Quite often, you can usually suss out the archetypal beer geek a mile away. When they walk into a bar they're happy to browse, they don't necessarily want to be consulted or educated, they know exactly what they want or what their tastes are, they're more eager to chat about the beer and they speak in a way that renders them experts in acronyms.
But what about the person that comes in wanting to know more about the craft side of beer? Or how about the stalwart commercial lager drinker who is hard-pressed to give in to the hops?
Having spent the last five years working in the craft beer industry, and being introduced to a myriad of interesting patterns of customer behaviours, I can safely say that the former kind of drinker seems to be open to discussion and is actively looking for advice but it's the latter that is the toughest nut to crack.
So I've compiled a list of five classic "starter" beers along with some breweries I would usually recommend to anyone looking to enter the diverse world of craft:
1. If you like bitters and cask pales ...
The Kernel Brewery - Table Beer 3%
First on the list is the most obvious one. Our neighbour, The Kernel Brewery, is one of the most steady breweries in London. It's no wonder then, that their offerings are timely and classic. For any intrepid craft beer novice, The Kernel is the best place to start. And while literally any of their beers are suitable for someone looking for a tentative step from a bitter or cask ale, Table Beer is the one that will take you to dizzy new heights of flavour. It's well made, light and highly sessionable and isn't pumped full of hops like some of the IPAs from recent trends.
2. If you're a lager drinker ...
Redchurch - Brick Lane Lager 4.7%
East London based Redchurch are a much respected brewery. Along with a superb core range, Redchurch have an experimental project exploring wild yeasts and a vast range of fermentation methods. One of our resident beers and a Bermondsey beer mile favourite, the Brick Lane is a no nonsense, crisp, fresh lager that has a hell of a lot more flavour than your average and won't having you wishing you had deeper pockets. This is a great transition from commercial lager. And if you like that, you can go on to explore some of their wilder beers.
3. For the cocktail lover ...
Salty Kiss - Magic Rock
Made with sea salt, the gosé is a sour beer style of German origin. The salt dulls and rounds off the sourness of the beer and gives way to a savoury freshness. Summery and puckering, the gooseberry fruit and sea buckthorn-infused Salty Kiss is Magic Rock's take on the classic style and isn't dissimilar to a Margarita or a whisky sour without the overbearing booziness.
4. All about Guinness? Try this ...
Left Hand - Milk Stout
Brought to public attention in the late 19th Century and marketed as "nutritional", milk stouts have that coffee and chocolate flavour from the roasted malts with the addition of lactose which brings a sweeter edge and a lovely smoothness. Unfortunately, the amount of lactose in milk stouts nowadays won't put you on the path to super health status but it seems like this style of beer is here to stay. Admittedly, the Left Hand is a little hard to get your hands on but milk stouts are generally a good place to start on the exploratory journey into the varied world of dark beers. Try the Nitro version for a smoother mouthfeel.
5. Enjoy a decent glass of wine?
Boon - Mariage Parfait
This is where things get exciting and we get to do a bit of travelling and exploring in the beer world. I often think that the wine drinker will benefit the most from the craft beer industry; there are so many variations, only exacerbated by the huge collection of yeast strains that can give flavours akin to or sometimes mimic certain wine styles. Sour ales, lambics, geuzes and Belgian farmhouse styles can cater to your wine preference, without actually being wine. For styles similar to white wine, go for breweries such as Boon or 3 Fonteinen from Belgium, Crooked Stave from America and Burning Sky from the South Downs, who are making waves with their experimental brews. For red wine, I recommend the robust Petrus Aged Red, the Rodenbach classic or any beer aged in red wine barrels will do the trick.
No, it's not a religious movement nor a beer-themed cult. It's the beauty of the person who walks into the bar, not knowing much about craft beer. It's the beauty of that same person who is vehement in their ideas about beer. And it's the sense of accomplishment when that same customer walks out a craft beer convert. It's a process that is a delightful balance of careful consideration for their tastes and passion for the new, and it's a perfect excuse to try some beer!