I’M sucking a cocktail of coconut and banana beer through two straws, grasping the coconut shell in which it is served with glee. This tastes like a combination of Malibu, suntan lotion and fizz – I feel I’m not meant to like it, but I do. “See, beer is fun!” bellows the buxom Melissa Cole, beer consultant and writer. Seen white and frothy through two straws, it does seem deliciously so. “In the wine world there would be snobbery about enjoying something like this. But sod that for a game of soldiers!” she snorts, and I guffaw along with her.<br /><br />I met Cole, head of lovebeer@borough, a forum that seeks to “make people love beer better”, at The Rake pub in Borough Market on Tuesday night in an attempt to conquer my fear of beer. With the British Beer Festival on next week, it seemed like a good time to find out what I was missing – if anything. Beer has never struck me as nice. It is tinny, fumey, heavy and a sorry last resort when the wine’s run out. It is the drink of choice for football fans and old men with beer bellies and dubious attitudes towards work and women. And, admittedly, pretty much ever bloke I know, from gentleman to hooligan. Where on earth would I – a female food-loving wine drinker and a snob to boot – fit into the world of beer? Nowhere.<br /><br /><strong>WOMAN’S DRINK</strong><br />How wrong I was. The Rake has 120 specialist beers and is therefore a gem, meanly guarded by locals. For my purposes it was a perfect playground in which to find my beer feet and then dance around on them.<br /><br />In fact, beer is every bit a woman’s drink, and has been for centuries. The surname Brewster means female brewer – in medieval times brewers were exclusively women. And, since women have the lion’s share of the world’s top noses and palates, there are a good number of women high up in the brewing world – the head brewers at Marston’s and Harviestoun are women, as is the head of quality control at Fuller’s.<br /><br />But I knew nothing except that I hate Stella, Fosters and Carling and prefer Corona. Cole’s first question feels like a lifeline: what kind of wine do I like? I say I like big, oaked, buttery chardonnays. In beer terms this would mean something nutty, creamy, even chocolatey. So we start with a bottle of Coney Island, by an American brewer called Schmaltz (which also makes kosher beers called He’brew, Genesis Ale and Messiah Stout). It instantly changes my mind about beer being – on the whole – unpleasant. It was better than wine. It was outrageously floral, then creamy, and not at all tinny. Commodity beers such as Stella and Fosters are made with maize and rice, which adds a vegetal odour that is instinctively repellent to women, says Cole. Quality microbrews such as this are a different world.<br /><br />As for sophistication, I learned that beer’s got it in spades. In the Coney Island, Cole detected spice, a bit of potpourri on the nose, then an underbelly of praline and a creamy texture. I detected deliciousness.<br /><br />Next up was a sharper brew called Grozet by Williams Bros, a Scottish brewer, that was my second favourite of the evening (not counting the coconut and banana beer). It’s aged with gooseberries that give it a tart fruitiness and gets the taste buds tingling. It was neither bitter nor angry, rounded out with a pistachio tone that I adored. The next beer I found hard to leave, and after it, everything tasted a bit bitter. It was a Belgian fruit beer called Pecheresse, with a picture of a beautiful maiden with flowing locks and no clothes on the label (pictured below right). It made those sticky red fruit beers by Fruli seem like crass bottles of cheap jam. This was heavenly – screaming peach but not too sweet, with bite, and only 2.5 per cent alcohol.<br /><br />We had a Left Hand Brewing Company Milk Stout from Colorado that was “mocha latte with a hint of malteser”. We had Sharp’s chocolatey 8.5 per cent The Connoisseur’s Choice that tasted of “grapefruit pith”. We had whisky-barrel smoked Orell’s Aile Smoked Celtic Porter, a stormy smokey black beer that left me feeling weak, but would work perfectly in – and with – beef bourgignon. Cole added that its milk chocolate finish works with smoked trout and horseradish too.<br /><br /><strong>NAUGHTY LABEL</strong><br />We had Brew Dog’s Isle of Arran matured in Arran whisky casks; we had Schiehallion by Harviestoun, a crisp, shrill and demanding summer beer that is Cole’s favourite but was too much for me. And finally, we had Belgium’s Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, whose naughty label caused it to be banned in the US. It was pink and fizzy and served in a champagne glass, but tasted of unripe raspberries and TCP. Not knowing what else to do with it I poured it in the remnants of the banana coconut cocktail along with some Celtic Porter. The result was surprisingly good. And best of all, Cole and the group of beer lovers that had gathered by now weren’t above a gulp.<br /><br />So it’s true, beer is fun. You’ll catch me enjoying it further at the Beer Festival next week.<br /><br />The Great British Beer Festival runs 5-9 August at Earl’s Court. www.bbf.camra.org.uk.