Beer Sommeliers Offer Operators Helpful Tips

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Volume 47, issue 11

[dropcap size=big]C[/dropcap]ountless craft beer varieties have sprouted across Canada, but when it comes to recommending a seasonal IPA to complement a dish, or identifying the difference between a porter and a stout, many operators are turning to the experts for help.

Beer sommeliers, or cicerones, are a small but growing group of craft-brew experts who know how barley pop is made, stored and the best way to serve it.

According to the international Cicerone Certification Program, based in Chicago, there are only 49 Certified Cicerones in Canada and one Master Cicerone. While Certified Cicerones possess detailed knowledge of beer history, ingredients and beer-pairing, Master Cicerones boast an encyclopedic knowledge on the subject, with years of hands-
on experience with service, including travel to beer-producing areas as well as in-depth experience in pairing the bevvy with food.

Mirella Amato was the first woman to earn a certified-cicerone designation and the only Master Cicerone in Canada. In the past eight years she’s helped brewers and restaurateurs become more confident about selling beer. “Brewers identified a need for someone to start explaining beers that are coming out, new brands and new flavours. There was a great curiosity on the part of the consumers, but they were generally feeling overwhelmed,” she explains.

“My work is about promoting the idea that there is a beer for every food, every mood and every occasion,” says Amato, founder of Beerology, a Toronto-based consultancy designed to help operators understand, recommend and pair beer with confidence. Amato steers clear of brand-specific recommendations and instead pinpoints the types of flavours they’d like to offer, customer favourites and food pairings. For example, she’d suggest a Belgian ale or a Munich helles to complement a fried-fish taco dish, which will pair well with lemon and cilantro notes.

Operators in smaller markets especially benefit from the expertise. “Sudbury (Ont.) is still a really green market when it comes to beer,” begins John Arnold, equity partner at Pluckers Beer Market in Ontario. “The knowledge of beer is growing, but it’s growing slowly in comparison to major markets like Toronto and Montreal.” So, he invited Amato to conduct a beer workshop for his staff.

Consulting a cicerone helped the operator gain the confidence to add variety to his beer menu. “We have 17 taps and close to 55 overall beer selections now,” Arnold adds. New, local and international brews include the Czech Republic’s Staropramen lager, Germany’s Erdinger Weissbier and Belgium’s Früli, in addition to two house brews and a flight sampler that includes Millstreet Tankhouse and Steamwhistle from Toronto, Boston’s Sam Adams and Ireland’s Guinness (four samples for $9).

Staff who are confident about their beer selection will be better positioned to make the sale. “If they’re not comfortable recommending the beer with confidence and talking about flavour with confidence, they are not going to fully appreciate those brands. They are not going to serve them with confidence and will probably sweep them under the rug,” explains Amato. “It’s important to have education across the board.”

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