Tag Archives: Mirella Amato

Reading with The Wench: The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer Review

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Imagine my face when I saw, several months after I had set up this site, that there was a Beer Wench in America?

To say that Ashley Routson (aka The Beer Wench) is a social media savvy beer educator is almost a disservice. She’s one of the original beer bloggers and probably the most savvy personal brand in beer around, with over 33,000 twitter followers clocked and constantly posting on most platforms. She has contributed to the Brewer’s Association’s site CraftBeer.com, is the founder of the social media holiday #IPADay, and has been featured in DRAFT Magazine, BeerAdvocate and Time.com.

So when news spread that she was authoring a beer guide, titled “The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer: An Unpretentious Guide in Craft Beer”, the main response from those following her career with interest was “about damn time”.

One of the things I kind of like about Ashley is just how much of a polarizing effect she has on people. I’ve known very few people in the middle of the love/hate sections when it comes to her. Her article on Thrillst titled “6 DIRTY LIES MEN SPREAD ABOUT WOMEN AND BEER” brought forth a MASSIVE wave of reactions. Long, thought-out articles have been devoted to tearing apart or lifting up her opinions. Hell, there are long articles and discussions devoted to her relevance, which in turn makes her relevant. It is with all this and more in mind that, with some trepidation, I go ahead with a review of her book.

A lot of beer guides for the uninitiated (and there ARE a lot of them) tend to follow a pretty standard formula. Basics of beer (ingredients, how to brew), beer style descriptions, beer tips (how to pour, how to cellar, glassware guide, how to taste), pairing beer with food, recipes to make with beer, and sometimes beer cocktail recipes. It’s standard, and something that is found in nearly all beer guide books, but they really are the foundations to understanding things. At least to start with. What makes the books unique from one another is the way this knowledge is written. Some fantastic notable examples for me are Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer, Christina Perozzi & Hallie Beaune’s Naked Pint, and most recently Mirella Amato’s Beerology. Each author brings in their own unique style and experiences to their book and, to me anyways, I like having more than one guide around because I can consult the book that I feel has a particular strength in the specific subject that I’m looking up.

514347qrvyL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_For me the most notable strengths in The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer is clearly the food recipe and beer cocktail recipe sections. Food recipes have oftentimes been a bit of an afterthought, but Routson has used selected recipes of her own, from breweries, and from friends which look tantalizing. Notably there are recipes for tacos, cerveza carnitas, and beer mole, which suggest a bit more of an upped game from the standard recipes on offer in other guides.

Where Routson’s creativity really shines through though, is the cocktail sections. With most of the recipes formulated by herself, we see such cocktails made with bourbon, gin, rum, tequila, mezcal, vodka…and all with beer as an ingredient. While cocktails personally aren’t my bag, some of these look and sound quite delicious and have me looking at my cocktail shaker with a bit of longing.

When we get more into the guts of the BEER section of this beer book, things start to feel a bit disjointed. The glass section has no pictures of the four types of  glasses it’s describing, which can be confusing to a newcomer. Additionally her beer style guide, while good for someone unfamiliar with the styles, doesn’t quite stand up well when stacked up against Mosher, Amato, and Perozzi/Beaune’s books.

In the end I think the biggest problem with this book is one of tone and pace. Routson does her damndest to use all these incredible raw facts about beer and work them in to her own unique tone, but the end result is something that ventures into way too internet-focused casual territory, seems slightly jammed in to make it fit, and is more rushed than leisurely in pace. For much of this book I think the knowledge would have clicked with me more if Routson and I were in a bar together and she was talking about this stuff in person, but that voice being separated from it’s source and into a book makes it somewhat jarring. Unfortunately, that’s one of the hardships of writing a book of this type. Making it all fit, working it out in a way that makes it easy to read and understand, while also setting itself apart as an individual among many books touching on the same topic. While there are several moments in this book where Routson succeeds admirably in this, there are other points where those challenges become more evident.

One of the things I admire about Routson is her ability to put herself out there, and say to hell with the haters (they are just gonna hate, after all). The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer is very much an extension of her being and so intrinsically HER that you almost have to respect it for unapologetically being there.

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“When Are You Going To Get Certified?” – The Prud’homme and Cicerone Beer Certification Programs

“So when are you going to get certified?”

That’s a question I’ve been getting a lot lately. I’ve had this blog for nearly three years now and all around me people are flocking towards beer certification programs like high school seniors are towards College and University pamphlets. It’s the big question that seems to pop up in conversations. “So how are you? How’s work going? Are you going to get certified?” And also similar to College and Universities, there are a number of different certification programs to fit your needs. The two that stand out the most to me are the Prud’homme Beer Certification Program and the Cicerone Certification Program.

More and more bars and breweries are using Cicerone and Prud’homme certifications as a requirement for their employers. While a chunk of that for bars is a publicity thing to attract the beer geeks, it’s also genuinely creating more informed servers and a better overall experience for the customers. (After all, a big way to ensure a customer doesn’t come back is, among many things, a staff that has no idea what they’re selling) Similar for breweries, who find it helpful to use the names “Sommelier” or “Cicerone” as an indication of a set amount of knowledge without the hassle of reciting a résumé every time they meet someone or want to craft a release. Although I’m simplifying it, these are good reasons to get certification.

But which of the two do I take? Both have a really good reputation and each appeal to different personal preferences for the people taking them. I’ve heard good things and bad from both and I’m feeling conflicted. So let’s sort this out a bit and learn something about the programs.

Things seemed to start for Roger Mittag in 1997 when he was hired on to be part of the sales team for Interbrew-owned Oland Specialty Beer Company. As part of his training, they took his team for a full-on crash course in beer education starting in Halifax and going through several countries across the pond. It was there he learned how to store, pour, smell, taste, serve, and talk beer. When they got back, they were then instructed to use what they learned to better educate their customers. It’s there he worked for four years before being tasked by head office to design a training course for the entire Labatt team as the National Sales Manager.  Mittag excelled at this and won an InterBrew award for People Development.

In 2005 he founded Thirst For Knowledge, an organization dedicated to Beer education and in 2006 became the lead organizer for the Ontario Brewing Awards. In 2009 Mittag formed the Prud’homme Beer Certification Program, named after Canadian brewing pioneer Louis Prud’homme. While based primarily in Toronto, there are plans to expand the program across provincial and international borders.

There are three levels of certification in Prud’homme and they go: Beer Enthusiast, Beer Specialist, and Beer Sommelier. All of these courses require class time (with the exception of the Beer Enthusiast level, which has an online option). The most popular course is the first level of certification, as it’s the first step people take within the program regardless of their reasons (Work requirement or personal interest).  The remaining two are technically geared towards people with an interest in pursuing or developing a career in the beer or hospitality industry, but to be honest I witnessed and heard from a healthy mix of people who were there for career and personal interest. In terms of education, you start out learning about tastings, pairings, and the serving process and go to how to develop a beer education event and host a pairing dinner.

A common complaint I’ve heard from people who have taken the program to completion who worked within the industry before attending the courses has been its level of difficulty. For a person already well immersed in the industry and with a near-encyclopedic knowledge on things concerning beer, it may feel like almost a waste of time to be there learning stuff you already know. But what makes this program so worthy of note is that it teaches you something that a lot of beer geeks and industry people often struggle with: how to talk to people about beer in an easy-to-understand way. A lot of people overlook this, but if you have any part of your mind set to teach people about beer, whether it is in a classroom, a brewery tour, a television interview, or even in a dinner with friends, you have to know how to take all that knowledge and boil it down for people in a way that doesn’t go over their heads, isn’t condescending, and encourages further education. As a professor at Humber College’s School of Hospitality, Roger understands the importance of that. I was invited to attend one of the classes in the Beer Sommelier level where students picked a beer style from a hat and had to form a presentation on the history of that style along with providing samples to taste. A focus was, of course, on knowledge of the subject (which the students learned very well), but you also had to make the presentation as if you were addressing a tour group filled with people of varying levels of knowledge. It’s that angle that makes Prud’homme unique to me.

Another admirable quality is the level of comradery from the classroom setting. I’ve talked with people who took the program years ago and still maintain friendships with their classmates. Even on the class I sat in on, there was the social and fun element of beer present, which made the experience enjoyable.

Cicerone, however, isn’t a course. It’s a test. Well, THE test, it seems. Founded by famed beer writer, event organizer, publisher, Veteran beer judge, and award winning home brewer Ray Daniels, the Cicerone Certification Program’s levels are a good indication of technical knowledge and skill in all aspects of beer. It initially started when Daniels grew tired of going in to bars and being served a spoiled beer as a result of poor beer handling. The idea of a knowledge set for bars then grew beyond to brewers, distributors, and educators. With the premise of bringing knowledge in to the hands of the people who handle beer, a complete A-Z list of virtually everything about beer was formed, and the tests were created.

There are three levels in the program: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, and Master Cicerone. Each test has it’s own syllabus and list of suggested resources, including an optional paid online course called BeerSavvy for the Certified Beer Server level. The Certified Beer Server test is taken online and requires a 75% or more to pass. The other two levels are tests that must be done in person, with schedules and locations for the test put up on the site.

The more you read about the Cicerone Certification program, the more you realize how incredibly industry focused it is. While a home brewer or someone interested in beer is welcome to study and take the tests, these may not be the waters for them. Many bars with a focus on craft beer are making their staff take the Certified Beer Server test as a way to improve the serving experience (and, as I said earlier, publicity that beer geeks appreciate). And with a syllabus that is updated every five years or so, the program does an excellent job of keeping current on techniques and equipment used. A wonderful aspect to the studying is the formations of local study groups for the different levels. Together the groups meet up to go over their notes, quiz each other, and even take field trips to breweries and bars to learn about their systems.

As of writing this, the US-based Cicerone Certification Program just announced the much-anticipated launch of the Canadian branch of the program. Spearheaded by renowned beer consultant, Beerology founder, and Canada’s first ever Master Cicerone Mirella Amato, Cicerone Canada will issue exams and syllabi that reflect the Canadian beer market. The new tests and syllabi will be out March 1st of this year.

So that’s the two of them, boppers. While Prud’homme teaches a lot of great things about beer in a relaxed and warm setting to a varying group of people with both a professional and personal interest in beer, advanced students may find it frustrating despite the valuable lesson of being able to actually talk about the stuff you know, which is an incredibly essential skill to have. At the same time, Cicerone does not seem to have that warmth that Prud’homme does, but upon completion of the exams you may very well be a talking encyclopedia of beer knowledge, which is also incredibly essential.

It should be noted that, based on experiences people have shared, doors will not suddenly open for you upon certification. Many people have often had to explain what a Beer Sommelier or Certified Cicerone actually is to media outlets, and several employers throughout the industry are starting to use certification as a minimum requirement along with experience needed. I say this just to underline that certification will help you, but it is in no way a guarantee to success.

The biggest common factor with the two, and one that Roger Mittag and Ray Daniels both readily agree on in regards to their programs, is that the certification you get at the end is minuscule compared to the knowledge and skills you acquire in the pursuit of it. Like Mirella Amato told me once ages ago, “You’re learning this stuff anyways, so you might as well get something for it”. And you do get something for it. A title that can be put on a résumé to indicate that you have a certain knowledge and skill set. An indication that you know what the hell you’re talking about. One or two words that you can carry with you instead of a list of qualifications.

I initially started research for this post in an attempt to figure out which course to take for my own personal development. As I mentioned earlier, there is this pressing urge in my brain that I should look towards certification as that next big step, and I wasn’t sure which route to actually take.

But in the end as I’m typing this, reading through the notes I’ve made, checking on the e-mails from people who have gone through certification, and reflecting on my observations, I see that, like picking the right beer with the right cheese, the two programs complement one another. Learning everything on the technical aspect of beer along with proper handling (among many other things) is incredibly important to me.  But so is being able to talk about it with people and to teach them about this world in a wonderful, laid back setting. So I’m in the position of finding it’s not one or the other, but a combination that may be needed.

While I am essentially back where I started in my mindset, I now have the required knowledge to move ahead with a decision. Figures!

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Hey Now!

I think there’s a good chance that some of you are here after seeing Now Magazine’s article “Breaking the (beer)glass ceiling” in their spectacular Toronto Beer Guide put together by the equally spectacular Sarah Parniak. I’m in there with Mary-Beth Keefe from Granite Brewery and Mirella Amato from Beerology, both fantastic, world-class folks who you should go check out.

Also go check out that picture of Idris Elba. I haven’t been able to take my eyes off it. Sploosh.

So, hey there! Welcome to the site! Take your coat off, have a seat, close the door you’re letting the cold air out. I guess some introductions are in order here.

My name is Robin LeBlanc and I write about beer and beer-related things. Every now and then I go on TV and radio to talk about the amazing local beers and breweries as well. I was the only Canadian finalist in Saveur Magazine’s Food Blog Awards for the Wine & Beer category and even got featured on their Sites We Love column.  I like to keep things pretty casual on here, so if you’re looking for some lingo-heavy articles and industry gossip/internet outrages I’m afraid we’re fresh out.

By day I’m a mild-mannered freelance photographer and copy editor who is currently relying on a fantastic combination of coffee, rockabilly and classical music to stay awake. Most of the photos on this site are my own.

I have a twitter account at @TheThirstyWench

Also a Thirsty Wench Facebook Page

And if you want to contact me, day or night, I can be reached via e-mail at robin@thethirstywench.com

Please feel free to look around! I hope you enjoy reading my posts as much as I enjoy writing them.

Now without further ado, Myron, take it away.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r4JeHXKVjI]

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My First Beer Pairing Dinner

So March 25th marked a really interesting moment in my beer learning adventures. For the first time in my life I attended a beer pairing dinner.

The dinner, put on by Mirella Amato’s Barley’s Angels, a group dedicated to educating women about the wonderful world of beer and hosted by Guy McClelland of McClelland Premium Imports and “Beer Knight”. The venue was at one of my local places, the Town Crier, which has an AMAZING selection of European beers on tap. Plus I’ve been bugging the owner to get involved with Toronto’s beer geeks, so it was great to see the place involved.

On top of it being my first pairing dinner, it was also my first time going to a meet of the famous Barley’s Angels. It was so great to meet women of all different backgrounds coming together to learn something about a fabulous beverage.

So expectations were pretty high. Mirella is a giant in the Toronto beer scene and Guy has been responsible for bringing some top class Belgian and German beers to this godforsaken province.

So beer/food dishes included…

1. Beet salad with orange goat cheese & Belgian endives with Fruli and Radler dressing with Fruli beer (An interesting, refreshing and sweet start to a meal)

2. Smoked German sausage wrapped in Falian ham with braised green onion & German mustard with Erdinger Dunkel (Dear LORD, what a wonderful dish that was. Went well with the Dunkel, too!)

3. Belgian poutine with miso gravy and cheese curds with Delirium Tremens (The gravy was a bit watery and some of us found that pairing it with Palm Ale proved a better match)

4. Beer braised beef short ribs with Affligem Abbey Ale (This dish just melted in my mouth. And the pairing with the Affligem made for a wonderful experience. I STILL have dreams about this course)

And on top of that we had in-between beers such as Stiegl-Radler (Beer with grapefruit juice!), Stiegl Lager (refreshing!)  Erdinger Weiss (nice crisp taste) and Palm Ale (sweet with a nice bitter finish). And all of this went with an educational talk by Guy McClelland where we learned about “The Perfect Pour”, the importance of drinking your beer from a glass (and the right glass at that) and the effects of light on clear bottles (The beer goes skunky and foul after 30 seconds in the sun). Also learning about the sales statistics in Canada and getting a better idea of craft beer’s emerging role was incredibly useful information.

So what did I think of the experience? Well, I definitely had a good time and learned quite a bit more about beers in Germany, Belgium and their influence in Canada. While I must admit that I would have liked to have learned more about the art of pairing beer with food rather than just the beer, I still learned quite a lot and got some experience with my taste buds that I’ll be storing away for future consideration.

And I really have to give credit to Guy and Mirella for being amazing hosts at the event. It was great to meet them both. Guy clearly knew his stuff and had a great passion for it and Mirella was a pleasure to talk with.

I was really pleased with this night. I felt it lived up to my expectations and didn’t let me down.  I definitely would not say no to another oppurtunity to go to one again because if anything you’re learning more about how complex and wonderful beer is and turning the experience of drinking a beer in to the experience of having it be a part of a perfect meal. It’s a good thing to learn.

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