Beer School 5
Being able to appreciate beer has many different levels. For some, simply being able to sit back with a glass or two of craft at the end of the day is perfection. For others, going in depth into how the liquid in their glass was made, if it's to style and determining if there are any flaws makes for a more interesting evening. For those people there are certification programs with educational guidelines to help refine their palate and broaden their beer knowledge.
The Cicerone certification is one of these programs and consists of two levels – Certified Cicerone and Master Cicerone. To achieve the Master Cicerone level, candidates have to pass a two day exam that consists of essay questions, oral examinations by industry experts and blind tastings. With a minimum passing score of 85% required, only one or two candidates typically pass the exam each year.
Mirella Amato is one of seven people who has passed the Master Cicerone exam and the only person in Canada to hold this achievement. We chatted with her about the Cicerone program and the three day Sensory Evaluation Workshop she's hosting in December.
Ottawa Beer Events: What does it mean to be a Master Cicerone?
Mirella Amata (Beerology): Well, the Master Cicerone exam is HUGE. It tests people on all aspects of beer, from designing a draught system, to off-flavour detection (of course), brewing, pairing beer with food and all sorts of other things. I took it because I wanted people to know that I was serious about beer and that they could trust my level of expertise.
How long did it take you to achieve the level of Master Cicerone? What was your motivation?
I would say that it took seven years. All of my beer experience so far has contributed to my being able to pass that exam. Having said this, for the first 5 years I was gathering experience, I then had two years of serious study. The thing with the Master Cicerone exam is that you can’t just study and pass; you really have to have knowledge-based experience. It would be kind of silly if someone who’d just read a bunch of books could then consider themselves an expert in beer, which is a tangible, ever-evolving product…
Why are off-flavours so important to learn – for the homebrewer, sales representative or enthusiast?
I come across off-flavours in beer on a weekly basis – they’re everywhere! People will often feel like something isn’t right but they can’t quite put their finger on the problem, so they just order a different beer or go to a different establishment. More often than not, when I return a pint and try to helpfully point out the problem I’m met with resistance (most commonly, bar managers will tell me “they will let the brewery know there was a problem with their beer” when the problem is actually that the lines in the bar aren’t being properly maintained and the beer was actually fine when it left the brewery) My goal with this workshop is to help people identify off-flavours. Many people have read descriptions of off-flavours in books but struggle to identify them in beer. The best way to learn about off-flavours is by actually tasting them in beer…when I realized, a few years ago, that no one was offering off-flavour training, I decided to create this workshop. It’s useful AND it’s tons of fun!
What level of beer knowledge are these seminars targeted towards? Do you recommend any prerequisite reading?
I created this seminar for people who work in the industry: brewers, brewery representatives, bar managers, as well as for home brewers. It is meant for people who are familiar with beer and have a rudimentary understanding of the brewing process. The workshops are pretty technical (hence the Geek Alert on the registration page!). Having said this, I have had a few beer aficionados join my previous workshops and they had a good time. I don’t think reading materials are a necessary prerequisite…just having a passion for beer!
There are 3 sensory sessions – each dealing with specific topics – why did you chose to divide them in that way?
I divided the off flavours in two sessions: ‘Things that can go wrong at the pub’ and ‘Things that can go wrong at the brewery’ because this workshop is meant to refine troubleshooting skill. The first thing that you need to identify is: what is the problem? The second thing is: how can it be fixed? or, more specifically, who can fix it? If you’re a bar manager or brewery representative faced with a bad beer, it’s very handy to know whether this off-flavour occurred at the brewery or at the bar. The third session is tons of fun. Basically, it’s an opportunity for people to test their skills and see, now that they’re familiar with a bunch of off-flavours, can they pick them out in a blind tasting? I often have seasoned homebrewers, who have already done a lot of off-flavour training sit in just for this session.
Space is limited to 15 people so reserve your spot in Mirella's Sensory Evaluation Workshop (December 9-11) now! If you're just starting to appreciate beer and want to learn more, Mirella's book, Beerology, is an easy-to-read guide with chapters on history, styles, pairings and even beer games!
The days are getting shorter, the weather is getting (somewhat) cooler and students everywhere are preparing for a new school year. As a student of craft beer, you also have to prepare for a busy semester since there are a few classes available to you.
- Algonquin College School of Part Time Studies
Beers of the World (September 3 – November 19) -$526.44
Beer is an important component of the beverage industry. Students learn about the ingredients used to produce this historical beverage, as well as how it is made domestically and internationally. Additional topics covered include the classicisation of beer, how to properly taste and assess beer, how to match beer with food, and how to cook with beer. Special attention is placed on local micro-breweries.
- Savvy Company
Importing Wine, Beer & Spirits for Pleasure & Profit (November 1) – $325.00
Join Steven Trenholme for this day-long seminar and learn about the dynamics ofimporting wine, craft beer & spirits into Canada. Based in Toronto, he has over 30 years’ experience in working in various capacities including managing a national sales agency, brand manager of Mosel wines in Germany, consulting to Wines of South Africa and SABMiller.
Sensory Evaluation Workshop (December 9 –December 11) – $212.99
Master Cicerone Mirella Amato explores the most common off-flavours that can occur in beer through a guided tasting. It provides critical troubleshooting information for bar managers and brewery representatives through an in-depth exploration of what causes these off-flavours and how they can be prevented.
Of course, back to school wouldn’t be the same without some proper text books to accompany your course load. Here’s what’s on the shelves at the Ottawa Beer Events office and what we recommend to you – from a wide variety of beer-y topics!
- Tasting Beer: An Insider's Guide to the World's Greatest Drink by Randy Mosher
Everybody knows how to drink beer, but few know how to really taste it. Tasting Beer is a lively exploration of the culture, chemistry, and creativity that make craft beers so wonderfully complex. Heighten your enjoyment of every glass with an understanding of the finer points of brewing, serving, tasting, and food pairing.
- The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food by Garrett Oliver
Traditional craft-brewed beer can transform a meal from everyday to extraordinary. It's an affordable, accessible luxury. Yet most people are only familiar with the mass-market variety. Have you tasted the real thing?
- The Complete Joy Of Homebrewing by Charlie Papizan
Everything you need to get started is here, including classic and new recipes for brewing stouts, ales, lagers, pilseners, porters, specialty beers, and honey meads.
- The Audacity of Hops: The History of America's Craft Beer Revolution by Tom Acitelli
n 1975, there was a single craft brewery in the United States; today there are more than 2,000. A once-fledgling, clumsy movement, craft beer has become ubiquitous nationwide and even includes a honey ale brewed at the White House.
- Ontario Beer: A Heady History of Brewing from the Great Lakes to the Hudson Bay by Alan McLeod and Jordan St. John
Wherever Europeans explored, battled, and settled, beer was not far behind, which brought the simple magic of brewing to Ontario in the 1670s. Early Hudson's Bay Company traders brewed in Canada's Arctic, and Loyalist refugees brought the craft north in the 1780s. Early 1900s temperance activists drove the industry largely underground but couldn't dry up the quest to quench Ontarians' thirst. The heavy regulation that replaced prohibition centralized surviving breweries. Today, independent breweries are booming and writing their own chapters in the Ontario beer story.
Our final session of the Prud'homme Beer Certification came to a close last week with a re-cap of all we've learned, some pre-exam beers to ease the tension of our final exam and my favorite part: the beer pairing.
Belgian beers were the theme for the final tasting, a great way to take our minds off the impending exam. The favourite of the night seemed to be Sofie, a Belgian Style Ale from Goose Island Beer.
After pouring out our recently acquired beer knowledge into our exam, we toasted a great 4 weeks with a beer and food pairing, with our instructor, Jeff O'Reilly leading us through the proper way to complement, cut and contrast flavours in beer and food.
After it was all said and done, I had the chance to ask Jeff some questions about the course.
Ottawa Beer Events: How has the industry changed since you first started with D'Arcy McGee's?
Jeff O'Reilly: People are definitely more educated and more interested in what beer has to offer. From proper glassware, presentation, storage, serving and food pairing opportunities I think people are realizing there is a whole world of beer options to explore and discover.
Since this was the first time this course would be offered in Ottawa, what were your expectations going in?
Prud'homme founder Roger Mittag knew that there was a lot of interest in his class outside of Toronto and a lot of requests to see Levels One, Two and Three available more readily available. The course is a really well thought out and a great way for students to learn more about all facets of beer appreciation, so my expectation is that it will be very well received here. Response from students of the first Level One course I taught in Ottawa was incredibly positive.
Were you surprised to see so many women registered in the course?
Not really – especially when I see how active women are at local beer events. It was really nice to see 4 Barley's Angels attending and 6 of 14 students in the first class being ladies, but I can think we'll see that number continuing to grow.
How does the Prud'Homme course differ from Cicerone?
Well the biggest difference is that I'm not teaching the Cicerone (laughs). The biggest difference that I can see is the Ciccerone appears to be a self guided learning course with a focus on creating an encyclopic knowledge of beer and a big emphasis on blind tasting. The Prud'homme course is a very well rounded course focussing on beer appreciation with an emphasis on facilitation and being able to share that passion for beer with others. Knowledge is power, but sharing knowledge with others is just plain awesome!
Will you be continuing to deliver future sessions?
Definitely. A second Level One course will be hosted at the Clocktower on Bank Street in November and plans are in the works for more Level One and hopefully Level Two classes to be available in Ottawa next year.
If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring only one beer – what would it be?
Well – if I knew I was going to be stranded I'd definitely choose a beer that I could make a boat out of the empties with. That being said – ask yourself if you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life or look at one piece of art forever and I'm pretty sure that you're glad you have so many options. Beer is so diverse – and I want to continue to explore all it has to offer.
I'm happy to say under Jeff's instruction we ALL passed our exams! I really loved the sessions and was sad to see them end. For me not only did I gain some great knowledge of beer but met some great people who share a love of beer. Congrats to my fellow beer school classmates and hope to see you in the Level 2 session when it makes it's way to Ottawa!
If you are interested in taking Level 1 in November when it comes back to Ottawa – you can sign up here: http://www.beercertificate.ca/level-1.html
Week 3 of The Prud'homme Beer Certification had us discussing the proper storage and handling of draught beer. A lot of work goes into making sure someone gets the perfect pint. There's a plethora of different lines and do-hickeys that can be used to regulate the temperature and pressure of a draught system – in a bar with multiple draught lines it can look like a game of cat's cradle if they're not properly organized.
Aside from the proper setup and overall cleanliness, you then need to figure out how to properly pour a beer (this does not involve scooping out foam with a plastic spoon) and serve it in the appropriate beer glass. Many beer glasses are designed specifically for a specific style. One of my favorite being wheat beer, which was the focus of Week 3's tasting.
Tasting as a group is definitely one of the highlights of this program for me. It's great to share in the learning experience with other beer lovers. I got the chance to chat with a few of my fellow classmates about why they chose to sign up for Level 1, what they were surprised to learn from the session, what their favorite beer tasting was, and learned their favorite beer.
Amanda Barriage – Barley's Angel and aspiring home brewer
I've started brewing on my own at home and can't get enough knowledge of beer. I currently read books on brewing and ingredients and found the section on the draft system the most interesting. My favorite beer tasting was Sofie from Goose Island Co. a saison farmhouse ale. One of my favorite beers to drink at home is most of the beer from Unibroue, which brews Belgian style beer.
Scott Paterson – Student and beer lover
I mainly took this certification because I love beer and wanted to expand my knowledge of beer as well as to get back into home brewing. I enjoyed the section on draft systems and how they operate and my favorite beer tasting in class was the Kostritzer Schwarzbier. At home my go-to beer is Steamwhistle Pilsner and I enjoy Trappist beers.
Kensie Mailloux – Student and beer lover
I'm a home brewer so I wanted to learn more about beer and I'm also a waitress and want to be able to properly describe beers to customers when serving beer. Overall I found learning the terminology most interesting as it will help me when describing beer. It was also great to have a few tastings before our final exam! My favorite beer that we've tasted is the Liberty Ale by Anchor Brewing. One of the best beers I've had is HopWired IPA from 8 Wired which had a nice piney flavour.
I wanted to learn about the semantics of beer and brewing, as its important for someone working in the beer industry. The most interesting for me was learning how the taste of the alcohol can be hidden within a beer. My favorite tasting in the sessions was Sofie from Goose Island Co. and my favorite beer is Dogfish Head's Midas Touch.
Pasi Nuutilainen – Beer geek
Knowledge and general interest of beer is what made me sign up for the program. I have a fairly good knowledge of beer and would like to increase my knowledge. I enjoyed learning how to describe a beer in a more in depth manner when tasting and the ability to interact and share with other students while tasting. My favorite tasting in the sessions was Sofie from Goose Island Co. and one of my favorite beers is Enbars.
Stay tuned for next weeks post which will re-cap the 4th and final session, where we pair beer with food as well as an interview with Jeff O'Reilly, our knowledgeable instructor.
Week 2 of the Prud'homme Beer Certification in-class sessions started off with a quiz, testing what we'd retained from the week before. As it turns out, even in beer school there are no exceptions for your birthday when it comes to quizzes! I should have done my homework!
We then dove into the history of beer, which, of course, was discovered by a women! This certainly doesn't surprise me. I know that in Ottawa alone there is a large population of women who love craft beer. This is evident from the fact that 6 of the 14 participants in the class are women and some are members of Barley's Angels Ottawa, a chapter of a world-wide organization dedicated to encouraging education and interest in beer among women. Girl Power!
Before moving on to the beer tasting, we touched on the importance of beer glasses and how they can affect the taste of a beer – who knew!? I did know that beer glasses are made in different shapes to reflect the type of beer, however it was enlightening to hear how each glass is designed to bring out the flavours/aromas of specific beer. In June I attended the American Craft Beer Festival in Boston and while there got to visit the Sam Adam's Brewery where they've perfected their very own lager glass. So much is taken into consideration to enhance a beer lover's experience, from the shape of the glass to where your hand is positioned on the glass to prevent heat transfer.
This week's beer tasting featured lagers, and I found a new favorite in Kostritzer's Schwartzbier, a black lager that reminded me of a milder version of one of my favorite beers; Spearhead Moroccan Brown. Between rounds of chomping on dry saltines and swishing our mouths with water, we tasted 4 very different lagers.
It goes without mentioning that the beer tasting is my favorite part of the sessions, but it's not only because after talking about beer for over an hour, I'm craving one like nobodys business, but it's actually fun to compare amongst us what each of us are smelling/tasting. It's a type of learning process that I definitely can get used to!
Next week is proper pouring/storing techniques and wheat beers so stay tuned!
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