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:
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.
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.
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.