Beer Appreciation for the Non-Beer Drinker

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

What’s the best way to deliver a beer-resistant friend or family member into the warm and loving arms of craft beer? It helps to have a plan. On a recent summery evening, four locals gathered with the goal of introducing one of the group to the joys of beer.

The plan for this particular tasting was to steer clear of the two things that tend to turn off skeptical new beer drinkers: the relatively unidimensional taste of even well-made lagers (which typify “making love in a canoe” domestic macro-brews) and the often overbearing astringency of hoppy craft brews, IPAs in particular.

Pre-beer buying reconnaissance into the personal tastes of the would-be beer convert — which we failed to do — is helpful. “An interesting way to introduce a non-beer drinker to good craft beer involves appealing to their individual tastes,” says Ryan Anderson of MNBeer.com. “On several occasions, I’ve found that fans of spicy food tend to appreciate hoppy India Pale Ales. On the same note, I’ve found similar success in introducing coffee geeks to rich and robust porters, stouts, and black lagers.”

Instead, we brought precious little information with us as we visited with local beer authority Jason Alvey at his shop, The Four Firkins.

“You want to choose a wide variety of styles, even stuff you don’t like — you never know what they might enjoy,” Alvey says. “I once had somebody tell me she hated beer (she had only had the typical domestics) only to find she loved super strong barley wines.”

Thus, we walked out of the shop with nine different beers from three somewhat more offbeat beer categories.

We started out with the sweet and / or sour flavors of fruit beers, moved on to the summery, cloudy depths of the wit (wheat) beers, and finished with a couple of wacky stouts. Here’s the flight plan and the results:

Fruit Beers

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Lindemans Pomme (Apple) Lambic was shockingly sweet and more like a cider than a beer. Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel’s Rosée d’Hibiscus had an enchanting hibiscus pink color and a full-flowering nose, and a restrained herbal flavor that grew on the tasters with time. The Duchesse de Bourgogne was compared — not critically — to drinking a balsamic vinegar, and would pair quite nicely with a salad course. And while the Great Divide Wild Raspberry pleased an experienced beer drinker at the table, who enjoyed its balance and restraint, the rest of the table complained that its berry taste was fleeting.

Wits

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Organically made Mothership Wit by New Belgium is a rock-ribbed favorite, accessible, balanced, and perfect for summer. Barons Lemon Myrtle Witbier had a real citric bite to it. Two Jokers Double Wit by Boulevard was a unanimous highlight of the evening — spicy, but with a silken mouthfeel and a very well-rounded flavor. This was the sort of beer we were striving to discover.

“Once non-beer drinkers have that ‘lightbulb’ beer that blows them away and causes them to want to explore other offerings, beer appreciation starts to take on a whole new meaning,” says Aaron Masterson of the local beer blog The Captain’s Chair.

Stouts

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Left Hand Milk Stout was something you could — and we did — drink while eating freshly made chocolate chip cookies. The smoothness of the mouthfeel and presence of a profoundly milky flavor was unexpected and much enjoyed.

Hitachino Espresso Stout — overpraised by the host — divided the group, with half enjoying the bold, clean coffee bite, and others feeling distracted by it from the task at hand (enjoying beer). Alvey’s sage advice (given post-facto, unfortunately): “[When introducing beer to a new drinker] don’t be elitist about it and don’t impress your biases on them — if you tell them ‘This is the most amazing beer ever’ and they don’t like it, they are likely to want to just give up right then.”

Results? Two solid hits — the Left Hand Milk Stout and the Boulevard Two Jokers — and some interesting steps and mis-steps on the way to the garden of beer Nirvana.

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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14 Comments

  1. I’ve hosted beer tasting parties where a lot of non-craft beer drinkers have been present. It can be a lot of fun introducing new beers to people. Alvey’s advice regarding not impressing your biases is spot on. Being open minded about what others may like or dislike is critical for making beer tastings an enjoyable activity.

  2. i think that sour beers, particularly a nice Gueze, maybe brewed with cherry or apple is a good way of showing a new beer drinker the possibility of flavors in the beer world. a distinctly sour gueze was my “lightbulb beer”

  3. Author

    For me it was a wheat beer — Allagash White, from Maine. It’s crazy how that switch flips and you go from being indifferent to beer to in love with it.

  4. I don’t know that I had a lightbulb beer but I do know that in the beginning stouts and porters were most agreeable to my palate. It was a long road and my tastes continue to evolve to where today I prefer the super hoppy beers more than my husband, who must be given credit for showing me beer didn’t have to mean macros.

  5. Guinness stout was what did it for me. Up to that point, I had been drinking American pilsners and thinking that was all there was to beer.

  6. le bender 06/11/2009 Reply

    listen to Jason, i’ve been taking his advice ever since he opened shop. i’m just lucky enough to live within walking distance of his store. i had been drinking only Guiness draught because i thought that was the only commercially made beer that was satisfying. now i try a different beer everytime i walk out of the Four Firkins, in an incessant search for the ultimate beer of my liking. it’s gotten to the point where i enjoy beer so much i’ve started homebrewing, and i absolutely refuse to pay $6.75+tip for a BudMillerCoors at the ballpark.

  7. I was big into Guinness following a trip to Ireland, but then I stumbled onto Chimay Red. The yeast and dark fruits were something I hadn’t experienced before, and it opened up a whole new world of beer for me. Probably why I’m still such a sucker for Belgians.

  8. Guinness in High School and College, followed by Newcastle, Town Hall Scotch Ale, and Summit Winter Ale. Wasn’t until three or four years ago that a friend brought a Dogfish Head 90 min home with him from Maine, that I really discovered the wonderful world of hops.

  9. I’m glad I was introduced to that pint of Guinness when I was. I had the pleasure of experiencing the explosion of the craft beer market in Duluth. Friends and I would go to Last Chance Liquor on 4th or Lake Aire Bottle Shoppe, pick up a six pack each and hang out at someones apartment sampling beers. I wish I could recapture the feeling of excitement I had back then.

  10. As a native michigander, it was Bell’s Amber on draft for me. Just enough additional color, flavor, body from what I had traditionally consumed to be the perfect “gateway micro”. It was soon followed by Aventinus Dopplebock in the bottle at which point I was totally hooked for life.

  11. On a somewhat related tangent here, a friend who was formerly affiliated with Bells told me that MN is the only state where they sell more 2-hearted than Oberon. Explained to him that we love our hops and we’re hyper-literate outdoorsy types.

  12. one more comment on this and then I’m done. If you’re doing a a multi-course beer tasting menu for beer newbies, don’t serve a Rauchbier.

  13. @geoff, while I personally enjoy Rauchbier, I’ve found few seasoned beer drinkers who like it thus I think your advice is appropriate.

  14. victor 07/02/2009 Reply

    spiced wheat beers were my favorite! beautiful notes of orange and clove… delicious!

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