by Natalie Goldenberg-Fife
On a blazing Monday night, I accepted an invitation to attend certified beer aficionado Mirella Amato’s informal beer class held at the dark and dingy Thirsty & Miserable in Kensington market as part of cook book shop (and more) Good Egg’s series of classes and workshops.
How could I say no to a class that will have me knocking back cold ones on a hellishly hot day where the humidity would make any other class virtually impossible to pay attention to?!
I perched myself at the bar and observed the other 25 sweaty pupils crammed into Katie Whittaker’s new krafty craft beer bar. Despite the lingering smell of fish (thank you nearby Kensington fish markets) wafting into the bar, I can definitely see the charm in this wee watering hole known for great microbrews from Canada and beyond, great music, and an overall indie-meets-hipsterville good time.
So we meet Mirella Amato (www.beerology.ca), who is the equivalent- in wine speak- to a beer Sommelier. The correct term for her qualification is certified Cicerone. With this title comes a multitude of specialized skills including guided tastings, advising people on proper beer storage, glassware choices, and my personal, favorite food pairings.
As we tasted 7 beers, Mirella walked us through beer history while bringing our focus back to the flavors, aromas, and styles of the different beers we brought to our lips.
In sum, I would say Mirella provided us with a beer-for-dummies mish-mash-crash-course in the span of two hours. I definitely left with a slight cock in my walk thanks to my newfound beer factoids!
Here are the Top 5 things that I learned in class:
1. ALWAYS SWALLOW: Unlike wine tastings (and other x-rated endeavours) which encourage tasters to SPIT, it is imperative that tasters swallow the beer they taste. Without the swallow, you will lose important sensation of mouth feel and weight. The finish and the aftertaste are critical components to beer assessment.
2. BEER IS COMPOSED OF 4 INGREDIENTS: water, yeast, barley, and malt. (Ok, I already mostly knew this but good to refresh the memory).
3. TO POUR OR NOT TO POUR?: Always and no matter what or where you are – Pour. Beer. From. The. Bottle! Why? Because brewmasters bottle their beer assuming there will be pourage. This means they add extra carbonation to the bottle. Too many consumed bottles sans pouring might entail extra bloating (and no one wants a protruding belly if they can help it). The other more obvious reason is that pouring will ensure you don’t miss out on the beer’s aromas.
4. HOPS – are a flower used as a preservative in most beers. The resulting taste is an extra layer of spice and bitterness. Think of most IPAs like Alexander Keiths – they contain more way more hops than most lagers and ales do.
5. MALT is the COLOR MAKER – Malt is responsible for staining our beer. Mirella gave us the visual analogy of toasting bread how toasting techniques alter colour: If beer is amber colored (malt has been toasted), golden (heated), or chocolately brown (malt has been roasted).
WHAT WE TASTED:
1. King Vienna Lager – First up was this 4.7% Amber Lager from King Brewery. I liked it fine. The nose consisted of apple and breadcrumbs. It wasn’t overly complex but it was refreshing as it should be. Mirella recommends pairing this beer with Havarti, Grilled Vegetables, Roast Chicken, and Mild Sausages.
2. Beau’s Lugtread Lagered Ale – This is a 5.2% Kolsch Style Beer from Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. Yummy. I was intrigued to find out that Beau’s is the ONLY certified organic beer company in Canada. Take that Mill Street! Mirella recommends pairing with Brie, Grilled Salmon, Chicken Salad, and Light Sandwiches.
3. Denison’s Weiss – A 5.3% German Wheat Beer with aromas of juicy fruit, coriander, vanilla, and nutmeg on the nose. My favorite of the tasting for sure! Denison’s is also a Toronto classic (the brewpub was located at 75 Victoria St. for decades but closed in 2003). Interesting factoid: A Dension keg should be stored upside down before tapping so the yeast doesn’t settle. The result is a cloudy color and complex beer. Mirella recommends pairing with Fresh Goat Cheese, Thai Spices, Mixed Salads, and Key Lime Pie.
4. St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout – A 5.5% Stout from McAuslan Brewery. The brewmaster is a woman (yay!). The beer tastes of black licorice, dried fruit. The mouthfeel is velvety and thick. This beer is nitrogen dispensed so there is very little carbonation. Interesting beer indeed. Mirella recommends pairing with Asiago, Oysters, Grilled Mushrooms, and Steak.
5. Mill Street Spring Bock – A whopping 7% Bock from uber successful Mill Street Brewery. You can definitely taste the extra alcohol in this one. Not my favorite. Mirella recommends pairing with Swiss Cheese, Grilled Sausages, Churrasco Chicken, and Strudel.
6. Mad Tom IPA – American Style IPA, 6.4% from Muskoka Brewery. IPA uses a lot of extra Hops which gives it a spicey and very bitter flavor. This makes it a good pairing for spicey food which makes sense since Mirella pairs with Blue Cheese, Mexican spices, curries, and Apple Pie.
7. Dieu du Ciel! Peche Mortel – Spiced Imperial Stout, 9.5% from Microbrasserie Dieu du Ciel!. Holy moly this is a bizarre beer with a powerful punch. Gratefully, Mirella, Mika, and Katie gave us chocolate baked brownie treats to pair with this heavy hitter and the finale taster. Only available by private order and on draught, I could only swallow half of my glass. Mirella recommends pairing with Old Cheddar, Chocolate Mouse, Pecan Pie, and Crème Brule.
That’s it! Class Dismissed!