I was out having drinks with friends last night. A woman I don’t really know was sitting across the table from me drinking a PBR. “I’m not really a beer person,” said she. “This is about as adventurous as I get.” I offered her a sip of mine, a Petrus Oud Bruin, and got the reaction that I love so dearly:
“Oh my god. That’s wonderful. Beer can taste like that?!”
Her next beer was not a PBR.
One of my favorite things to tell people is that my superpower is finding beers that people like. It’s pretty rare that I meet people that think they don’t like beer that I can’t convert to beer, albeit sometimes slowly. All it takes is a little patience, a decent beer selection somewhere nearby, and a person who is willing to work through the process with you.
At the risk of sharing myself out of a superpower, here’s how I do it:
Find out what other drinks and foods they like This can be both alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks and any vast array of foods. This can be a really easy indicator. “I LOVE coffee.” = Try a stout. “I love fruity drinks.” = Try this fruit beer. “I love broccoli.” = Good luck! Matching flavors to introduce people to beer can be really easy. It can also really throw you for a loop. One of the women I was talking to last night told me: “When I drink liquor, I like gin and tonics. When I’m not drinking liquor, I drink sweet tea.” Tough one. It wasn’t until I was on my way to work this morning that I thought that what I would really like to try her on would be a Ruination IPA, Arrogant Bastard or even a 120 Minute IPA. Why? Well, we (beer geeks) all know that these are super hoppy beers. They’re high in citrus flavor and floral character, much like your gin and tonic. They’re also balanced with a lot of malt, a sweet backbone to balance out the bitterness of such a big hop presence. There’s your sweet tea. I hope I get the chance to try her out on one of these (or at least give her the recommendation).
Find out what they don’t like about beer This is actually two questions. Question one is: What is it about beer that you don’t like. This question might take a little coaxing to get a decent answer to. (Most frequent answer I get to this is: ‘The beer taste.’ Anybody who is in IT support will recognize this as the blanket answer to ‘What seems to be the problem with your computer?’ ‘It’s not working.’ ‘Amazing! How do you know?’) My wife likes to tell people that when she met me she thought she didn’t like beer. She usually follows this with: “Turns out that what I don’t like is Bud Light!” Bingo! So try to get an answer to what they don’t like, even if it’s a brand. Come up with an alternative for them to try based on what other drinks they like. If you’re wrong, then the followup question is: What about this beer don’t you like? Is it the bitterness? The sweetness? You don’t like flowers? You don’t like chocolate? If you feed a person the vocabulary they need to define it, they will be able to finally settle on what it is they don’t like, and you can build from there.
Don’t try them out on full pints. Number one way to get someone who doesn’t like beer to continue not liking beer: force them to drink a pint of something they don’t like. If you’re in the right kind of bar, see if you can get the bartender to give you samples of beer for the person to try. At absolute worst, buy one for yourself and let the person try it from your glass. They are going to be much more likely to try a wide array of things if they don’t have to suffer through an entire glass of something they don’t enjoy.
If possible, pair it with food. This is really multi-purpose. For the most part, people like eating, so you’re already giving them something that they enjoy. It gives them something to focus on beside the beer, which may make them a bit more adventurous . It also opens up a much wider range of flavors for them to try.
Don’t force the issue. Finding the right beer for somebody might not happen in one night. It could take days or weeks. A lot of people are going into this with the idea set in their mind: “I don’t like beer.” It can be a defining principle for people. No! I am a Liquor Person! I am a Wine Person! My response is: “Look, if you like good things, you will like good beer. You just haven’t had the right one.”
I can’t think of a person that I haven’t been able to find a beer for (surely they must exist, but I’ve apparently blocked that out), though some of them have taken me months of pondering and looking for just the right one to try on them. It can be a challenge, but everybody has some sort of beer that they’re going to like. It’s up to you to help them find it, and if you play your cards right you get to drink a lot of great beer in the meantime.