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August 12, 2004
Written by jercraigs
It amuses me to daydream that if ever there were a Southern Beer Revival it might go something like this:
REAL beer should be more than just fizzy yellow water!
REAL beer has com-PLEX-ity!
REAL beer should have Fa-LAV-or!
If you are reading this you are probably already a fan of real beer, of good beer, of craft beer, or whatever else you want to call it. If you are like many of us you also have a desire to share your beer knowledge with others. How best to do this is a much discussed topic on Ratebeer, with forum subjects such as "How to convert your significant other?", or "My Dad doesn’t like good beer!" making frequent appearances. After discovering the world of good beer many feel that people still drinking bland macro lagers are missing out.
This got me thinking about what I am going to refer to as "Beer Evangelism". Traditionally associated with religion, there seems to be an increasing trend towards secular evangelism. Passionate fans of television shows, rock bands, <a href=http://www.sethb.com/TiVo/>TiVo, or beer, are spreading the word to anyone who will listen. In the world of television this can be an important tool to ensure that your favourite weekly vice gets renewed for the next season. Whatever our passion, we have seen the light at the end of the mash tun, and we wish to spread the Good News. Thus we find ourselves asking – What is the best way to convince the newcomer of the fulfillment and enjoyment to be had in a quality pint?
Perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before asking how to spread the Gospel of Good Beer, the obvious question is - Why do it at all, and what do we gain in doing so? For the religious believer spreading the good news can be an issue of compassion in the spirit of ‘loving thy neighbor’. [For an interesting discussion of this idea see “Hey-diddly-ho Neighboreenos: Ned Flanders and Neighborly Love” in The Simpsons and Philosophy] In other cases evangelism and spreading the beliefs of the order is religious doctrine – some religious groups believe they are obligated to spread the word to others.
What exactly is evangelism? The English word is derived from the Greek ‘euaggelizo’, meaning "to bring good news, to announce glad tidings" according to <a hrefhttp://www.ucc.org/evangelism/faq.htm>UCC.org So while on some level we may hope to convert people to our way of thinking, evangelism at its core is simply an expression of our own passion for good beer. We have found something great and would like the world to hear about it.
At <a hrefhttp://www.gospelcom.net/guide/index.php>gospelcom.net they suggest that, “effective evangelism is not only about giving people more knowledge. We must help them move from a position of antagonism (or just not caring), to feeling enthusiastic and interested.” In other words, people will probably not move towards acquiring more knowledge, without having first gained some level of enthusiasm for it.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels
"A big failing of much [Christian] evangelism is the use of words and ideas which only Christians understand". <a hrefhttp://www.gospelcom.net/guide/index.php>www.gospelcom.net Beer lovers can be guilty of this too, forgetting that the average person doesn’t necessarily understand concepts like IBUs, original gravity, or even style designations like Imperial IPA. This is partly why you end up with people at beer shows asking, “Give me the darkest beer you have.” They have not yet realized that colour does not necessarily have anything to do with the flavour. It is therefore important to try to speak about beer in terms they understand.
One <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=14765>
forum discussion touched on this when it broached the question of whether or not Ratebeerians feel compelled to jump into beer related conversations. Buck Dich says that "in general I always do. When I hear the word ‘beer’ in someone’s conversation I usually butt in and ask questions and provide feedback to try new and better beers. To the wine drinkers that drink fine wine but drink macro lagers I tell them that they’re drinking the wine coolers and boxed wine of the beer world."
According to the archives at <a hrefhttp://celebrator.com/200104/parker.html>Celebrator, Jim Parker is a full time “Beer Evangelist” for the Oregon Brewers Guild. He says that when getting people to try new beer, "it’s important to have a story. So I’d go to visit a brewery and talk with the brewers. I’d ask how the beer got its name and invite them to tell me any stories they had about the beer. Then I’d tell that to my customers. Then they’d tell their friends the story. They had something to share about the beer, something special."
One company that has done an excellent job of putting a story behind their products is Unibroue. Their labels and artwork are steeped in Quebecois history and the accompanying stories include such interesting tales as a deal with the devil for a flying canoe, or a mysterious black horse enlisted in the construction of a cathedral. Unibroue’s head rep in Ontario is Stephen Thibault, who knows a fair bit about both Unibroue and brewing history in general. Stephen is an adept storyteller as I learned at a Unibroue brewer’s dinner, but it obviously helps that he has a portfolio of excellent beers to talk about. (Speaking of stories – have you seen the new Unibroue tap handles??? These are sure to be conversation starters.)
Just as there are individuals out there who make it their mission to educate the masses, there are also beers that are in a sense the missionaries of the beer world. They can be found out in the dark places of the world where we do not normally find good beer. These are craft brewed beers with more flavour than the average mega-brewery product, but sometimes not quite enough to garner praise from the hardcore beer devotee. I have sometimes heard New Belgium’s Fat Tire or Creemore Springs Lager referred to as good examples, and on more than one occasion Creemore has been the sole shining beacon of good beer for me at a night club or mainstream bar here in Toronto.
These “easy drinking” beers have enough flavour to be enjoyable but lack the intense flavors of an Imperial Stout, or a hoppy West Coast IPA. Still, opinions on using these as introductory beers vary amongst the Enlightened. On the one hand, they are well suited to the task because they are familiar enough to not be too shocking, but the opposing viewpoint is that a shock to the palate can in fact be a good thing. In this way, the novice is exposed to the range of flavors available in beer in a moment akin to divine revelation. Like Paul of Tarsus, the scales fall from their eyes and they truly see the beer world anew. A higher plane of appreciation is reached, and the true Gospel of Beer becomes clear! Or perhaps less dramatically, they simply discover that they like what they taste.
When the student is ready, the lesson appears.
A few months back I spent a weekend at a backpacker’s hostel up north. A group of us were chatting around the table when one guy who was fairly knowledgeable about the characteristics and flavors of wine turned the conversation towards wine and wine appreciation. Casually testing the waters, I mentioned that you could find the same complexity of flavour in beer as well, anxious to see where this might lead. He agreed and excitedly recalled that while looking up a Quebec brewery called Unibroue online he’d come across a website where people not only discussed the qualities of various beers, but also RATED them… Ratebeer.com! By this point my grin was ear to ear and I knew that I had been presented the opportunity to spread the Gospel of Good Beer.
This guy was already quite versed in what was out there, but others around the table were listening to us with keen attention. One girl in particular could not seem to believe that cherries, chocolate, or coffee are flavors one can find in beer, let alone that they are often desirable. A seed was planted in her head nonetheless. The skeptics are sometimes difficult to convince, while people are already interested in trying new things are the "low hanging fruit". They may only need a small push to put them on the Good Beer path.
Take your chances when they come. At the annual Toronto Festival of Beer total strangers sometimes approach me in conversation and all it usually takes to get something started is "So what are you drinking?" Similarly, our table of note taking Ratebeerians received a great deal of attention at the Mondial de la Biere in Montreal this year. One guy even came over to ask if he could take a picture of us doing our thing.
Random Acts of Beer Kindness
I have recently discovered a website called <a hrefhttp://www.bookcrossing.com> Bookcrossing.com where people rate and trade books not unlike what we do here at Ratebeer. The site assigns a code to each book allowing it to track its travels around the globe. The interesting twist is the “wild release” where people leave books in random places hoping that someone else will discover them. I find the entire process intriguing, both the uniqueness of the concept and the idea of liking a book enough to want to spread it. A similar site <a hrefhttp://www.readishmael.com>www.readishmael.com is dedicated to a book I am a big fan of - “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn. People there have launched a campaign to get copies of Ishmael into the hands of local politicians free of charge to the recipient.
Both sites seem to be eloquent solutions to a problem that plagues the craft beer industry - people are generally very risk averse in their beer purchases. According to a recent marketing study in Ontario, people sometimes have inaccurate perceptions of craft beer and even those willing to try new beers are worried about being let down. They worry that the beer may not taste good, or they worry that people will look at them differently if they show up at the party with a six pack from a local micro instead of the “premium” import they usually buy.
One of the best ways of getting past this aversion seems to be getting a sample of the beer into the customer’s hands. Liquor store tastings, beer festivals and sampling on site are ways for the brewery to do this. How can we as Ratebeerian’s help out? Share a beer with a friend, recommend a beer to the guy on the barstool next to you or heck, buy a sample for a random stranger drinking macro swill and hope for the best.
It is on our failures that we base a new and different and better success.
A number of years ago, at the now defunct Denison’s Brewpub (though the beer lives on at Denison’s Brewing) I had ordered a set of samplers which attracted the attention of a businessman sitting across the bar from me, and he asked what I was drinking. After giving my mini-speech about the sampler concept and the beers contained within, I winced as he ordered another bottle of Corona from the bartenders. Some battles you are just not meant to win. The sooner you accept that the easier your life as a Beer Evangelist will be. Take solace in the knowledge that something you say or do may make that person a bit more likely to try something new down the road.
An ex-girlfriend of mine was very open to trying new beers and I was pleased one day to hear her proclaim that Unibroue was quickly becoming one of her favourite breweries, with Maudite and Blanche De Chambly making frequent appearances in her glass. (It didn’t hurt that she lived around the corner from one of the best pubs in Toronto for trying microbrews.) It nearly brought a tear to my eye the day she revealed that she could no longer stomach the pseudo-micro brand preferred by some of her friends.
The disappointment I had previously felt as she turned up her nose at glass after glass of big hoppy beers was quickly washed away when she pronounced her appreciation for a thick creamy glass of Dark Lord. I realize now that once I stopped trying to convince her to enjoy my favourite beers, I was able to see her appreciation of other high quality styles.
Peace Among The Nations
Living in Canada it is nearly impossible to not realize that a point of pride for many Canadians is the heartfelt belief that American beer is weak, bland, and generally poorly made. This is perhaps rooted in what I personally like to think of as sibling rivalry writ large, but it is an ongoing annoyance for me. The fact that the only American beers widely here are the likes of Bud, Bud Light, Old Milwaukee, and Coors Light probably don’t help matters much. I have raised more than a few eyebrows telling people that some of my favourite beers are from Delaware and Indiana. Religious and political conflicts already divide us around the world, why should beer be doing the same? Beer is a reason to bring us closer to our fellow man, and has brought me into contact with people as far away as California, Alberta, and the Maritimes and even farther abroad if Ratebeer is considered. Many religious evangelists see the Internet as a fabulous tool to spread the word of God, and Ratebeer is an example of how well this works with beer.
The Beer Pilgrimage
Like a devout Muslim making a pilgrimage to Mecca, there are certain places that the dedicated beer lover is all but required to visit in their lifetime. It is perhaps somewhat appropriate for this writing that the beer pilgrimage foremost in my own dreams has a distinctly spiritual quality to it – the Trappist abbeys of Belgium.
In an increasingly secular society the fact that these beers receive such reverence is a bit of an anomaly. Granted, the superb quality and in some cases elusive availability of these beers are enough to garner excitement, but these beers still seem to carry with them the status and authority of the monks who supervise their creation. The tantalizing idea that these holy men somehow confer the blessing of their deity upon these glasses of liquid ambrosia can be as romantically intoxicating as the sweet liquor held within them.
Self Indulgent Wrap Up
So after having prattled on this long it would be nice to have some grandiose conclusion, but I seem to have lost it along the way. This whole endeavor began as a simple observation of the parallels between beer geek passion and religious fervor and I hope I have at least managed to entertain if not inspire over the course of these last few paragraphs.
As I said near the beginning that at its core Beer Evangelism will always be an expression of our own passion for good beer, and thus this article is an expression of mine. When it is all said and done though I find myself pondering the words not of religious dogma, nor those of a respected beer authority, but Edgar Allan Poe who writes, “Convinced myself, I seek not to convince.”
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This is partly why you end up with people at beer shows asking, “Give me the darkest beer you have.” They have not yet realized that colour does not necessarily have anything to do with the flavour.
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