Thursday 25 September 2014

How do people choose which beers they drink?

I’ve been pondering again of late. How do people decide on which beer to drink when they get to the bar? One thing I’ve noticed is that to some extent beer taste seems to be imprinted. Certainly the first time I tasted cask beer was a magical moment that had a massive influence on my future drinking habits. I’ve seen others beer nerds talk of defining moments in their drinking too.

Following on from that I’m wondering just how much is our beer choice is determined by habit, and we simply drink what we’re used to. Having discovered the joys of cask beer I very seldom feel the urge to drink anything on keg, and when I do it usually tastes too cold and fizzy. Yet when I drink wheat beers, a style of beer I’ve mainly drunk served from kegs whilst I’m abroad, I’ve happily drunk it in its cold and fizzy form, whereas the cask wheat beers I’ve tried at home usually haven’t seemed right.

I’ve also noticed some neo-kegist heretics confess to their history as keg lager drinkers. Perhaps if you're already used to cold and fizzy beer going from bland keg lager to more flavoursome ‘craft’ keg is a smaller step than going to beer served as god intended?

And I know neophilia is rampant amongst beer nerds, but people often seek out the new within their beer comfort zone. I’ll always check out all the hand pumps when I’m in a pub, others go wild for the latest ridiculous  innovative beer ingredient.

Economic determinism must come into it too, as price will influence most people’s choices, but once you’re down a pub you’re paying a premium anyway, often doubly so in ‘craft’ beer bar.

Anyway just pondering. As ever, anyone else's thoughts on the matter are welcome.


  1. Well I walk to the beer aisle of Tesco then I look through the special offers.
    Then I do some mental arithmetic on the combinations. Bottles per box, size of bottles or cans. I remove from consideration those brands I don't like, however cheap they are, then I ponder the price value of the brands I like the taste of. Then I fill my trolley up.,

    If a new beer is out and I fancy trying it then I may if it's not a rip off, guessing in someways whether I think I'll like it before deciding what size unit to purchase.

    I may pop to the cordial aisle and pick up a bottle of lime cordial if I think a gamble might go wrong and I get stuck with a few cans of something not up my street.

    Hope that explains the process.

  2. I was trying to stick to pubs with this one as special offers in supermarkets are a bit too strong an influence on choice.

  3. Pubs? that's a bit last century, mate. You'll be wondering how people buy CD's next.

    1. I still buy CDs, Cookie. I prefer to own a physical product that I can actually hold, rather than some ethereal electronic download. I also like reading the sleeve-notes!

  4. For most people, I believe, it's habit. Here you can see it, for example, at a supermarket, where they will pick a case or a few bottles of their usual brand with hardly a second look at what else is available. That is a behaviour you can see even at some pubs. Not far from Prague, there's a brewpub that makes really solid classic Czech lagers, which they even sell cheaper than the mass market brand they also have available on tap, and yet, at least last time I was there, most of the patrons were drinking that mass market brand, even though they had something cheaper, and, in my opinion, better than that right under their noses. I also believe that most people will choose a pub not so much for the beer, but for the place.

  5. The imprinted ur-beer is an interesting thought. Sometimes when I'm thinking of opening a bottle in the evening I think I really fancy a... and can't quite put a name to the style - recognisably bitter, but not silly-IBUs bitter; a bit of aroma, but not in your face like contemporary IPAs; not a pale beer, in fact, but not sweet like Old Peculier or cloyingly heavy like Landlord... It's frustrating - sometimes so frustrating that I give up and don't have anything.

    Anyway, at lunchtime today I had exactly that beer - I nearly cried out when I tasted it. Nice to know that I haven't been making it up. The point is, when I actually tasted a beer that was just right I immediately made a link back to my own formative beer experiences - London Pride out of a polypin circa 1976 (when London Pride was London Pride, you understand) and Buckley's Bitter on draught the following summer. Great big, hoppy, flavourful brown bitters. They're coming back, I tell you (although they'll probably call them 'red' this time round).

    As for what it was, annoyingly it was a one-month seasonal special - the September iteration of Burton Bridge's Gold Medal series.

    1. This is leading on to another of my ponderings, I'll try and get my thoughts written down.

  6. On entering an unfamiliar pub for the first time I will inevitably scan the hand pumps (assuming there are any), for something which takes my fancy. Almost without fail I will go for cask, and this is where I fit into the same mould as the “creatures of habit” described above by Pivni Filosof. I tend to overlook the fact that many pubs now carry a selection of interesting bottles, as well as genuine imported continental lagers such as Budvar and Pilsner Urquell.

    Unfortunately we tend to go for what we are familiar with, almost afraid to step out of our comfort zones. Having said that, given the opportunity, I will normally opt for an unfamiliar cask brand (should be plenty to choose from these days, given the 1,300 breweries the UK now boasts). Looking at this from a broader point of view though, I am still selecting from within the cask “comfort zone.”

    A good, thought-provoking piece, Ed, and I’ll certainly give the selection process a lot more consideration the next time I walk into a strange pub.

  7. Are you asking which beers people choose on a given night in a given pub, or which styles and brands of beer people choose to patronise over a lifetime? They're two very different questions.

    The latter is a mixture of taste, upbringing, image, cost.

    The former is a question of what you recognise, what you fancy, how flush you're feeling and how adventurous you're feeling.

  8. As a ticker if its new and from a decent brewer that's the one, cheers john