Saturday, 13 February 2010

Why beer CAN be the new wine

Pete Brown wrote an interesting post about his experience holding a house party. The basic summary is that the vast majority of people do not choose their drink based on taste but on what they perceive as being an intelligent choice. Beer, for many, is not a choice they would make over wine. They may know nothing about wine either and are not interested in knowing. These people would also not care about quality beer. It's just beer. If they don't get what we love about beer then we should not worry about it.

Now appreciation of anything extraordinary can be something of a personal thing. I like mountains for instance. I like climbing them when I get a chance. Many people don't get the answer to the question "why?" which of course, all mountain climbers know, is simply "Because it is there"

I dislike football. I dislike it quite a lot if the truth be known. I don't begrudge anybody else their passion for the game, but I find the playing and watching of the sport completely pointless.

I do appreciate, in a casual sort of way, objet d'art, ancient monuments, architecture, theatre, poetry, literature, a wide range of music and other such pointless subjects. I would not expect the vast majority of the population to share my appreciation of the same things. However, sometimes it can happen that you enthuse about something to somebody and the next thing you find they have become a greater fan than you could ever imagine.

Beer can be the same. Sure, there is the argument that beer should be treated with the irreverence it deserves, after all it is a social drink first and a connoisseurs drink second. But there are people who are interested in exploring the hidden depths of the beer world, not many, and we should be careful not to get too excited, too flamboyant and become complete bores; it's working out who might be receptive that is the key.

I wish to illustrate this with my own story:

Yesterday we had a visit from a nice couple who are seriously thinking of holding their wedding here. We discussed many things like timings and the menu, flowers and accommodation. Eventually we got onto the subject of drinks on the table during the meal. We discussed the price verses quality issues of wine, carefully explaining that our wine list might not be the cheapest, but that for the price they could be sure they were getting quality for their money. I apologised that we didn't hold a large stock of champagne so they would have to confirm in advance the amount we needed to order. "We don't really care for champagne" came the reply "We're actually more interested in your beers"

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. How could I be so stupid not to have mentioned beer up to this point? So proceeded a tasting session which concluded with a Chimay Blue and a Mort Subite Gueuze. I even, sin of sins, got them to taste them in wine glasses. They declared the beers to be very nice indeed, especially the gueuze. They seemed impressed by the idea of tasting small amounts of lots of different beers in small glasses. They then went on to suggest a beer tasting session as part of their happy day. They thought it would be great fun in lieu of wine on the table. Of course, there would be a plentiful supply of cask beers available too.

This sort of experience with customers is not unique. I feel that it is happening with increasing frequency. The reason for this might be due to my improved awareness, or an improvement in the number of people coming to my pub because they have heard I have interesting beers, but I don't think that is all of it. I believe there is a growing market, if still very small, for specalist beer and that market still has an opportunity to grow still further.

So yes, there is a danger of becoming too evangelical about beer. Most people just want to go down to the pub and have a pint with their mates, the actual beer is not as relevant as some of us would like to think. But we also need to just keep an eye on the opportunities and grab them when they arise.

Since I first wrote this I've gone back and read the increasing number of comments on Pete's blog, including his own comment which balances out the original post. And that's the point isn't it? Balance.

1I'm sure somebody once wrote that they wanted beer to be treated with the irreverence it deserves. My dictionary says irreverence means "Lack of due respect or veneration, disrespect" and I've always had trouble with that. I would like to think, in the context I've seen it written with respect to beer, it is meant to be an opposite to "over-reverence"


Lew Bryson said...

I'm not actually "in the business," so I'm always wary of making statements like this, but...I believe that the main thing holding back an even bigger growth in "craft" beer (still need a better term) is a lack of availability. I think a lot of sales are being lost because restaurants still don't offer enough of it. You're on to something.
And I like the "irreverence it deserves" line, too: leave it just the way it is!

Unknown said...

Lew, I absolutely agree that restaurants are a huge gap in the craft beer market. One I hope to start plugging before long.

Ed said...

Nice one getting the Mallory quote in! I always drink beer with 'special occasion' meals as I'm a beer nerd. But generally I prefer not to linger over a meal sipping drinks. I like to scoff my food and then get on with the serious business of drinking - preferably cask beer by the pint.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

I remember when I did the Big Book of Beer in 2005 I was foolish enough to do the whole beer is the new wine schtick and feel very embarrassed about it now — beer is beer, wine is wine, and beer should be on equal terms on the table with wine rather than trying to elbow it out, people like Mark Dorber, Rupert Ponsonby of Garratt Oliver can suggest either wine or beer choices, which is what it boils down to — giving people choice, but then you move onto the whole ‘do we have beer choice’, which we palpably don’t, but then that is campaigning which others like yourself do miles better than me.

Unknown said...

Ed, yes indeed. I love food, rather too much, and it is quite distressing to have eaten too much and have insufficient room for beer.

Adrian, I couldn't agree more. Wine has an equal place on the table for me. I would be crazy to not offer my guests a good wine selection.

I also like wine but sadly the wines I like are more expensive than beer. A good job we have beer then eh?

BeerReviewsAndy said...

sounds like the perfect wedding drink menu to me, i think emily would go for that ...not sure certain members of our families would tho...

Eddie86 said...

It was nice tonight to have a table in the restaurant part of the pub, that when offered the wine list asked for the beer menu instead. I've offered it before, and had it accepted, but never been asked for it. Perhaps change is on the way...

If anyone knows of a good wholesaler of speciality beers delivering to the welsh coast give me a nudge please.

Unknown said...

Eddie, I'm hoping I will be able to help there in the future.......

Yes indeed, there is change on the way, I'm sure.

Unknown said...

Eddie, now I've woken up.....

Try James Clay and Sons who are supposed to have a national network of wholesalers. Personally I think there are some gaps in their service but that is where we currently get ours specialist beers from.

However I'm looking at Cave Direct who I think might use couriers to deliver.

Mark said...

Good points. Whilst there might be a change happening, I personally can never see beer being viewed on the same level as wine.

It's just too ingrained in people that wine is a sophisticated option, whilst beer is for blokes. The balance might swing a bit, but craft beer will always be for the niche market.

I hope I'm wrong, but the reaction I get from mates for drinking halves, drinking beer from a wine glass or even smelling a beer before drinking it, tells me that I'm not.


Rob Nicholson said...

>I think a lot of sales are being lost because restaurants still don't offer enough of it.

Very true and we (East Cheshire CAMRA) are considering something (not sure what yet) to try and get more restaurants to carry more real ale, in a bottle for starters. I've just spent a lovely evening in the Windmill, Whiteley Green ( if I'm allowed a plug) - the decription is a little out of date mainly because they now always have a local Storm Brewing Beer on the bar. Okay, so only maybe a couple of us in the restaurant drinking it but it's a welcome addition.

Cheers, Rob.