I sat down at the bar at Schnitzelís in Bellefonte, PA, a
pleasurable experience I try to enjoy as often as possible. Iíve been
known to detour 50 miles out of the way to do it. As I studied the taps
to see what was on (and decipher what the German importers were calling
their beers this year), I heard someone say, "You
should try one of these, the weissbier. Theyíre really
I turned to my left and saw a large, fleshy man, rather pale,
with glasses, hoisting a glass pipe full of what was plainly weissbier;
cloudy yellow beer with a foamy bouffant head. He smiled.
"Itís supposed to be cloudy," he continued. "Itís
just the yeast in the beer. Itís not filtered, which leaves a lot of
the flavor in there that usually gets stripped out of beer. Weissbier
is a great beer for this hot weather!"
I had to smile too. This guy was working beer on a grass roots
level. He saw me looking at the taps and, working the safe bet that I
was trying to figure out which "import" was most like Coors
Light, thought heíd put in a good word for wheat. He spoke up
to help a stranger in a bar make the right kind of beer decision.
Thatís all I do when I write. Okay, Iím also trying to make
money, and sometimes Iím trying to have some fun, but my main purpose
is to put better choices in front of people. The Breweries books
are all about that: "Hereís a brewery to visit, and if you want
more beer after that, here are a bunch of bars that I think are the best
in the area. Now go have fun, you little knuckleheads." The Palm
database is the same thing: easily portable directions to good places to
But how do marketing people look at getting the word out? Ads are
part of it, but everyone knows theyíre ads, and that dilutes their
value. Planted news stories are better, but people are getting hip to
that angle, too. The single most effective way to get across your
message out is word of mouth; people who know about it telling
other people. The idea of another person liking something enough (or
disliking it!) to tell you about it is a powerful persuader. I still
remember one of the best movie reviews I ever heard, a bagger at the
grocery store telling a friend about The Bodyguard: "It was
stupid, it was stupid, it was stupid."
Nothing I write is more effective than that guy in a bar holding
up his weissbier glass and saying to someone trying to choose a
beer, "You know, this is really good."
Thatís our class project for the month: Speak up. Be the word
of mouth for good beer. And I donít mean talk to the same people you
always talk to! Theyíre already either converted or bored. Talk to a
stranger in a bar or a beer store about beer, and help them make a
Itís not that hard! Start simple and small. The beer store is
usually easier than the bar. If someone shows any hesitation at all,
even if they look like theyíre merely trying to decide whether to get
the 30-pack or two 12-packs of something down in the megabrew section,
ask them: "What kind of beer do you like?"
If the answer is non-committal, ask them if they ever had the
local beer Ė assuming you have a local beer, of course. The local beer
you point out to them doesnít have to be way out there, it can be a
blonde ale or a kŲlsch, a pilsner even. The point is to open their
minds to the realization that there are more than three breweries in the
country, more than four breweries in the rest of the world. The Lion
breweryís Stegmaier 1857 is a perfect example. Itís not expensive,
itís a bit heartier than mainstream lagers, and itís different. Itís
what marketers call a wedge, something to break into a personís mind.
On the other hand, if they come back with a definite answer, like
"I drink Corona," youíve got a tougher job. Chances are theyíre
going to stick with buying that. But not always. Challenge them with a
question, like: "Have you ever had a dark beer?" Keep in mind
that to most Americans, Sam Adams Lager is a "dark beer!" If
they respond that dark beers are too heavy or strong, point out that
Guinness Stout in the draft cans is actually lower in alcohol than Coors
Light, and has about the same calories as Sam Adams Light. "Itís
skim milk" is a popular phrase used by some Guinness reps. Are they
man or woman enough to try it?
If theyíre carb-counting, you can still get them with a new
secret weapon: DAB Low Carb. This newly imported beer is DABís dišt
pils, a beer brewed for years in Germany for diabetics; the sugars
are almost all fermented out. It is the tastiest light beer Iíve ever
come across. Looks cool, itís imported, and itís different. Everyone
Iíve handed a bottle to has loved it (DAB sent me a case to sample).
Know when to give up. You donít want to be a nerd about it. If
youíre making any progress, cool. But if youíre not getting
anywhere, smile, and tell them it was good talking to them, enjoy their
beer. Youíre planting a seed, not force-feeding it to harvest.
The payoff for work like this is largely non-tangible. "Cast
thy bread upon the waters," it says in Ecclesiastes, and thatís
what youíre doing. Helping someone find a new beer is a great feeling.
Talking up good beer is almost a work of faith. Some ignore the word.
Some hear the word, and try the beer once, and donít care for it. Some
hear the word, try the beer, but see the ads and the pretty girls, and
go back to their usual. But some try the beer, love it, and they go out
and tell othersÖand more people buy good beer, which makes more stores
carry it, and makes breweries prosper. And your bread cast upon the
waters comes back to you tenfold.
Sometimes itís just fun, too. Like that guy at Schnitzelís. I
told him I was having a schwarzbier instead, but I liked wiessbier
too, and had he ever tried Aventinus? Then we had a great time talking
beer, and it turned out he was coming to Schnitzelís from Lock Haven,
almost 30 miles away, just to get the beer. He was happy to find another
person who enjoyed it as much as he did.
So speak up! You never know what might happen, and you usually
meet some nice people. And itís all for the good of the cause. Get
involved, make things happen.