Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Company’s coming: What beer should you serve?

By William Brand
Sunday, October 26th, 2008 at 11:05 am in Uncategorized.

Question for a new week…This is part of an ongoing discussion about why does craft beer only account for about 4 percent of total beer sales in America,  make that about 7 percent, if you count sales of decent beer like Coors Blue Moon, Leinenkugel, etc.

Here’s the question: OK, you’ve got company coming over tonight. Mostly they’re not beer drinkers or they drink swill (fill in your own light lager brand here).  You want to introduce them to craft beer.  What should you serve?  A bridge beer, say a Sam Adams or some version of a brewpub golden?  Or should you burn all your bridges and bring out your best?

Opinions?  Comments?

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  • Angelo

    I work part time at a craft and import beer store in Washington and get this question often. Here’s what I would recommend:
    A) Expand your palate. Find any style of beer outside your comfort zone and unlearn your Bud habits. Or…
    B) Pick an adjunct-free offering with a light body. Examples I might recommend: Trumer Pils, Pilsner Urquell (in a can is even better) Lagunita Czech Pils, North Coast Scrimshaw, or perhaps the real Bud, Czechvar.

  • EastBayBeerGeek

    I say throw them right into it. I have recently introduced many of my close friends to beers they never even considered trying before. Family who only drank bud and coors now decide to pickup Stella, Kona Longboard and even Green Flash’s Hop Head Red when it is available on draft (Mission Pizza in Fremont). I just buy it and once they let down their guard when the crap they brought is gone, they expand their horizons to what is readily available.

    I believe that every non-beer drinker has a gateway beer. For my Fiance, it was Kona. They just have to be in the right mind state and willing to try new things.

  • Arnas

    Imperial Stouts are the brownies of craft beer. I was turned on and have turned others on with the choco-coffee goodness of Stone’s RIS and North Coast’s Old Rasputin, respectively.

  • Derrick

    I’ll give the philosopher’s answer: It depends. It’s situational depending on the food served and the situation. Let me give you a couple personal examples.

    My girlfriend’s uncle drinks fizzy Bud Lites on a hot Texas summer day, and gave him a sample of Arrogant Bastard. Big mistake, he told me he didn’t like it, and didn’t even finish it. I wouldn’t drink Arrogant Bastard on a hot summer day, it’s just not that type of beer. (A good wit beer of Hefe is my call, here.)
    I was more successfull at that night’s family reunion with different Shiner Beer varities. Shiner (I know it’s Sproetzal (sp?) brewing) is far more appropriate for a Texas family reunion, than some aggressive West Coast beer anyway, and in a small way, made a little headway to get people to look outside their comfort zone.

    Back here in California, a lot of my friends are more foodies into wine, and so a good pairing of a craft brew with the food served, shows that there’s more to good eating than wine.

  • brewnot

    You can try a quality imported Pilsner or Lager. These are closest American light lagers. Many to choose from. Harp Lager is a good choice.

    One of my favorite beers is Mendocino Brewing’s Blue Heron Pale Ale. An excellent beer without being too much of a challenge to a BMC or lite beer drinker.

    Another choice could be Alaska Brewing’s Kolsh Ale.

    Let’s face it. Pay your money, buy a beer and hope for the best.

    But do not get your hopes up.


  • Chipper Dave

    I’ve run into this problem before and wasn’t sure what to serve. I can tell you that from experience you probably don’t want to throw an India Pale Ale or other real hoppy beer at them right away. I suggest a good amber, brown, porter or even a stout as a good intro to craft beer. If they are used to drinking swill then I’d suggest more of a session craft beer around 4.5 to 5% ABV. If you hit them up with a big flavorful imperial (of anything) then you risk having your friends get too buzzed too quickly. That may spoil your chances of offering them a mix of several craft beers. Start them off easy, perhaps with 4oz taster glasses of a few different styles and see which ones they seem to like best, then offer them a full glass of that.

  • Mike in Berkeley

    I had a similar conversation with some friends about this same subject. If these friends are non Beer-drinkers then there’s a lot you have to take into consideration. If they’re not beer drinkers or if they’re brand new to beer drinking then obviously you can’t serve up anything too hoppy or in your face. Definitely no Arrogant Bastard or stiff Ales. Many have considered hefeweisen a good starting point. If you’re in the area Pyramid Brewery in Berkeley has a Crystalweisen which is about as easy to drink as you can get. Current weather could be a factor in our decision too if your friends drink at least the bottom of the barrel Bud stuff. Getting a little darker, Amstel Light is really tasty for a light beer. From there maybe you could move up to a nice red like Gordon Biersch’s Marzen. But if i was to pull out all the stops and just throw em’ my favorite beer it would have to be Moonlight Brewrey’s (Santa rosa,CA) “Death and Taxes”. I think you can special order a keg from Bevmo. Otherwise you gotta check out their site to find out local restaurants and/or pubs that have it on tap. They carry nothing in bottle :-(

  • Mario (Brewed For Thought)

    I say jump in head first. My neighbor is a tried and true Bud drinker. He was speechless when we slit a growler of Pliny.

    If you’re talking non-beer drinkers, why are they non-beer drinkers? Because they have only tried fizzy yellow beers? Why find something similar to convince them they don’t like beer. I was that non-beer drinker at one point, then I tried a Boont.

    If they’re fizzy yellow beer drinkers, then a middle ground might be more appropriate. I was thrilled to find the Mission Street Pale at Trader Joe’s after it won Gold at the GABF. Great pale, and not too intimidating.

  • Brian

    I don’t believe in the “gateway beer” thing. I think there is always a high quality craft beer that a swill-drinker will appreciate, you just have to get them to articulate what they don’t like about craft beer. If they don’t like bitterness, suggest a good amber like Drake’s or Boont; if they don’t like roastiness suggest a good Pils like Trumer or a Hef; if they are wine drinkers have them try a good Belgian style. I just don’t think there is much point in horsing around with half-assed beers like Stella and Fat Tire– they might decide they like them and stop right there, and we don’t need any more of those people who “only like Fat Tire”.

  • discdude

    Walk before running, you just cannot expect newbies to start off with a double IPA, barleywine or a strong dubbel. In a 3-course meal (appetizers, main, dessert), I’ve had good luck starting out lighter with a hef or a solid pale ale, then moving on to something more interesting like a Belgian or good IPA (but not over the top) with the main course, and finishing up with a nice porter or stout. You have to match it to the food. I’m not gonna put names out there, but you get the idea. Oh, and give people only 5 ounces at a time, if you give them too much, they’ll either waste it or get wasted, and then you haven’t won anyone over. 5 ounces is a nice taster size, not too much or too little.

  • danny

    if it’s at my home I serve whatever I have on tap for homebrew. usually they can’t refuse something home made.

    after that I make sure they try a few things in smaller glasses. most have had the usual stuff (pales, stouts, porters, browns, etc..) so I always give them something unique: saison, wood aged something, sour beers, framboise, other belgians.

    I try and have something I can tell a story about. IE: this is from lost abbey in San Diego and is a barrel aged sour beer with cherries that was made as a homage to a belgian beer. here is the one that inspired them (I usually have that one too), here is something else they made that is a bit different but still tasty… etc…

    if people show interest (and they always do) I walk them through a small flight of tasty things and try to teach them what to taste, what to smell, and how things are somewhat intertwined.

  • craig

    if they drink “craft beer”..i grab whatever is on sale…if they only drink “swill/lawn mower beer”..i would serve “session”..i forget who makes it…someone up north…but “swill” drinkers always like it and even enjoy it…

  • ST-Hops

    I will start with Anchor Steam or Anchor Liberty or a Mai Bock, like Rouge Dead Guy’s Ale. They are great with a lot of different sncaks. They can be followed with some light or even double Belgian, which are great with variety of entre’s.

  • Phillip G Torrez

    I would go with something like a Firestone Ale (i.e. DBA) or Mendocino BC’s Blue Heron.

  • easong

    I had a party yesterday. Mostly wine, but I wanted to make beer available. My selection:

    1. Santa Cruz Aleworks IPA.
    2. Santa Cruz Aleworks Hefeweizen.
    3. Santa Cruz Aleworks Pale.
    4. Green Flash West Coast IPA.
    5. 21st Amendment IPA (in cans!)
    6. Stella-Artois (I will pour it out now).

  • Nathan Smith

    Depends on the guest’s tastes, if they are interested in beer: First i’d show them to the taps of homebrew to help themselves: Belgian Dark Strong Ale, Homegrown Wet Hop ale, or Imperial Porter. If they want something hoppier, how about 461 IPA or Sierra Celebration ale (always a good one for guests around this time). If I’m lucky enough to have guests who want some sour beer, we’d open some Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen or Girardin. Failing any of my efforts, Nicole would be there to help convince our guests there’s definitely a beer in the house they had no idea they would enjoy.

  • Tony Leach

    I can’t believe no one’s mentioned Fat Tire (also available in cans now).

  • Mikl

    It’s a problem. Most of my family and friends drink swill. I try to pick “gateway” beers– Sierra Nevada Pale, Anchor Steam; but these mostly just work on name recognition. If it’s dark or a brewery not on their radar, it scares them away. If I try to encourage tasting of more unique brews, my wife gets after me for being a snob. With my daughter and son they’ll accept some craft beers if I pair them with the right food, since they’re foodies.
    I feel a lot of non-beer drinkers are that way because of the sorry beer that they grew up on. I did blow my wine enthusiast Dad away with some Russian River Belgians and Maui’s CocoNut Porter.

  • G Best #7

    There’s a reason Fat Tire wasn’t mentioned.

  • William Brand

    Wow. Great comments everybody. To Miki: I honestly don’t think gateway beers are the way to go. Although, SN Pale Ale’s pretty damn good. You served your dad great beer and he loved it. Serve ’em the best, of course, always a beer appropriate for the moment. No Arrogant Bastard on scorching day in Texas. (Although I’d probably go for it.)

  • William Brand

    OH I’ll say it about Fat Tire. It’s wildly popular and I’m happy for New Belgium. But the beer itself is fairly ordinary. There are many, many better ambers. Of course, it’s a great leap forward from light lager. No rice or corn, an ale, with some fruit in the nose. But the finish in my opinion is dry and ordinary.

  • William Brand

    Working through comments kind of backwards. Discdude cautions not to go over the top and to pair the beer with great food. Good advice. One thing I’ve found is that if you have an absolutely stunning beer that you love and it’s well-balanced, hops and malts. Most people with decent palates will appreciate it. So why waste their time with some half-assed beer: Give ’em something enjoyable. And Discdude has it right: Small glasses.

  • Mario (Brewed For Thought)

    I’d rather have Bud’s American Ale than a Fat Tire.

  • William Brand

    About Philip’s comment on Blue Heron from Mendocino. I agree. That’s one excellent beer that has been around for years and gets lost in the maze, unfortunately, It’s tasty and delicious.

  • William Brand

    Wow easong. Great selection. So what did people drink? Obviously, not Stella.