It's amazing how many people want to talk about beer.
Though nearly everyone has an opinion on the subject, I've found that not everyone approaches the topic of beer in the same way. From my experience with Pop The Cap and Fullsteam, here are five common beer personalities (in some particular order):
- Sir One-Ups a Lot. He (yes, he) has a goal: to convince you that you've not tried nearly as many beers has he has. Which is probably true. Even if you quickly cede this simple fact, the conversation may continue to center around the fact that Sir One-Ups a Lot has, indeed, sampled many more beers than you. Surprisingly, some of his assertions will be outlandishly false...but you dare not correct him out of fear that you are becoming, yourself, Sir One-Ups a Lot.And while he may win the battle of Who Has Sampled the Most Beer, you may realize that, overall, you've enjoyed yourself more than SOUL. This is hard to demonstrate and best left to one's self.
Happy Newbie. Happy Newbie is a cheerful lass or lad. She's new to the craft beer world and full of joy over the wide range of beers she's discovered. Still finding her niche, she's willing to try new beers and understands that not every beer will be to her liking. Happy Newbies are often tons of fun to be around, because they're still in this phase of discovery and beer-tinged euphoria.
- Not Bad. Not Bad is someone who tends to believe the definition of beer is narrowly focused. That beer should be of a certain (typically European) tradition. Beers that are hoppy, sour, bold, or generally "beyond the pale" are deemed "not bad." The challenge for the craft beer enthusiast is to encourage Not Bad to expand on What Was Good (if it wasn't, in fact, bad.)
- Wincy. Wincy doesn't like strong tastes in food, wine, spirits, or beer. A moderately hoppy beer (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) is too bitter; Chimay is just too far out there. Now you may think that Wincy is a lost cause -- forever destined to drink Lite beer or Chardonnay -- but you'd be surprised. Like Not Bad, Wincy often just needs to discover a beer that has enough in common with what he or she likes in food or wine. A beer that bridges the gap. For Fullsteam, we find that our Sweet Potato Pale Ale often does this trick (if the hops don't get in the way). Our Scupppernong Sparkling Ale is another bridge (if the distinct notes of muscadine aren't too unusual.)
- The Zone. The Zone isn't interested in being converted. He or she is happy with the beer choices they've made. It's not about craft beer or so-called enlightenment: she could be a total hop-head or a Blue Moon drinker. The Zone is happy with where they are in life. They may entertain new beers and new experiences, but it'll be on their terms. The Zone doesn't care for strong-arming or convincing, because it comes across as elitist. They've likely found a go-to favorite.
No matter who I talk with about beer -- people who fall into these five silly stereotypes or those who defy descriptors -- I've found that a conversation is much more engaging if the primary focus is food. Not the person's current notion of "what beer should be."
Do they like spicy food? Have a sweet tooth? What types of cuisine do they enjoy? What styles of wine? For North Carolinians, Eastern or Western NC barbecue (that is, vinegar-based or smoky-sweet)?
For example, when talking about Hogwash!, our hickory-smoked brown porter, we have great success talking about the subtle smoke of North Carolina barbecue and how the beer dances around the flavor of the smoked meat with its own hint of smoked hickory. See this conversation in action: a video from Wilson, North Carolina, where we debuted Hogwash to the locals at a barbecue dinner.
Had we instead offered up samples of Hogwash! at a grocery store in Wilson (without food to accompany the beer), we would be setting ourselves up for failure. Or, at the very least, a missed opportunity.
It's all about framing the conversation. Start with only beer, and you're already at risk. Following the lead of stalwart breweries like Brooklyn, Great Divide, Stone, Dogfish Head, Allagash, and many others, we at Fullsteam are finding good initial success centering the conversation around food and other drinks. Not necessarily beer.
We invite your thoughts and feedback, either here or on our Facebook page!