When you love beer, you want to share it. One challenge, though, is that for many people there’s a notion that “beer” is just “fizzy corn water with a touch of alcohol.” The dominance of macro light lager in the marketplace for so long has convinced many people that beer only means one thing, and it’s not something they want.
Then you have the people who claim “all beer tastes the same”—I have a few of these in my family. What’s shocking is that they maintain their position even in the presence of a Pilsner, a stout, and an IPA—yup, all “beer.” And still others recognize the great variety available in today’s craft beer market but are simply intimidated by it—after all, they might end up with anything from the aforementioned light lager to a pint of hoppy rye ale aged on blueberries in a chardonnay barrel.
So if you’re going to make beer converts of your friends and family, it can be useful to make targeted recommendations. Don’t just pick your favorite, or even necessarily recommend what we often call “gateway” beers. Instead, try to match the recommendation to what that person already likes to drink. When confronted with the “I’m not a beer person” claim, I always maintain that there’s a beer person in there somewhere, and the right beer will bring them out. Here are a few suggestions that might make you a better beer guide.
For the white wine lover: Berliner Weisse
What better choice than the drink Napoleon himself called the “Champagne of the North”? The high carbonation and bright acidity will appeal to sparkling fans, and it’s a low-alcohol and pleasantly grainy option that is more available than it’s been in decades. See Schell’s Noble Star series.
For the red wine fanatic: Flanders Red
There’s nothing like a beer that can provide flavors of currant, black cherries, plums, and other dark fruits to catch the imagination of a red wine drinker; Rodenbach’s Grand Cru is a classic example, and a great way to show people the range of flavors and perceptions you can get from beer! If the acidity is off-putting, you might also try them out on Belgian dark strong ales (like Chimay Grand Réserve or St. Bernardus Abt 12) for some of the same flavors.
For the Scotch person: English Barleywine or Old Ale
Particularly in the higher-alcohol varieties like Firestone Walker Sucaba they should love the complex and deep malt flavors along with the oxidized alcohols. A variant on the classics would be Weyerbacher’s Blithering Idiot, which has enough alcohol and fruit/malt complexity to satisfy even the most jaded palates!
For the fruity mixed-drink crowd: Belgian Pale Ale or Saison
The best of these varieties offer a complex array of fruit and spice flavors that should appeal to the umbrella-drink acquaintances in your circle. Ommegang Rare Vos (a Belgian pale) has incredible pear and apricot notes in a nice, lightly caramel malt expression, and most modern Saisons are far more fruit-and-spice driven than the classic Saison DuPont – try them out on Allagash Saison or Ommegang Hennepin Saison.
For the martini swiller: Czech (Bohemian) Pilsner
Herbal-driven Saaz hops characterize the Bohemian-style Pils like Pilsner Urquell. There’s even sometimes a touch of buttery diacetyl for those that enjoy the “richer” vodkas. Though I prefer my martinis stark and dry—if that’s you, then a German Pils like Bitburger (or for the more adventurous, the hoppier Victory Prima Pils) will be a better choice.
For the margarita hound: Gose
Not to be confused with gueuze (it’s Flemish—what can you do?), gose (GO-zuh) is a touch salty and sour, which might appeal to the margarita drinker in your life. If the traditional version fails (some are a touch funky, or a little too wheaty/grainy for non-beer folk), there are fruited versions available as well that might be worth a shot. See Schell’s Goosetown and Excelsior’s MinneGose.
For the coffee drink drinker: Baltic Porter
If you love the taste of coffee and/or chocolate and don’t lust after Sinebrychoff Porter, then I just don’t know what’s wrong with you. Most Baltic porters provide a velvety chocolate and coffee backdrop with some interesting flavors from the higher alcohols, and your brandy-and-coffee drinking friend should love it.
For the person who hates everything: German Altbier
This one is my personal Hail Mary pass. It hits almost every beer character dead center—moderately bitter, medium alcohol, touch of roast, some caramel, some toast, some earthy, some floral, some berry, some… everything. They’re more common than you think, as they usually go by other names (e.g., Otter Creek Copper Ale, Alaskan Amber), but they can serve as good guideline beers to help people start their journey towards what they like.
The bottom line for making beer suggestions to non-beer people is to be creative. If they say they don’t drink beer, find out what they do drink. And when you know what they enjoy, find out what it is about those drinks they like most. The citrus? The sweetness? The crispness? With an ever-growing number of modern and traditional beers in the market, it’s almost certain you will be able to find a beer that offers the same qualities and experience for even the most stubborn non-beer person.
And if all else fails, there’s always specialty beers.