I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you probably like beer. You may even have a healthy or perhaps unhealthy obsession with beer. It’s also probably likely that you know someone who doesn’t enjoy beer. I hear it frequently: “Beer is too ________ for me.” I’m not here to proselytize my personal tastes and I don’t recommend you try either, but I’ve boiled down a few healthy ways to encourage a reluctant beer taster or introduce a newbie to craft beer. Many of us spent our first few imbibing years consuming macro beer or low-quality liquors, so it’s no wonder advancing beyond is often a challenge. It doesn’t have to be that way, especially with all the craft options available today and more understanding about taste.
1. Everyone has unique tastes.
These depend on preferences, associations, mood, health, and more. We now understand that perception of bitter flavors can depend greatly on genetics, and in beer, this obviously matters. Bitterness is challenging to everyone in some ways–many toxic foods contain bitter compounds, so it’s only natural that we are cautious consumers. But culturally, us North Americans are coddled even from the time we begin eating solid foods. Challenging flavors and bitter tastes are masked by sweeteners, either by our parents or by the manufacturers of packaged food, many of which are marketed toward young children. There’s also a heavy emphasis on gendered marketing for sweet preference–just look to sweet flavored vodkas or coffee drinks for examples there. Somewhere along the lines of historical American beer advertising, women were discouraged from being enthusiastic consumers, because beer is rough, masculine, bloating, and calorific, didn’t you know. It’s not easy to leave these outdated but still present concepts behind, but young female craft beer consumers are on the rise. When describing your response to a beer, keep in mind that it’s probable that no one else has exactly the same taste. It’s also possible that others may have an opposing view enforced by culture or by genetics alone. Consider someone’s background and offer to curate a few tastes at a time.
2. Beer is diverse, and differs around the world.
Luckily, there is a multitude of options, styles and tastes. Beer is not singular! Begin by understanding where someone starts–do they like cider or white wine? Try a French or Belgian blonde. Lemonade? Maybe a kettle sour. Coffee? How about a roasty stout? Tastes even within one style vary drastically depending on location. An English IPA is not a San Diego IPA, and a “pale ale” has more incarnations than I can count. Even one brand changes depending on where it’s made–ingredients, yeast, and environment all play significant hands in the final taste of a product. The experience of drinking a beer hopped with “piney” Cascade in the desert or on the beach, or the difference between an exported, pasteurized ale and a fresh pour from the tank–these are complicated differences that go unmentioned. Essentially, where you are also determines taste preferences and what you’re tasting.
3. Repetition encourages acceptance.
There is evidence that it takes 10-15 tastes of a food for a toddler to begin accepting or enjoying a food. New flavors are often challenging even for adults, and some people never lose their distrust of the unfamiliar. I don’t suggest you force anyone to drink something they detest, but small tastes of even known undesirable flavors over time can morph and become more preferable. A little sip of your drink once in awhile might end up altering someone’s tastes in the long run. I know from personal experience that beers I loved or hated five years ago taste substantially different to me now. I’ve widened my palate, and that alone has helped me perceive new things more comfortably.
4. Taste changes with environment and accompaniment.
The best place to taste anything is in a calm, quiet place with limited distractions. Drinking a beer on the airplane, in a crowded bar, at a festival, and at home in your pajamas will highlight different flavors for obvious reasons. How does a light pilsner taste after a hefty Baltic Porter? Certainly different than if you’d only had water beforehand. Your palate can get “fatigued” by too many or opposing flavors. Anyone who has gone wine tasting probably comprehends this. Speaking of wine, consider this idea: some wines are “stand-alone” styles, meaning, they are often consumed alone or were designed with a certain type of balance in mind. And many wines are at their best interplaying with food–a lot of Italian wines, for example. Eating and drinking go hand-in-hand for many, especially those of moderate consumption. Try pairing beer with food for tasting purposes–it’s creative, rewarding, and doesn’t necessitate being too committed to any style or brand. Amber ale with spicy food, hefeweizen with a cheese board, pilsner with fish and chips–the possibilities are endless.
Try a few new beers with these ideas in mind. I hope you’ll find new avenues of taste and a wider opportunity for exploration.