Monday, 29 September 2014

Some Sommelier Course

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Advanced Course at the Beer Academy. It is the start of my journey into becoming a beer sommelier. The course promises to “equip you with the skills to communicate knowledgeably about beer with customers and consumers and will enhance your professional status in the beer sector”. So rather than simply say you like or dislike a beer, actually describe the beer and explain clearly why you like or dislike it. This approach to drinking certainly helps elevate your status from beer-monster to connoisseur.

The main thing that stood out for me on the course was how international the whole affair was. First off the course was attended by budding brewers and those in the drinks and catering industry from throughout Europe. We had brewers from Ukraine and Korea, sommeliers from Portugal and Greece, beer exporters from Belgium, wannabe brewers from Ireland, and lab technicians from Scotland. An eclectic mix and an interesting bunch of beer fans.

Secondly we tried beers from all over the world. Not sure why, but I thought we would be tasting English ale only. Instead we were offered German Weissbier (wheat) and Rauchbier (smoked) beers plus Pilsners and Bocks; Lambic, Trappist, Saisons and Golden Ales from Belgium; a host International style lagers; bland American lagers and beautiful American IPAs, all balanced with IPAs, porters and brown ales from the UK. Over the two days I reckon we tried 30 different and unique beers! In particular, I have to mention Fraoch, a wonderfully refreshing heather based ale that tastes of Scotland. It shows what you can achieve with a little creativity and got me thinking about what experiments we might try.

My favourite part of the course was food pairing. There don’t seem to be any rules on food pairing, it’s all down to experimentation. However, start by trying the beer with the food in the same regions, for example Paulaner with German salami. Try complimentary food or contrasting foods. Use distinct and heavy beers to go with strong foods, for example a premium bitter with mature cheddar. The best, and most unexpected pairing, for me was Kriek and 80% cocoa dark chocolate. The Kriek can be quite sharp before the cherry fruit flavours come through. The chocolate actually subdued the sharpness but the lasting overall sensation was of Black Forest gateau.

Despite the drinking and eating, we did take an exam at the end of our two days. A nice touch, that I have never witnessed before, is that each exam desk had a beer on it, apparently to help calm our nerves. I’ve clearly a lot more learning to do before I even think about my sommelier certificate. The advice that the Beer Academy gave was keep drinking beer, lots of beers from all over the world, go to beer festivals, set up your own food-pairing events, try a different beer each week. Well I suppose someone has to do it. So do look out for my food pairing events at our brewery and please do leave a comment with your favourite beers that I need to sample.

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