Overall, beer consumption may be down, but at the more colourful end of the spectrum, where the increasing number of craft brewers are operating, sales are growing significantly year on year. The breadth and quality of local beer is growing every day. In that regard, beer in Australia is experiencing something of a renaissance, and this the best time to be a beer drinker in the country’s history - but that doesn't mean everyone’s on board quite yet.
There are plenty of people who will turn up to a bar pouring a selection of the finest beers in the land and, without even a cursory glance at the taps or fridge, ask for a glass of the house wine. It’s true that they may simply prefer wine, but equally they may never have felt inclined to give beer a fair go.
Reputation is everything
Beer has suffered greatly from the decades of industry consolidation that resulted in the bulk of the country’s mainstream offerings becoming predictable and similarly bland. To many, a beer is a beer is a beer: typically pale yellow with a half-inch frothy top. In the contents of such a glass you get none of the beer’s rich history, myriad styles or fascinating flavours.
But if you care to dig a little deeper, there genuinely is a beer for everyone. From simple lagers to bracingly bitter IPAs, from sweet stouts to impossibly complex lambics, the beer world is richer than most drinkers would ever believe. The hard part is getting people to try something different. With that in mind, here are a handful of ways to help guide a novice along the path of least resistance towards beer enlightenment.
Embrace the dark side
If you were to gather together everyone who claims they don’t like beer then ask whether they enjoy chocolate or coffee. You’d expect the response from a great many of them would be resounding enthusiasm. Styles like stout and porter can therefore be a fantastic way to introduce people to another side of beer, one full of chocolate, coffee and roast characters derived naturally from different varieties of malt. Presenting these beers at the right temperature (i.e. not too cold) will bring out the most from these characters and you might also consider pairing these styles of beer with a rich dessert to act as a companion, helping to focus on individual flavours rather than the style of beverage they’re contained in.
One to try: 4 Pines Stout. Chocolate and coffee bitterness balance perfectly in this dry stout from Australia’s current champion brewers.
No thanks, I’m a wine drinker
Australian drinkers generally have a reasonable grasp of wine vernacular; ask the difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz and most would be able to rattle off a handful of flavour descriptors. But ask the difference between ale and lager and there’s a good chance you’ll be met with silence. It may seem counterintuitive, but in terms of converting someone to beer, that could be an encouraging answer. A lack of knowledge doesn’t so much confirm a disinterest in beer, but perhaps is indicative of never being introduced to anything other than the kind of mainstream beers which can fail to excite even the most biased beer lover.
There are plenty of ways that beer can cater for a wine drinker’s palate, and the place to start would be Belgium. Names like kriek, gueuze and lambic will be unfamiliar to many, but in the beer world these styles are famed and arguably represent the pinnacle of beer’s complexity. Rather than relying on hops and bitterness, as do so many New World pale ales and India pale ales, these endlessly interesting styles are built on fruit, acidity, tartness, tannin, barrel ageing and blending – the very kinds of characteristics wine drinkers are already familiar with.
Get lean and clean with pilsners
If you’re trying to get someone interested in beer, it’s probably safest to steer clear of hops. While sought out and swooned over by experienced beer lovers whose mantra in life seems to be “the more bitter, the better”, highly hopped beers can be borderline offensive to a palate that’s not used to them. All of which leaves a place for pilsners.
This classic lager style is traditionally crisp, clear and served cold. Typically having a slightly bready malt flavour, and pronounced, yet gentle, hop bite, it shouldn’t be a challenging style to drink, but due to the delicately-balanced flavour profile they’re challenging to brew well. With a golden colour they also look fine and elegant when presented in proper glassware (hardly a precursor to how a beer tastes, though we can’t help but drink with our eyes). You could perhaps view pilsners as a more refined take on the household lager names; approachable but interesting in their own right. And when it comes to getting someone to try a beer, that might be all you need to get your foot in the door.
One to try: Weihenstephaner – Pilsner. A classic German take on the style and just the kind of quality you’d expect from the world’s oldest brewery.