In my years running craft beer bars and bottle shops, one of the things I’ve heard over and over again – usually from someone who’s been dragged along to my niche corner of beer nerdery by their more enthusiastic mate or partner – is “I don’t like beer”. My response is almost always the same – “you probably do, you just haven’t had the right one yet”. Nine times out of 10, I’m correct and something on tap offers a moment of revelation.
We live in a golden age for beer and brewing, and the proliferation of new styles and the resurgence of old ones has given us a huge range of options to choose from. While most of the craft beer fans I know are as evangelical as I am about our favourite drink, I see a few common mistakes being made by well-meaning enthusiasts. Here are some top tips to win over the pinot, cider and JD and coke crowd.
Take it easy! Of all the sins I see visited on the craft curious, this must be the most common and most egregious. Handing a big, piney, double IPA to your drinking companion, who is only used to wine, cider or fizzy yellow stuff, is not likely to achieve the desired result. To the untrained palate the huge bitterness of many of our beloved IPAs is often going to be a huge turn-off at first sip. Many of the people I’ve spoken to who have said “tried craft beer but didn’t like it”, have only ever been exposed to big, hoppy IPAs and it can lead to falling at the first hurdle. It’s not just hops though! You might be the world’s biggest fan of roasty imperial stouts, love a smoked bock or a puckering barrel-aged sour, but a lot of those styles are acquired tastes that need to be worked up to.
Find familiar ground. With the diversity of flavours and beer styles out there a good starting point is building off familiar favourites. What else are they into? Are they a chocolate or coffee lover? Try a stout. Is white wine their thing? Go for a spritzy saison or NZ XPA. A fruit fan? A kettle sour may do the trick. Rich, sticky dessert? Go for a Belgian dubbel or quad. Drawing parallels with something that’s already comfortable can help.
Diversity is always good. It’s important to remember that every palate is different and the styles that you like might not be the same as theirs! You might hate the yeast esters of a saison, think hazy beers are an abomination, or that fruit doesn’t belong in beer. Keep it to yourself and try not to yuck anyone else’s yum.
Gender has nothing to do with it. This one should be obvious but comes up way too often. Asking for “a girl’s beer” tells me precisely nothing about what your friend actually wants. Taste buds don’t discriminate and neither should you.
Have a sip. If you think your buddy is going to just love that new rauchbier, you grab them a pint and they take a sip but don’t like it, you might be in for a rough ride next time! Choking down a big glass of something you don’t like just because your mate paid for it is definitely going to make you think twice about branching out next time you’re at the bar. A tasting paddle or a sip of your pint gives people a chance to try a bunch of different beers without committing to too much of a single style.
Go Hard! While rule one still applies – and it can be a make or break strategy – there’s no denying that many of our big, modern beer styles are packed with delicious flavours and the right one might just be the punch in the taste buds someone needs to become a permanent fan. Is this directly contradictory to the very first thing I said? Sure, sue me, it’s an art – not a science!
Lay off the peer pressure. Another contradiction in an article about how best to peer pressure people. Don’t do it! While I’m all for converting people to the world’s best liquid, I’m also a stubborn bastard and nothing riles me up more than people consistently pushing their taste on me (no, I still don’t like wine, leave me alone!). If someone’s not into it, offer a sip but move on if it’s a no. If you’re stuck in the trenches about what people ought to drink, they’re probably not in for a fun evening. Don’t worry, you might get them on the next one!
3 Styles to start with. Bearing all the above in mind, there is a simple strategy which almost always works for me and that’s to give three tasters. A light kettle sour, a chocolatey stout and a hazy IPA. These styles offer a diverse range of flavours, are not too aggressive and have a great chance of hitting the sweet spot. One of them almost always gives me the response I’m looking for; eyes widen in delight, there’s a slight look of confusion folowed by a “this doesn’t taste like beer!”, to which I have one response: “yes, it does”. Because it is.
Fine… Let me do it. Follow these rules and you should have a good roadmap to getting everyone excited to join you for your next brewery tour, IPA evening or vertical tasting. But if all this is all too much effort, then you can always let me do the work for you by picking up a curated Craft Beer Introduction Box from Beer Jerk. Twelve different styles, picked by me, designed to win over picky drinkers.
Follow Matt on Instagram: @mattdrinksgoodbeer