Salty Beer
October 25, 2004 5:48 PM   Subscribe

Today after an appointment, I stopped by a local bar for a beer. An over 60 hispanic gentleman walked in and sat at the stool next to me. Without him ordering the bartender brought him a mug, a bottle of beer, and a salt shaker. I was expecting the tender to bring a shot of tequila but that never happened. The guy filled his mug with beer, and every few gulps shook a bit of salt into his brew. I didn't ask him what he was up to, for reasons that escape me now, possibly because his english seemed iffy and he looked ornery. Anybody ever seen this before?
posted by jonmc to Food & Drink (27 answers total)
Yup. A middle-aged French Canadian guy in the late 80's, though only once at the beginning instead of every few sips.
I hear people do it to kill the head.
posted by cardboard at 5:59 PM on October 25, 2004

I live in central Wisconsin where this is pretty common. As far as I can tell there are two reasons, it changes the taste (duh) and salt 'wakes up' the carbonation in flat beer. I've tried it, but I think it makes beer taste worse (although it does change the texture a bit).
posted by eastlakestandard at 6:00 PM on October 25, 2004

Response by poster: This beer was fresh out of the bottle and from the way the bartender placed it in front of him without being asked, I'd say it's a regular thing with the guy. So, I'd rule out the carbonation angle.

The idea of salty beer is nauseating, quite frankly.
posted by jonmc at 6:03 PM on October 25, 2004

Sure, jon. I learned to do this in Mexico. I've come to conclude it's an acquired taste. The justification I recall was that it promoted the carbonation in the beer (which it does, the salt will trail fine streams of bubbles). I was too young to ask about taste issues, but as an adult have confirmed: it makes the beer taste salty.

So perhaps someone who has had a chance to discuss this with adults as an adult would like to complete the answer.

(p.s. jon: email me about an older question you asked.)
posted by mwhybark at 6:04 PM on October 25, 2004

Response by poster: the answer seems to be a combination of mwhybark's and jessamyn's. The guy was hispanic and looked like he'd processed his share of booze in his time and the bar at that time of day is definitely for "work is the curse of the drinking class" crowd. Other time's I've been there it's a typical outer-borough freindly dive.
posted by jonmc at 6:31 PM on October 25, 2004

Somebody mail me a Tecate, it's been a long time.
posted by planetkyoto at 7:30 PM on October 25, 2004

I don't think that the guy is necessarily an alcoholic--this is a really, really common habit in Mexico.

If he's over 60 and from a rural area, he probably began drinking in rural bars where the beer was undercarbonated and everyone around him was using the salt, and now he's just used to the taste that way.

Here's an answer from the Beer Advocate; here's an answer from an EU beer site; and even the Beer Church guy's mother adds salt to her beer "because she just likes it that way".
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:32 PM on October 25, 2004

I learned this while living for a time in New Mexico. Still do it, but only when I'm drinking Mexican beers. Usually with a wedge of lime shoved down into the neck of the bottle, too.
posted by ewagoner at 7:48 PM on October 25, 2004

I once had to prove that doing it wouldn't kill you in organic chemistry. C2H5OH + NaCl looks like it'd kill you when it all separates and recombines. Why eludes me, but that's why CS was a more alluring major anyway...
posted by togdon at 7:52 PM on October 25, 2004

The idea of salty beer is nauseating, quite frankly.

It can be seriously good.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:27 PM on October 25, 2004

Unrelated but still interesting: In an early James Bond novel, Bond shakes pepper into his famous martini. Says he learned it in Russia, where it was needed to take the impurities out of the vodka.
posted by GaelFC at 8:29 PM on October 25, 2004

togdon: it doesn't kill you based on physical chemistry properties, namely rate-limiting steps and the rate of the reaction. But, I digress.
I also vouch for the salt quickening the alcohol absorption into the body. Jose Cuervo also adds salt to their tequilla, especially the cheaper stuff, which causes people to get drunk quicker off it.
posted by jmd82 at 10:11 PM on October 25, 2004

My dad always did this, and he's a waspy farm-boy from Northern Ohio, and not an alcoholic. Just a regional/generational piece of weirdness...
posted by jpburns at 4:56 AM on October 26, 2004

Bond shakes pepper into his famous martini. Says he learned it in Russia, where it was needed to take the impurities out of the vodka.

Yeah, but what does Bond know about vodka martinis? Shaken not stirred? Pah!
posted by nthdegx at 6:06 AM on October 26, 2004

Yeah, plus Vodka ? Martini.

Superspy, indeed...
posted by jpburns at 6:29 AM on October 26, 2004

Oops That was an unequal mark... Uh...

Vodka ≠ Martini
posted by jpburns at 6:32 AM on October 26, 2004

I saw an older British guy in "out for a Sunday drive" type gear do this at an Uno's in Porter Square here in the Boston area. The reaction of the barflies was "havn't seen that in awhile" so it wasn't too weird for them.

I've also seen a bartender do this at JJ Foley's downtown, except that there was ice in the beer too.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:45 AM on October 26, 2004

My grandfather drinks beer like this. He's not an alchy and he's from northern Minnesota.

This very habit is one of my best childhood memories. My grandpa would come home from work, pop a can of beer, make a ring for me out of the pull tab, pour his beer in a glass and shake in some salt. He'd look at me and say "you ready for one?" Then he'd pour some ginger ale into the same type of glass he used and pull out my very own "sugar shaker" and together we'd enjoy an afterwork beer. I was 5 y.o. Ahhh, good times.
posted by Juicylicious at 8:03 AM on October 26, 2004 [1 favorite]

Just to confirm what everyone has said in front of me, I've had this at road side locals bars in Mexico.

A big gulp sized styrofoam cup, draft beer, lots of ice, squeeze of lime and some salt. Tastes like it sounds. The fact that it doesn't taste that good is offset by the fact it costs fifty cents.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:10 AM on October 26, 2004

Says he learned it in Russia, where it was needed to take the impurities out of the vodka.

Myth. The Russians just like flavored vodka. The kind with pepper is called pertsovka, but there's also coriander, anise, buffalo grass, you name it. There's a partial list here ("tea vodka"?!).

You think Russians give a shit about impurities? They'll drink anything, including varnish, cologne, and dandruff lotion. The great writer Sergei Dovlatov reminisced: "We drank a lot, indiscriminately until we passed out and hallucinated."
posted by languagehat at 8:31 AM on October 26, 2004

rural quebecois drink beer like this as well. the reason I've heard is to promote carbonation, as above
posted by sauril at 12:38 PM on October 26, 2004

Alcoholics tend to crave salt because the alcohol intake causes them to have a lower concentration of sodium chloride (common table salt) in their blood.

I never use salt on my food, and do not crave it. I do, however, put salt and lime in my beer (or, since I'm in Korea, where limes are unavailable, lemon juice) whenever possible.

I also like to add tomato juice and black pepper sometimes (or clamato if I'm in Canada, to make a 'clam-eye'), or, and this makes most Koreans pop their eyes in disbelief, grab some kimchi with chopsticks, swirl it around in my beer to wash the garlicky salty pepper sauce into it, eat the kimchi, and drink the beer. Hoo daddy, that's good.

I also note that in Mexico (or at least the parts of it where I've lived) there is a drink called a michilada, which includes beer, ice, salt, lime and chili powder in a big goblet, and which, when you're hungover, absolutely kicks butt.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:25 PM on October 26, 2004

languagehat, thanks for the vodka link! I used to enjoy dill vodka with my ex-Spetznaz shooting buddy.

I know a lady in Pittsburgh who peppers her beer -- like sugg'd above, helps keep the head "inflated."
posted by alumshubby at 5:02 PM on October 26, 2004

Zubrovka is supposed to be great.
posted by kenko at 5:47 PM on October 26, 2004

My uncle sprinkled salt in his beer, he'd be in his 80's now. I've seen it done in the south, and also in Chicago.

Kind of like salting watermelon. Different strokes.
posted by groundhog at 7:01 PM on October 26, 2004

Just as an aside, most Hispanic folks I meet are awfully friendly compared to the population average (or population "mean" if you will.) I believe it was Raymond Chandler who said there is nothing tougher than a tough Mexican, but the vast majority are easy to get along with, especially if you know a little Spanish.

"Señor, pardón, ¿por que le pone el sal in la cerveza?"

or something like that. Worst thing that could happen is he turns you upside down and uses your teeth to scrub the grime off the bartop.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:48 PM on October 26, 2004

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