Beer Flavor By The Numbers?

The Denver Post recently featured work by New Belgium and WeldWorks debunking myths about IBU’s as a predictor of beer bitterness.  [“What you think you know about IBUs and IPAs is probably wrong”] A few friends reached out to me to explain the article to them.

Now that the American beer scene is anything but homogeneous in terms of style and process, old measures are falling short of the mark in terms of describing beer flavor. And it’s impossible now to boil beer flavor down to a few numbers.

I’m reminded of the scene from the movie Dead Poet’s Society where the teacher played by Robin Williams asks his students to rip out the preface to their poetry textbook.  The issue was the description of a two-dimensional system for rating poetry showing the degree to which the poem was artful versus the perceived importance of the poem’s message.

“Excrement. That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. We’re not laying pipe. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? Oh, I like Byron. I give him a 42, but I can’t dance to it.” – Mr. Keating

Beer Complexity Creates Anxiety

The concept of a few simple numbers to help sort out the explosion of beer styles and flavors was comforting to my friends who are not brewing experts.  Positives leveraged to excess can become negatives.  The frenzy of innovation in beer has no doubt sparked interest in the category.  But as the craft world becomes exponentially more complex each year, there comes a tipping point where too much ambiguity, too much information creates too much anxiety about beer.  And beer and anxiety are not compatible.  For my friends, IBU markings helped make sense of the evolving craft world.  And now, this simple rule of thumb for guessing what a new beer might taste like is no longer that helpful to them.

Anxiety Can Create Opportunity

From a marketing standpoint, there are opportunities to connect with consumers through reducing their anxiety.

When potential drinkers can no longer quickly size up a beer with a few numbers, they’ll be inclined to dig a bit deeper if we make it easier for them.  And that’s when marketing – the art and science of telling a great story – comes into play.  Tell stories about your beer that help reduce the anxiety of understanding complex styles and flavors.  Help screen out really off tasting experiences, but still leave the possibility for pleasant surprises.

How? Your taproom visitors will be even more open to suggestions and stories from your staff.  Take the time to provide these stories!  One of the great aspects of the Denver Post article was a mention of how Sean Buchan at Cerebral Brewing took IBU numbers off their beer board. Instead, they encourage staff to spend more time talking with patrons about the beer.  This is emphasis on story is spot on.

Create Brand Ambassadors

The other opportunity is to build brand ambassadors within social groups.  Most every group of craft drinkers includes persons with a range of experience and skill in beer knowledge in addition to a variety of personal preferences.  Every group seems to have a few people whose beer perspective carries a bit more weight.  It pays to have your staff identify these people and treat them really well.  The objective is to celebrate their knowledge and position in the group.  Instead of making your beer the hero, make these influencers the heroes.  Help them tell your story.

I went to WeldWerk’s website to see how they describe Juicy Bits – a sensation in our region.

Juicy Bits 6.5% ABV
Style: New England IPA
IBU: 45
OG: 1.062
FG: 1.013

Our version of a New England-style IPA featuring a huge citrus and tropical fruit character from the Mosaic, Citra, and El Dorado hops, a softer, fluffier mouthfeel from the lower attenuation, and the characteristic New England hop haze. The end result is a beer reminiscent of citrus juice with extra pulp, thus the name Juicy Bits.

This description has something for everyone.  The more experienced drinker can quickly find brewing information, hop varieties used and how they contribute to the flavor, and a more technical description of the experience.  And at the end, WeldWerks nicely summarizes the experience for more novice drinkers whose eyes may have glazed over at the technical data.

What a relief, actually, beer cannot be forced into a box where a few numbers tell the story.  That provides the opportunity for us to tell our stories to a more attentive audience, and gives us a better opportunity to bring people into our unique story.

How are you using your resources to tell great stories that relieve anxiety and position new drinkers to have a great experience trying your beers?  How do you celebrate your your visiting beer experts and help them tell your story? Let me know who you think is doing a great job out there.  And if you’d like help telling your story better, let’s talk.


John Mann (@beermktguy)

#craftbeer #marketing #independentbeer #beer @newbelgium @WeldWerksBrewCo @CerebralBrewing

John (13)

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