The view from the other side of the table

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Being behind the table at a beer tasting can be as much fun as being a taster. Perhaps the camels in the background at Roger Williams Zoo’s “Brew at the Zoo” were thirsting for a sample?

Beer tastings. Most of us have, at the minimum, gone to a liquor store while someone is offering beer samples. Some readers have been fortunate enough to attend a brewfest (like the ones listed at the bottom of this column). Beer events are always fun to attend, but working at them is also surprisingly enjoyable.

During the past three or four months, I’ve worked tastings at a variety of events, including a half-dozen tastings at liquor stores, for Berkley Beer or other beers for Craft Brew Tastings, and last weekend’s Brew at the Zoo at Roger Williams Park Zoo. Working these events has given me insight into the other side of beer tastings, and has given me a new appreciation for the “beeristas” who pour our favorite beverage.

In some ways, store tastings like an imperial IPA — more challenging, but in the end, often more rewarding. People aren’t at the store to taste beer, they’re there to buy beer/liquor/wine, and 99 percent of the time aren’t buying YOUR beer, so a lot of folks will walk on by. Because of this, the job requires more salesmanship than at a beer fest, where people have come for the express purpose of tasting beers.

That being said, it’s quite rewarding to be at a store and turn people on to a new beer, then see them walk out with your beer in hand. There’s a real enjoyment in broadening someone’s beer horizons, especially when it’s a quality local product like Berkley‘s.

Store tastings can also be frustrating. It’s a lot of standing around, punctuated by trying to persuade people to try your beer. As a beer enthusiast and all-around flavor addict, I simply don’t understand those who turn down samples of beer (or wine, or hard alcohol). I know there are legitimate reasons people say no. But I’ll always try new drinks (or foods), especially if they’re free!

Fortunately, I’ve never experienced anyone being rude about not tasting what I’m offering. They’re usually quite polite, with either a simple “No, thank you” or they give a reason, such as “I’m a wine drinker,” or “I only drink beer XYZ.”

Thankfully, on the other end of the spectrum are enthusiastic tasters: those who are eager to try your beer and talk about what you’re offering. I’m definitely one of these tasters when I’m on the customer side of the table. These people are a blast, and will often pick up your beer just to show appreciation.

Somewhere in between these two poles are the really rewarding customers — those who need a little coaxing to try the brew, but will often end up buying some, or, at minimum, will leave with a new appreciation for your product. These folks are often surprised to like your beer so much, and are sometimes even thankful to the brewery rep for introducing them to the beer. I’ve received a couple of “This is my new favorite beer!” comments that are always a blast.

Attendees of beer fests and events are a much easier sell. Their whole purpose is to try beer, get drunk, or both. (A designated driver is a must.)

Heck, these folks will form lines to try your beer if it builds a buzz (as happened for me at “Brew at the Zoo,” where people were freaking out about the Schofferhofer grapefruit wheat beer from Germany). They’re all beer enthusiasts, and while there’s the occasional beer snob in the crowd, they’re mostly psyched to try your stuff and vocal about how it tastes.

The next time you’re at a tasting, such as the ones listed in the Beer Events section of the site, make sure you remember the person behind the table. They care what you think, and are psyched to get feedback about their beer, even if it’s not a glowing review.

Originally published on September 11, 2014