When Knowing About Beer Is Your Job: Educational Happy Hours

Etkin Tekin, Global Manager of Specialties and Innovation, talks to us about one of the most engaging aspects of his job: The Educational Happy Hour.

What’s the main purpose behind the educational happy hour?

Working for AB InBev and ZX Ventures requires a solid base of knowledge about beer to effectively promote our business. That means we need to speak the language of beer! So, one of our constant goals is to enhance the education of our team.

We have an ongoing educational program to ensure that all our employees have the knowledge and tools they need. We want to convey a consistent, accurate message as beer ambassadors, which means having a standard vocabulary and complete understanding of beer flavors and styles. The Specialties team at ZX Ventures has the amazing privilege of heading up that effort, and one of our favorite methods is an instructive happy hour.

What is the structure of these events?

Our happy hours begin with a short lecture. We walk our participants through a few technical aspects of the beers we’re describing, explaining the key flavors and characteristics they should notice. For example, one of our classes focused on the difference between ales and lagers. These styles are distinguished by the different major yeast strains used, with each producing a distinct beer with qualities typical of that style. Another recent class compared a pale ale with a German pilsner.

After the discussion comes the tasting. Once we’ve given everyone some context regarding what they’re about to try, we put their palates to the test. We provide beers for blind tastings and ask our attendees to describe what they experience; what they can taste, smell, and feel for each beer, as well as their overall impressions. It’s also an opportunity to see how well people can articulate a beer’s characteristics, which is a valuable skill for us to have.

Can you give us an example of a comparison that might come up at an educational happy hour?

Some of our comparisons are quite sophisticated. Take our last happy hour, where we discussed Belgian golden ales. We provided three examples, including our own Leffe Blonde, for tasting. We often do these blind tastings to compare our portfolio of beers to other major brands. For example, we provided our Goose IPA along with two other brands to see how many people could differentiate those and recognize our beer! We also ask which beer everyone prefers and why.One important note about our happy hours is that we work with real market conditions to give our team relevant context for our portfolio. We get the beer for our tastings from a retail store, so we get what’s on the shelf. Sometimes we find that beers have been on the shelf too long or haven’t been stored well. It gives us a real-world market context, reminding us that there are limits to what we can control in producing beer. These happy hours are an opportunity for us to see what’s actually being sold and identify what we can do better.

The Entrepreneur’s Bookshelf: 5 Books You Need to Own



What should you read to better prepare yourself to work at ZX Ventures? We asked Pedro Earp, Chief Disruptive Growth Officer for AB InBev, to tell us what books he has on his shelf. Each offers insight into the key principles that guide our day-to-day operations. 

The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win by Steve Blank

The Four Steps to the Epiphany is a classic that has helped to launch thousands upon thousands of new ventures. This influential book spearheaded the lean startup approach to business, recognizing that the needs of startups differ significantly from those of existing and large businesses. Blank introduces a four-step customer development process and shares real-world examples of its use in thriving startups. Just as The Lean Startup is crucial to understanding how ZX Ventures has made decisions, so too is this text.

The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf

Uncertainty plays a role in almost any startup enterprise; this 608-page reference manual can provide some clarity when obstacles arise. The Startup Owner’s Manual employs a rigorous approach to entrepreneurship, highlighting how important it is to use the scientific method of repeated and stringent testing to determine results. It describes an innovative customer acquisition process and explains how the right metrics can fuel business growth. 

Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations Are Ten Times Better, Faster, and Cheaper Than Yours (and What to Do About It) by Salim Ismail

Technology is the key to successful performance in almost any type of business. Ismail identifies a new type of organization that has recently evolved—the Exponential Organization—that experiences accelerated growth by leveraging tools such as big data and algorithms. We have incorporated Ismail’s 10 main characteristics of Exponential Organizations into our work at ZX Ventures.

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries

Failure is preventable. In The Lean Startup, Ries outlines a novel approach to erecting sustainable startups that make faster, better decisions. Through a process of continuous re-evaluation, these businesses can ensure greater efficiency and optimal success. The Lean Startup is a key book for many employees at ZX Ventures and has influenced many of the decisions we’ve made over the years. It is also a seminal text for participants in our ZxLerator program, as it functions as a primer for many of the decisions they will need to make when working with startups.

The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business by Clayton M. Christensen

In this book, innovation expert Christensen focuses on disruptive technologies and how companies miss out on innovation because they are not working to their full disruptive potential. From exploring how companies have failed or succeeded, Christensen synthesizes a set of rules for using disruptive technology. At ZX Ventures, we are trying to redefine the world of beer. We are following the rules outlined in this book to make faster progress toward our own goals.