The holidays: a time for family bonding, seeing old friends, culinary indulgence and, in combination with the last point, wine beer pairing. That’s right, your Christmas oysters want stout, not sparkling. We caught up with beer sommelier Craig Young of Ki restaurant to find out a little bit more about this recent craze and why it’s perfect for the holidays…
What does it take to become a beer sommelier?
All you need to start down the road to becoming a beer sommelier is a love and passion for beer and a desire to learn.
There are three levels of class training in a program called Prud’homme run by a beer professor named Roger Mittag (@bierprofessor). (His company’s name is thirst for knowledge).
Level 1 is offered both online and in class and focuses of the fundamentals of beer (ingredients, brewing processes, history and the basics behind how to pair beer with food), also how to properly taste beer using aromatics, flavours, finish.
Level 2 expands on the knowledge of the brewing process and focuses in on the specifics of each ingredient; hops, malt, water and yeast and adjuncts. There is also a big focus on Canadian beer history and the many different regions and how styles change depending on what part of the world it is from.
Level 3 has a huge focus on beer and food pairings and how to do a beer dinner. We planned either a four-course menu or a six-course tasting menu, each course having a different beer. We did a theoretical dinner based on a beer bistro menu and beer list. Then for graduation we went to a beer bistro for dinner and presented a course from each person’s meal.
How is pairing beer similar to pairing wine?
When you are pairing beer with food you start with three fundamentals, the three Cs: contrast, compliment and cut. When you contrast the flavours, you want the food and beer to stand on their own so you can taste each item separately. You want both the beer and the food to have similar flavours and then you need to meld together. Contrast and complement is typically how wine is paired with food.
How is it different?
The third ‘C’, cut. Carbonation and bitterness are the aspects of beer that differ from wine. You can use the high carbonation and/or higher bitterness to help cut through creamy soups or sauces (butter, cream) spicy foods (heat), high fat foods (pork belly).
Why is beer pairing especially suitable for the holidays?
Beer pairing is great for the holidays because there is plenty of time to share the concept of beer pairings with friends and family; lots of great food to try and pair beer with, many foods that are only eaten once or twice a year. Things like a turkey dinner and stuffing are great opportunities to pair fantastic fall and winter ales with the great warming flavours of baking spice, citrus bitterness, pine, and there’s a warming sensation from higher alcohol.
What would you tell young professionals who’ve never considered the idea of beer pairing?
That they probably have had lots of great beer pairings without even knowing it. Lagers and wings or pizza, for example. The sweetness and bready quality found in the crust is similar in flavour to a great North American-style lager or pilsner; spice in the wings is cut by the high carbonation as well.
With the fact that most people have already had fantastic beer pairings, I can see more people trying beer pairing dinners with them becoming more and more available in the city at many restaurants.
Is there a particular beer you personally love working with?
With well over 350 styles out there, it’s had to choose a favourite. I’m into India pale ales right now as well as sour beers (lots are barrel-aged and use brettanomyces to add a great sour funk). Both these beers are totally different in flavour and aromatics.
What are some of the matches made in heaven between beer and food?
Some of the most common matches you see are a contrast of oysters and stout; the salty brine is a great contrast to the sweet and bitterness you get from the stout. Fish with a lighter lager or a wheat beer (beer complements well and doesn’t overwhelm the flavour of a delicate fish; chocolate desserts with a stout or porter (perfect complementing flavours as most porters and stouts have notes of chocolate in them); shellfish and Lobster with a beer with bitterness (India pale ale) cuts the richness of the meat; sharp cheeses with the high carbonation, alcohol and sweetness of a Trappist beer will make the cheese appear softer.
Where in Canada can young professionals get a professional beer pairing experience?
Pretty much any “beer” restaurant will offer a beer pairing dinner; Beer Bistro, Bar Hop, Bar Volo and Bier Markt are all fantastic beer bars in Toronto. Coming soon, many of the Prud’homme beer sommelier graduates are working with Roger Mittag to plan a series of beer dinners (but the planning has just begun on that, I’m planning to be involved).
What’s one beer pairing piece of advice you’d give to someone going home for the holidays looking to impress their friends and family?
Never be afraid to try something. The beautiful thing about beer pairings is trying new things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Not everything works but trying new things is half the fun of beer pairings. Shop for seasonal beers to bring for friends and family to try. A variety of styles and brewers shows that you are looking to learn and try new things.
Twitter and Instagram account are @kibeermaster. Follow me for all things beer.