Ask a Cicerone

Beer tips from the experts.

Ask a Cicerone: The Best Beers for People Who Don't Like Beer

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Beer ideas for folks who usually drink wine, cider, or cocktails. [Photograph: New Belgium]

If you're a beer lover, it's likely that you want to share your stash of awesome bottles with your friends. But what if your friends aren't big beer drinkers? We asked our crew of beer experts about the best crossover beers for people who generally drink wine or cider.

Here's what they had to say.

"Although you don't want to strip their taste buds with something bracingly sour, both cider and wine are substantially more acidic than beer, so tartness is a familiar flavor. Flanders red ales, while acidic, are typically balanced by some sweetness, and also present fruity notes of cherries, plums, and prunes. For the wine folks, it doesn't hurt that these beers typically showcase tannin and oak flavors as a result of extended barrel aging. Check out Rodenbach Grand Cru, New Belgium La Folie, or Jolly Pumpkin La Roja—a few of my personal favorites."—Pat Fahey (The Cicerone Certification Program)

"It doesn't have to be a wine-like beer for a wine drinker to enjoy it. Maybe they love black coffee—perhaps try a nice dry stout. Or maybe they like sweeter beverages—try a nice malty doppelbock. For people who generally like a fruity cider, I might suggest a well rounded, slightly fruity beer like a Bell's Oberon. It's extremely drinkable and has a pleasant citrusy sweetness. For those who like a drier cider, a Belgian whitbier or saison might do."—Lindsay Bohanske (Love Beer, Love Food)

"There are easy corollaries for most wines within the beer spectrum and vice versa. All manner of fermentation-driven beer styles such as hefeweizens, saisons, and the like will make a wine drinker feel safe. The same could be said of many sour ales, though truthfully sour beers are more akin to old-world ciders in my opinion. However, my question to drinkers fearful to delve into beer is always this: Why use beer to do the thing that wine is already doing for you? We should be using beer to do the things other drinks can't. I have great success selling simple well-balanced beers of almost every sort to customers who thought they 'weren't beer-drinkers' or just 'don't like beer.' For uninitiated palates I feel that the only real rule is to avoid obnoxious/imperialized/over-bittered silly beers. This is probably good advice for all of us."—Sayre Piotrkowski (Hog's Apothecary)

"With so many extreme beers in the craft beer market, many with names like 'palate wrecker' and 'hopsecutioner' it's no surprise that some non-craft drinkers are a little intimidated. In these scenarios, I tend to suggest German-style pilsners and Helles lagers. The all-malt versions of these beers are a world apart from their corn and rice laden macro lager cousins, but since they are still refreshing, crisp and bright, they still remain approachable."—Christopher Quinn (The Beer Temple)

"I've had a lot of success with wine drinkers who don't like beer and love Belgian tripels or golden strong ale styles. This style has a dry finish reminiscent of white wine or Champagne, but with light fruit—think pears and meyer lemon—and honey flavors. Good examples are Duvel, Chimay White, and Tripel Karmeliet. People who generally drink cider would like a Belgian Wit style beer that offers the same refreshing qualities of cider and a soft fruity flavor and bite from the heat. Try Allagash White or Ommegang Witte."—Judy Neff (Pints & Plates)

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Try a gose. [Photo: Sean Buchan]

"My go-to beers for wine lovers are tart dry sour beers like Ritterguts Gose, Russian River Beatification, or Cantillon Gueuze. There are a lot in those beers that a wine drinker will recognize, including fruit focused flavors, high acidity, and an ultra dry body. I've turned several wine drinkers who thought beer sucked into beer fans by giving them their first taste of sour beer!"—Chris Cohen (San Francisco Homebrewers Guild)

"Someone who likes softer, fruitier white wines might love a refreshing Belgian tripel while people who prefer the brighter acidic whites would appreciate the tangy funk of a saison. If they lean toward light bodied mellow red wines, they'd enjoy the soft fruit notes and roundness of a Belgian dubbel while someone who prefers big, full bodied, reds would love the oaky, mouth puckering flavors of a Flemish red or true Belgian lambic. There's an entire vocabulary of beer flavors (nutty, citrusy, chocolatey, roasty, bitter, caramelly, sour, fruity, etc.) that most people who don't drink good beer on a regular basis don't know exist. If you like whiskey, you could try a beer aged in bourbon barrels, if you drink fruity cocktails, try a sweet Framboise. Gin drinkers may like an herbal German gose. I believe there's truly a beer out there for everyone. My advice would be to use any and all descriptors of flavors you know you like (whether you think they relate to beer or not) and assuming your bartender/server/retailer is knowledgable they'll know exactly which direction to guide you."—Anne Becerra (The Ginger Man)

"Cider drinkers may find themselves more at home with a radler—a German beer cocktail made up of half pilsner and half lemonade. The ratio is commonly 1:1 but may be adjusted for taste."—Sean Coughlin (Genesee Brew House)

"I would suggest something subtlety sour like a Berliner Weisse (The Bruery Hottenroth) before delving into the increasingly Warhead-like sour bombs of Flanders Red (Duchesse De Bourgogne, for example), American Wild Ales (like Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze and Russian River Consecration) and finally king of the lambics, Gueuze (seek out Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze)."—Tyler Morton (Taste of Tops)

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[Photograph: Bernt Rostad on Flickr]

"I've always found wine drinkers are impressed when I give them a Flemish sour, like Rodenbach Grand Cru, or Duchesse de Bourgogne. It's clearly still a beer, but on more than one occasion I've had wine geeks compare the tart fruit, barnyard, and complexity to red Burgundy. For cider drinkers, it all depends when they're into. If they like a straight ahead cider, like Strongbow, they'll usually like an apple beer; if they like farmhouse ciders with a bit of funk and complexity, farmhouse ales like biere de garde or saison are great. I find a lot of people who think they don't like beer haven't tried very many and don't know the variety is out there. One of the biggest excuses I hear is that 'beer is too bitter'. If that's their concern, I like to let them try something Belgian, like a witbier, or even a dark Trappist like Rochefort 8. The lower level of bitterness and the complexity are usually a big surprise for them."—Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)

"Deschutes and Goose Island's newest collaboration, a Belgian golden strong ale aged with Riesling and Pinot Noir grapes in Muscat casks, would be a great introductory beer for any devoted wine drinker. As far as new beer drinkers go, the best options are beers that have low intensity without compromising flavor or quality. American wheat beers, dry Irish stouts, and Munich helles are all safe choices."—Ryan Spencer (Bailey's Taproom)

"I like to go with German or Belgian wheat beers. The fun mix of flavors aren't very 'beery' and provide a lot of yeast and/or spice driven flavors that can be very appealing to the novice beer drinker. Some other styles that may be good for the timid include: Kolsch, helles lager, Belgian blondes, or brown ales. All of these options have some nice flavor but aren't too extreme and would potentially provide a newer beer drinker that 'ah ha!' moment."—Christopher Barnes (I Think About Beer and Columbia Distributing)

"My go-to in nearly all 'crossover' scenarios is a farmhouse beer. A lively, dry, and peppery saison can really open peoples eyes to the variety of flavors that are available in beer, and it seems that the craft brewers have figured out what a great gateway style saisons can be as more and more breweries are introducing farmhouse beers. Opal, the new saison from the lauded Firestone Walker Brewery, should find many fans among wine drinkers. It is dry and spicy, and is dry-hopped with Hallertau Blanc hops which provide a distinct vinous aroma. Opal is as drinkable and fruity as any sauvignon blanc."—John Verive (Beer of Tomorrow, Beer Paper LA)

"I find Belgian beers to be great onboarding brews for lovers of the grape. If they like red wines I will recommend a Trappist Dubbel or Quad. These big complex beers will have some of the qualities the red wine drinker will recognize like dark fruitiness, full body, and a dry finish. Some of my favorites include Westmalle Dubbel, Chimay Grand Reserve and Rochefort 10. For white wine drinkers I recommend a true Köln (Cologne) brewed Kolsch. These cold brewed German ales are very clean flavored with slight fruitiness and are often described as 'winey.' The excellent Reissdorf Kolsch always does the trick for me and your Pinot Grigio pals will enjoy it as well."Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)

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