The Session

Beer people

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s Session topic, chosen by Stonch, is “beer people”.

We puzzled over this one a bit. We’ve met the odd brewer and some pub landlords, but that’s about it when it comes to beer people. “Most of the people we know,” we thought, “aren’t that bothered about beer.”

And that’s the market most ale breweries are working in.

People like our mate Jack are where they make the bulk of their money. Jack drinks real ale by default — it’s in his blood and, these days, a cultural prejudice of the educated middle classes. But he won’t go out of his way to try new beers. If he goes to a pub and all the real ale is off, he’ll be disappointed, shrug, and order a Guinness. He’s not bothered enough about beer to walk to another pub.

On our visit to the Oakdale Arms on Sunday, we met another character who struck us as being a typical British real ale drinker. Charlie was a very chatty, friendly bloke who wandered over to say hello. He wanted to know if we were “tickers”, having seen our type before. We denied it hotly, of course. He then told us that his big problem was that the beer he’d been drinking was off, and he didn’t like to change. “I tend to find a beer I like and stick to it,” he said. “I’m not bothered about trying new things.” But he was adamant about one thing: he was a real ale drinker through and through.

How much money can a brewery make by appealing only to ‘beer people’? Or beer geeks, if you like. Not as much as it can by appealing to people who just want a weakish, refreshing pint of ale and becoming their default choice, perhaps.

4 replies on “Beer people”

Sounds like you’re on the same wavelength as Paul Garrard today, I wonder if GK can tell us which 14 beers the average drinker tries before settling on his/her “usual?”

Good subject today – in response: Firstly – people want a reliable product, regardless of what it is. There is nothing worse than drinking a beer one day that bears absolutely no resemblance to allegedly the same product that you drunk the day or week before. Speaking personally – I’m looking for consisitency of taste and quality and Real Ale is complete diva of a product when it comes to keeping it – I should know I used to keep Marston’s Pedigree, which is more temperamental than Naomi Campbell…!!

There can be an undesirable irony though – in that people drink national brands such as John Smiths exactly for that reason – they know what they are getting, it varies little from place to place so they get what they’re expecting but never know that compared to regional smaller breweries, that particular pint is as anodine as you can possibly get.

That then begs two questions – firstly, how do you encourage people who have found something that’s reliable to change and how do you encourage landlords to keep their beer better so that people don’t default to Guinness?

The sheer choice in some pubs actually works wonders, whether it’s the slightly macho thing of trying as many as you can or from a beer lovers point of view trying the different beers for taste, it does however seem to encourage a sense of adventure. There’s a bar near me that serves 7 or 8 different continental lagers that are not readily available elsewhere and that seems to have the same effect on visitors – who either come in to try something different because they know that it serves these beers or those who venture in for the first time who look at your pint and ask what it’s like. The landlord (in this case at KoKo bar), knows so much about beer (as the bar used to be a Beer Shop that he converted into a bar) that people become enthused themselves as he explains the differences in taste and origin and brewing techniques. This then points to a very real role the landlord needs to play in encouraging diversity of choice & consumption. We can all think of landlords who don’t give a sh*t about their beer as the GP on it is so low and prefer to whack out as many plated meals as possible because brewers have identified this as their next significant revenue stream.

If the guy selling it has no spark for his product than can you blame customers for not getting aroused !!!

James — thanks for a considered and substantial response!

Thinking about it, me and Boak tend to quite excited by beers which are inconsistent. The stuff Meantime serve at their pub in Greenwich is never the same twice — there are subtle differences in bitterness, fruitiness and sourness — which is quite good fun for us. We’ve also really enjoyed tasting Fuller’s London Porter on tap, which started off quite raw in the autumn and has got progressively more interesting as the last few barrels have been rolled out. The difference being that those beers mature, or their recipes are being constantly tweaked, rather than just being mistreated. The inconsistencies aren’t unplanned or unexpected by the brewers.

But, yes, for most people that isn’t the case: if it tastes different to the beer they know and love, they can get quite put out.

I agree about landlords. I love it when bar staff say, with genuine enthusiasm, “Have you tried this one? It’s really nice.” Our local has little signs up saying: “Try our Belgian cherry beer” and you do hear people saying, “Go on, then — I’ll give it a go.” It doesn’t do any harm at all.

Which is where I think a nice, quiet chalkboard menu which explains what things taste and look like can only be a good thing. The old leatherbound beer menu is a bit pretentious, but there’s room for something which reassures people and gives them a little nudge.

Advertising and offering free tasters doesn’t go amiss, either!

Andy: Carling, Carling Extra Cold, Kronenbourg, Kronenbourg Premiere Cold, Fosters, Fosters Twist, Fosters Extra Cold, Corona, Brahma, Becks, Stella, Holsten Pils and John Smith’s Extra Smooth?

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