Friday, March 2, 2012

How to make great recommendations

Everyone who loves great beer wants other people to love great beer, too. Well, not counting beer snobs who want to keep great beer their little secret so they can lord their superior knowledge over others. But those ridiculous types are for another post...

Anyway, let's say you enjoy better beer but can't seem to sway your friends and family. Hey, it happens. Most Americans know beer as fizzy yellow swill that usually comes in cans. Most don't realize what a varied, amazing beverage it can be, and balk at anything outside the norm. Hard to shake away many years of training in that regard.

So how to convince them?

The trick is, you can't force it. All you can do is introduce people to beers they otherwise wouldn't drink on their own and see what clicks. I try not to push people, I merely offer what I have available and let them try what they want. No, "try this imperial stout!" Rather, "are you interested in a taste?" I don't say, "come into this house of beer," I say, "the door is unlocked if you want to come in; enter at your leisure."

That's because most people don't like things pushed on them, nor do they like to feel as if they're being "instructed." Think about it: What adult wants to be "taught" (which is what it often feels like) by another adult?

But if you merely make clear that your great beers are available for them to try whenever they want, checking out an array of great craft beers becomes THEIR idea. It's THEIR choice. And that's a LOT more powerful and will leave a MUCH bigger impression on them.

So don't be obnoxious. Don't comment on someone else's beer and don't ramble on and on about yours. If someone shows interest, take it from there. Otherwise, shut the hell up.

Beer pornography

The other thing to remember is that most people are bad at making recommendations. They really are. You see this all the time on Internet message boards. People recommend the beers they like, not the beers the person in question might like.

"If I like X, they will like X, too!"

It doesn't work that way. What you want is to gauge the other person's tastes. What sort of drinks appeal to them? Why? And what do they dislike? Okay, so we know what they like and don't. What beers have some the characteristics of what they like and none of what they don't, and further, what have them in an approachable way? Or maybe this person likes aggressive foods and drinks, so you don't want approachable, you want eye-opening and challenging.

Obviously it's an art, not a science.

But some basic common sense applies, as well as some experience understanding the variety of flavors beer can offer. If the person thinks a given beer is too bitter and it's not actually a bitter beer compared to other common beers out there -- maybe they think Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is way too bitter -- recommending an IPA would be stupid even if you think it's the best IPA ever. If they enjoy a Blue Moon, you don't hand them an Old Rasputin, you recommend witbiers that don't rely on a slice of orange for taste (Allagash White, etc.). If they enjoy the harsh bitterness of an IPA, don't start wandering the roads of Belgium; show them more hoppy beers! If someone likes the roasted coffee aspect of an entry-level stout like Guinness, you don't show them a hop bomb Pliny the Elder. Duh.

Yet so many people do this! They insist on recommending what THEY like rather than what the other person may like. That's a shitty way of getting people into beer. Show people high quality beers that feature the tastes they already like and expand from there.

When it comes to making recommendations, I've found that there is no one sure thing beer to recommend to people. No set route into craft beer and no formula to getting people into it. It's going to vary wildly depending on the individual. I've known some people whose entry into craft beer was bold IPAs, others who took the slow route of comfortable wheats and wits, some who needed the offbeat experiments of Dogfish Head to have their eyes opened, and a recent guy who went from MGD64 right to Trappist ales practically overnight, recommendations based largely on what other beverages he liked and why. In that case, I even took his taste in cigars into consideration, knowing he preferred Earthy, musty cigars with hints of soft wood over cigars with a sharp, bright bite to them.

None of that matters. What matters is, know your friend well and let who he or she is guide your recommendations. Their likes come before the beer, not the other way around.

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1 comment:

  1. My first micro-brewed beer was a Gordon Biersch Dunkelweizen, a heavy smooth beer, very complex in the middle with (I think) cloves and banana and a sweet aftertaste. I was hooked, in less than a year I had begun brewing my own beer. But I did always have that sense of "leading myself there." You can show your enthusiasm, but the moment you get pushy, people will definitely balk.