How did you get into your line of work?
I have had several careers and when I reached a certain age I decided to start my own business.I made a Venn diagram of things I enjoyed (beer, cider, wine, pubs, socialising), the things I was good at – educating, public speaking, writing, influencing, enthusing and the result pointed to alcohol education so I set up a business called School of Booze. It is an events business and consultancy that produces beer, cider, wine tasting events for corporate groups, and also provides consultancy to pubs, bars, restaurants, other organisations. At the School of Booze, homework can be done at the pub! The moment I realised that I wanted to take the drinks appreciation/education route was when I did an accredited wine tasting course just to educate myself and realised that the principles of wine tasting can be applied to any drink (water included). It occurred to me that I could pass on this knowledge to people in a brief social situation without them having to commit to a long course of study.
What does it entail to be a beer sommelier?
I am a beer sommelier accredited through the Beer Academy in Britain (although people from all over the world study there).A passion for beer is not mandatory but passion does make a better sommelier.A good sense of smell and taste is advisable. To be accredited by the Beer Academy means taking a number of courses, then doing a blind tasting of a range of beers and being able to describe their aroma and flavour profiles and know what style of beer they are. Also submitting imaginative beer and food matching menus is an integral part of the accreditation.
You are the UK’s firstfemale beer sommelier, why do you think that beer has become associated as a man’s drink?
I was in the first 3 females to be accredited and the UK’s first Beer Sommelier of the Year (2014) which is a competition held by the Beer Academy that I won.
It’s so daft that beer is widely seen as a man’s drink given that women were the original brewers of beer and for thousands of years women were the primary brewers of beer.Historically most people drank beer (children included). Approximately 40 years ago the marketing of beer changed and many breweries and marketing agencies decided that they would market beer at men in a blokey, often sexist, and sometimes misogynist way that alienated women. Also, historically, the pub was a male domain and women who went in pubs were looked down on as being common. This is ironic given that historically women played a major role in pubs too. The word ‘pub’ stands for ‘public house’ Medieval ale wives brewed the beer at home (beer was not brewed in breweries in those days) and they would let people come into their homes to buy and drink surplus beer.The alewife would set aside a bench in her kitchen, or other room for customers.
Wine, cider and spirits are not seen as male drinks so it is ludicrous that beer should be. It is also bad business sense to only market beer at 49% of the population and purposely ignore or alienate the majority of the population – women.
Do you think this is changing and if so, how?
It is beginning to change because those same brewing corporations and marketing agencies have decided that women are good for business and they need to stop the silly blokey attitudes to selling beer and appeal to both genders. I know many men who despise this blokey attitude to beer and they are vocal in trying to persuade the brewers to stop it. What has also changed is the revolution in brewing where beer is no longer just brown, boring and bitter, but offers drinkers a diverse choice of styles of beer that are vibrant and deliciously flavoursome. In cities in particular new pubs and bars selling smaller brewery beers have a different, more modern attitude where younger people run the pubs, and a more affluent demographic as the customer. Women are just as welcome as men and as they are a younger generation they have not grown up with the blokieness of beer so to them, beer is a beautiful delicious drink that they enjoy drinking with their female friends and with their male friends. That’s the 20s-35s generation. Many people older than that have the entrenched view that beer is for men and women drink wine. In the past I have had comments from men such as ‘well what do you know about beer, you’re a woman’. Change is coming though thankfully.
What future events and collaborations do you have lined-up that we can look forward to?
I am the instigator of Britain’s national beer day – Beer Day Britain. It happened this year for the first time and will now be an annual event on June 15th each year. I will soon be starting to contact the breweries and pubs to ensure they have the date in their diary and then they can start planning for what they will do for Beer Day Britain 2016.
I’m also an Ambassador for Friends of Glass, a consumer forum, which supports glass packaging, promotes recycling and highlights the health benefits of glass. I’ve been working with them on their Taste Map campaign as the main Taste Maker for the UK. The campaign isdesigned to encourage consumers to contribute to mapping the varying tastes of Europe, by completing a fun quiz online. So far the results have been very interesting!
In terms of beer what is hot on your radar at the moment?
Newer breweries that are committed to using British grown hops in their beers.British hops are very complex, but subtle and give balance to the beer so the drinker can taste all the ingredients.The trend at present in many of the newer British breweries is to use New World Hops which are vibrant in aroma and flavour but often punch a person on the nose so all they experience is the hop character and not the flavours that come from malts and yeast. So when I hear of newer breweries bucking the trend and choosing British hops I make a mental note.
I always look for new beers by Brewster’s Brewing Company. Sara Barton is founder and head brewer, and a former British Brewer of the Year.Her beers are always beautifully balanced where the malts and hops are equal stars and the beers are so flavoursome and drinkable.I am also enamoured of Coolship by Elgood’s. It is a scrumptious sour beer brewed by a venerable and long established family brewery in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire that is run by the three Elgood sisters.
Do you think beer is becoming more popular than wine as a dinner table accompaniment?
No unfortunately not.In a perfect world it would be, but profit margins on wine in pubs and restaurants are high and profit on beer is lower. Wine is perceived to be a more sophisticated choice and an ‘occasion’ drink. Whereas as beer is perceived to be the everyday casual choice of drink. Right from the beginning of wine production, it was reserved for people of high status, something special, and something to aspire to.Thousands of years of wine’s reputation as a ‘status’ drink with food is not going to be challenged easily by beer.If only people would give beer a chance though they would taste for themselves just how magnificent beer can be with food.
Could you suggest FOUR top beers and a pairing to go with them?
Proper Job by St Austell’s| This is an India Pale Ale and I would serve it in a Champagne flute as an aperitif.It has a juicy bitterness and is dry on the palate. Bitterness stimulates the digestive process to start. Healthy digestion is essential for a healthy body so starting a meal with something bitter is a good way of being kind to the body. And both these beers are deelish! And they also match very well with spicy or oily food. And brilliant with cheese! So as well as aperitif I would match them with a cheese course at the end of the meal.
Coolship by Elgood’s | This is a magnificent sour beer with zinging acidity that matches smoked salmon beautifully. Serve it in a wine glass.
Brown Ale by Barrel & Sellers | with mushroom risotto. Brown ale has a sweet caramel backbone that enhances the earthiness of mushrooms. Serve it in a tulip glass.
London Porter by Fuller’s | This beer makes a wonderfulmatchwith treacle tart and salted caramel ice-cream. Porter is a dark style of beer with chocolate and coffee flavours. It is brilliant with many puddings, and is alchemy with Stilton cheese. Serve it in a snifter glass.
Find out more about Jane and her beer pairing events here…