make sure to talk to the person before serving their first drink if possible, even for a minute. This can give you a good baseline for how the person sounds, or can alert you that they’ve been drinking before you saw them.
- Personality Change – This is another good reason to talk the person up slightly before serving their first drink. You can also get a baseline for their mood and personality. If this starts to change, the person is most likely getting intoxicated. A good example of this would be a person who quietly orders his or her first few drinks, then starts yelling to get your attention. This is a sure sign that something has changed.
- Physical Changes – If the person is sitting down in a bar, and after a few drinks comes up to you and is sweaty, red-faced, or any other physical change like this, it’s a sure sign of alcohol intoxication. Alcohol can make a person sweat, blush, and even give them a pasty complexion, depending on the level of intoxication. Take note of how the individual looks before their first drink, as this can serve as your baseline.
- Response To Questions/Conversation – If the person was alert and easily answering simple questions when he or she started drinking, but now takes a moment to think, or stumbles over the answer, this can be a sign of intoxication.
- Swaying Or Stumbling – An inability to stand solidly, swaying while standing, uncomfortable leaning, or all-out stumbling when walking can all be signs the person has had too much to drink.
There are more signs, but hopefully this gives you an idea what to look for. Remember, it’s generally illegal to serve a Visibly Intoxicated Person (VIP), so take note of these signs when serving. Remember, you are dealing in Craft Beer and the enjoyment of it. Nobody enjoys the intricacies of a good beer when they’re drunk. You’re doing them a disservice by continuing to serve them, and possibly endangering them or other people by doing so. Please note, however, that if someone shows one of these signs, it does not mean for sure they are intoxicated. This is why it’s important to engage them in conversation. If you notice a few signs, it may be time to politely take action. Know when to cut them off and while they may be unhappy at the time, they’ll be thankful later. For more warning signs of intoxication, check out this guide from The Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
2. Responsible Serving
1. Legal Considerations
The rule of not serving VIPs in your establishment is not only a good idea, it is generally a legal requirement. Above this, it protects you and your establishment from legal issues. In most states, the bartender and bar that over-serve someone is legally responsible for the actions the individual takes after the fact. Meaning, if that person crashes into someone on their way home from your establishment and they are drunk, you and your business can be sued and held legally responsible for the wreck and any injuries resulting. Over-serving is not only a bad idea, it is illegal and dangerous for you, your business, and the person you are over-serving.
There is generally some insurance in place for such issues, but if negligence is found in the serving practices, lawsuits and legal issues can be applied above and beyond this. This is why it is so important to understand the practice of serving alcohol in a safe, responsible manner. It’s not just an unruly patron you need to worry about, but what that person will do once they leave your establishment. Even if he or she is walking home, what if they are hit by a car? If you over-served this person, it could still partially be your fault they were hit in the eyes of the law.
2.Good Practices In Serving Alcohol
We touched upon this in the section above, but serving alcohol responsibly is one of the most important tasks of being a Certified Beer Server. This is definitely the less fun part of serving beer correctly, but you must understand that being responsible when serving beer and alcohol will keep you in a job, and people safe. Serving beer to patrons of your establishment is your job, but helping them to know when they’ve had too much is your job as well. Try to be as nice and friendly as possible when cutting someone off, and recommend some food, water, or a break from drinking to help them. If you catch someone early enough, a slight break in their drinking could let them continue, whereas if you wait till they are stumbling to cut them off, they will be less likely to listen easily.
Be an advocate for your patrons, and know that serving beer and alcohol isn’t just about making sales for your business, it’s also about keeping your patrons safe. If you know a certain beer is much higher in alcohol, let the person know as you serve it to them. This can help them gauge their own drinking. Related, if someone orders a beer that you know to be very expensive, it is responsible of you to let them know this before you open or pour it. Not all patrons are willing to buy a $14 draft, or a $20 bottle of beer. Letting them know before hand can save you a headache later, and puts you on their side. This can help you to gauge their alcohol consumption as well.
You can combine your knowledge and love of beer into conversation that will give you the personality and physical gauges from your patrons mentioned above. This can give them information on what they’re drinking as well as open up a friendly relationship all while letting you keep track of what they’re drinking. Being open and friendly will increase your tips, customer loyalty, overall sales, and most importantly, it will increase the safety of those you are serving.
Paying attention to the indicators of too much alcohol consumption and acting in a nice, respectful manner is how you serve alcohol responsibly.
While this post wasn’t all that entertaining, it is important information for anyone serving alcohol. Many of us in the beer industry and world will serve alcohol to the public at some point, be it at a bar, restaurant beer tasting, wedding, or beer event. These guidelines, along with the specifics for your state, can help keep you and your patrons safe and on the proper side of the law, all while enjoying craft beer in a safe environment.
This isn’t to say that having more than a few drinks isn’t fun from time to time, but the safest place to do this is in the privacy of your home with friends and/or family. Knowing how to enjoy craft beer in a safe, responsible manner will keep you and your patrons coming back for more. Remember, sometimes less is actually more.
Until next time,
Legal Disclaimer: This post is meant to show the basics of safely serving alcohol. It is in no way meant to be an end-all or final source of information on this matter. Laws vary from state to state. The ability to safely consume alcohol varies from person to person, and the guidelines set forth here are just that, only basic guidelines. This is not meant to be a legal or health resource at all, but rather meant to be a primer for more detailed information that you should obtain if you feel it necessary. If you have specific questions on the legality issues, I recommend contacting your state’s Liquor Control Board for more information. If you have health questions, I recommend you contact your doctor before using the guidelines set forth here. In short, be safe and smart, and don’t use this as a final say in anything.