When it comes to beer, people tend to be rather brand loyal.

I remember a tasting I hosted a year or so ago, where we offered a blind sample of five of the most popular light beers and asked participants to pick their brand from the five by taste, smell and appearance alone. Although each of the participants went in to the exercise with the utmost confidence in their ability to pick their brand, none of them was successful.

The truth is that most people are loyal to a beer — or to most anything, really — for subjective reasons. Objective attributes such as flavor, aroma and color don’t play as big a part in loyalties as do subjective attachments like familiarity, commonality and what I call “legacy.” It’s the classic “That’s what I’ve always drunk” response. People are reluctant to venture outside their comfort zones and try new things without good reason or provocation.

Southern Illinoisans can no longer claim there is no good reason to try something new when it comes to beer. New craft breweries like Kaskaskia Brewing in Red Bud, Little Egypt Brewery in Ava and Scratch Brewing Company in Ava have opened within the last year, and each is offering a wide range of beers in a beautiful and local setting. Local favorites on the Shawnee Wine Trail, Von Jakob Winery and Brewery in Alto Pass is still making their own beer, and Big Muddy Brewing, the first production brewery in Murphysboro since Prohibition, is growing fast and offering popular weekend brewery tours where visitors can sample an array of beers and learn a little something about the brewing process while they’re at it.

I’ve always believed the more you know about something, the more you appreciate it. Stepping out of the norm and trying a craft beer adventure in Southern Illinois just might be the ticket to a new interest and maybe a new loyalty or two.

Most craft beer venues offer sampler flights — small pours of each beer designed to allow you to try a taste of everything without committing to something you may not like. Once you get a feel for what’s available, you can narrow your choices according to your palate. There’s no right or wrong choice. It’s OK if you don’t like “dark beer,” for example. If you’re a light beer drinker, you might sample Big Muddy’s Kinkaid Wheat or Scratch’s Spring Session Ale. Both are brewed to be highly drinkable, user-friendly and “light” while maintaining the quality flavor craft beer is known for.

Need further provocation? Remember that craft beer is inherently adventurous and always interesting. If you have tried craft beers and didn’t like them, keep trying; these local artisans are always offering something new to appeal to diverse and discriminating palates. Drinking the same beer all the time is fine, but it’s like listening to the same song over and over, day after day. As good as you might have thought it was, eventually it will become indistinguishable, and whatever you liked about it will be lost. It kind of reminds me of my participants in the light beer tasting experiment I conducted. Friends don’t let friends drink boring beer.

SHAWN CONNELLY writes for Beer Connoisseur magazine and is a craft and specialty beer retail consultant and an award-winning home brewer.

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