Beer education is a subversive act

I’ve been doing a few beer education jobs lately and concluded that it is subversive.

It is also a lot of fun.

The most effective beer education is teaching bar staff more about their primary product. Bar work is often a temporary phase – ‘I’m not really working behind a bar, I’m actually becoming a lawyer’. Most of the people who serve beer in New Zealand are not seeking any career development and don’t want to invest much personal commitment into learning about the products they sell. And most don’t get paid very much either.

That’s why I like teaching bar staff about beer. Not only are they in a wonderful position to teach others about the wonderful products coming out of craft breweries, but it’s just good fun to see them get it.

Last month I was taking a group of bar staff through the different beer styles in their bar’s range, giving them background about the flavours typical of each style. I wasn’t mentioning food matching – that wasn’t in the brief – but toward the end of the tasting, someone sampled a bottle of a black larger that had been opened earlier. It had warmed up a bit, and the guy tasting it asked me if it was supposed to taste of chocolate and coffee. He suggested it might make a good match with their desserts and suggested it could attract females to try new kinds of beer. Good work Fella!

Corporate tastings are also a lot of fun, and not just because you get to drink beer at work. They get people working together in groups, thinking about what they are experiencing, and asking some good, tough questions. The best questions come from people who are not beer fans, because they are not afraid of losing face, and don’t make assumptions about what they are tasting.

I have two rules at my tasting sessions.
1 – There are no dumb questions
2 – Everyone’s senses are different and if you detect a flavour or aroma that no one else has mentioned, speak up and tell us.

Someone always tests rule 1, every time.

So why is beer education subversive? Because the two big breweries are so damn big, and have a huge vested interest in maintaining mediocrity, with sales based on image, not quality. Drink, don’t think. Beer education gets people questioning the range of flavours and aromas they are experiencing, rather than looking at the bottle or the price for reassurance.

It also introduces people to new beer experiences. This can mean styles of beers they haven’t tried before, or it can be a craft version of a style they know they like. Either way, you are getting people to think about beer and think about what they like, and for some brewers and marketers, that is a subversive activity.

Did I mention I enjoy it?

So what are your tricks? How do you get workmates, flatmates, and old mates to try something new?



2 Responses to “Beer education is a subversive act”

  1. “The best questions come from people who are not beer fans, because they are not afraid of losing face, and don’t make assumptions about what they are tasting.”

    The best observations do too, for the same reasons.

    People who know a little (or a lot) about a style go searching for what they expect to find in a beer… sadly I’ve seen it all too often in judging also. A judge think he/she knows a lot about a style… they may know all the taste/aroma descriptors but they sometimes get it horrible wrong when it comes to the verbs (i.e. “may” gets read/interpreted as “must”).

    Reply

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