“I don’t drink beer”. There is no phrase that I enjoy hearing more than that one during a beer tasting/sampling. As soon as I hear the two words that usually precede that phrase, “No” and “Thanks”, all of my attention shifts to this person. This is who I need to speak to. Before this person can even say the phrase, I begin to wonder: What experience has this person had that made them have such a strong reaction to this liquid? Immediately, my first thought is that time-exaggerated memories of Uncle Jim wallowing in the kiddy pool, cradling cans of beer is what caused this reaction in this person. Perhaps it was the aggregate memory of a fraternity basement in which this person became introduced to beer. Maybe, instead, it was the romanticized thought of a dinner with a loved one over a bottle of Pinot Noir. Reality is that we, in the beer industry, have failed this person. We have failed miserably.
“I don’t drink beer.” I hear the phase to often. Usually it comes from a reluctant soul who came along to the event because their boyfriend/girlfriend/parent/child dragged them along. As we in the beer industry have fought amongst each other, this person has decided that beer is not for them. They have moved on. Recent Gallup polls show that in the years 1992-1994, 47% of drinkers named beer as their preferred beverage, while only 41% do this year. A 6% swing in a matter of less than two decades should be the wake-up call for us in the industry! This consumer is evolving!
This person in front of me is about to be on the receiving end of the distinct and proverbial “Aha” moment. At this point, I’m not so concerned about their past experience. The next few moments could earn us a loyal customer. I am certain that this person has not had the opportunity to enjoy a New Glarus Raspberry Tart or a Russian River Consecration, but I am confident that the Goose Island Sofie or 90 Minute IPA that I have in my hand will blow this person’s hair back. I say this because, yes, sour/wild ales, in time, become the holy-grail for beer-folk, they are also a great introduction to what beer can be.
“I don’t drink beer.” “This is a Belgian-style saison, aged in Chardonnay barrels on a bit of orange peel”. Usually at this time I see an eyebrow raise. “ Yes, this is an IPA, but I want you to pay close attention to the caramel notes on the nose and the piney bitterness towards the end”. Disbelief.
I can’t quite understand why we haven’t engaged this person up until this particular point. As they engage the aroma of the beer and ultimately take their first sip with skepticism, I know that the hardest part of my job is done. This person has not taken a sip of beer for years. Until now.
“Wow, that’s not bad!” is usually the response I will hear, but if you pay attention to the non-verbal cues, you can interpret so much more. Usually, the second sip is the giveaway. Picking up empty sampling cups is a tell-tale sign that we may have converted a customer.
“I don’t drink beer.” I can’t think of a more important consumer that I need to speak to. I am always thankful that this person is in front of me. This is the person that we have neglected to acknowledge. While there is no phrase that I enjoy hearing more, I will say that there is not much more rewarding than the sight of this person walking to their car with a bottle of beer in their hand. In the industry, there is no goal more important than this.