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I am privileged to have a wife who fully supports my interest in beer. So much so that this Christmas her gift to me was a voucher to participate in the Foundation Course at the Beer Academy. Here’s my review of the day I had.
The Beer Academy was founded in 2003 and became part of the Institute of brewing and distilling (IBD) in 2007. Their aim is to increase knowledge and understanding of beer amongst those who work in the beer industry and those like myself who are enthusiasts. It is interesting to note that in the UK right now there are far more people being trained in wine tasting then there are in beer tasting. The term ‘Becoming an ambassador for beer’ was used throughout the day by the tutor. Raising the profile of beer is a key objective of the Beer Academy and their relationship with the ‘There’s a Beer for that’ campaign became very obvious early on.
I should at this point make clear that this wasn’t a day dedicated to the beer geek (like myself!) interested in dynamic beer. The tutor was very clear in stating that the beers we were going to try today were going to be far from ‘dynamic’. But as he rightly said; if we want to become ambassadors for beer we need to understand the mass market and why people make the beer choices they do.
The tutor for the day was former brewer and the UK’s first accredited beer sommelier Nigel Sadler. Nigel’s CV is massive – there really isn’t anything in beer he hasn’t done. He delivered the course in a highly professional and authoritative manner, this wasn’t going to be a leisurely course but a serious learning process (albeit a fun one!).
The course took place at the Bull in Highgate North London. Courses take place all over the country at a variety of locations.
The day began with defining beer and understanding its essential ingredients. We then looked at the benefits of beer and what makes it distinctly different from other alcoholic beverages.
We then looked at all four of beers main ingredients in great detail.
Water was discussed looking at the huge contribution it makes to brewing and the challenges brewers have to achieve consistency.
We learnt about malting and got to try three malt types: Maris Otter, Crystal Malt and Chocolate malt. We discussed their flavours and their contribution to different beer styles.
Hops were then looked at and we were given the chance to smell the different hops. We learnt how to do this properly – not just to rub it in your hands but tou use a finger and thumb to crush the base of the leaf (it does work!).
Yeast was then looked at and we discussed the flavours yeast brings to beer.
Next we moved onto examining what the 3 major beer groups are (ales, lagers and lambics) and their characteristics.
This brought us on to tasting. We were taught how to formally taste and examine beer. This included an interesting look at the psychology behind tasting beer. I was particularly interested in what we learnt about how your emotions and surroundings greatly influence your tasting of beer. We looked at the science behind the nose and the brain and how yeast, malt and hops contribute to aroma. We also looked at the technicalities behind mouthfeel which I found particularly interesting.
After a bit of study on the history of beer we started to try different styles. We started with Hoegaarden as an example of a lowly hopped beer with flavours which have some semblance to pre-hopped beer. We then contrasted this by trying Guinness which highlights the role of barley in beer.
Next we looked at the industrial history of brewing before trying a traditional English IPA in the form of Worthington’s White Shield. We discussed its flavour profile. I’ve had this beer twice before and it was good to see others discover this excellent beer.
We then tried Pilsner Urquell and discussed its features. We looked in particular at its buttery taste which might be considered an off flavour in other beers but is a distinct flavour of this beer. We did discuss this further with reference to Burton Pale Ale and Newcastle Brown Ale; both of which contain flavours which would be considered off in other beers.
Beer and food matching came next. We had Coors light with nachos – an example of an easy beer which works well with greasy food and is well suited to hotter climates. Next came Becks paired with salami. Now I usually despise Becks and I am still far from keen. We discussed how it has a wet dog aroma which is in fact a deliberate off flavour! Nonetheless, it worked perfectly with salami! It got through the fat and actually wasn’t that unpleasant!
The next food pairing was mature cheddar with Fuller’s ESB. This was a good pairing and it gave us the opportunity to assess Fuller’s marmalade nature with regards to flavour.
Lunch followed. We were provided with hearty sandwiches, chips and these rather tasty pork croquettes. I would’ve of liked the beer pairing to carry on through lunch so this was a slight shame on the day that beer wasn’t provided with lunch.
After lunch we had a beautiful food pairing in Kriek Boon being paired with dark chocolate. This resulted in a dark Forest Gateau experience on the pallet.
The first part of the afternoon was dedicated to learning about the brewing process. This was highly educational and the advanced my knowledge a great deal.
The next part of the afternoon looked at beer and lifestyle. Key aspects here were to look at the popular UK beer styles. We tried Britain’s biggest selling keg lager in Carling and and the biggest selling keg ale in John Smith’s. We then tried Oxford Gold from Brakspear as an example of a Golden Ale before finishing off with Goose Island IPA. As you can see, nothing hugely dynamic but a good way of understanding the beer market as a whole in the UK.
The last part of the course looked at the health of the beer industry and brewing worldwide. We looked at how the global beer market is developing and the challenges ahead. We then looked at UK beer sales and the impact of duty and pub closures. There was one last ‘There’s a Beer for that’ plug before we had 30 minutes of revision before assessment time.
The exam despite being multiple-choice, was still appropriately challenging. I found out during the week that I passed by Twitter! I received my certificate in the post a few days later. I would have liked to have known how I got on in the test though!
In conclusion, doing a Foundation Course with the Beer Academy was an excellent experience and I will certainly consider doing the Advanced Course in the future. If you work in the beer industry or have serious aspirations about doing so, I would certainly recommend attending their courses.