Ontario Brewer Podcast

Since 2010, I have been preparing and hosting the Ontario Brewer Podcast series for the Ontario Craft Brewers Association. These podcast feature interviews with Ontario brewers on a range of different topics.

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Posted April 9, 2014 | 10:17 am, by Mirella

The only question I get more often than “what is it like being a woman in the beer industry?” is “what is yourfavourite beer?” Every media request that I receive includes questions like:

TEKU pour
      • Which do you think are the top 10 Canadian breweries?
      • What are 5 recommended brands for patio season?
      • Which new releases should we be seeking out?
      • What do you think of X brand?
      • Which breweries should we be keeping an eye out for?
      • What are your top picks?
      • Which are your go-to beers?

While I understand where these questions are coming from, it seems odd to me that people keep asking despite the fact that I have never answered any question along these lines or written a beer review of any kind since I founded Beerology. In addition to this, my website clearly states that I do not make beer recommendations based on my taste; that’s not what my work is about. Since it keeps coming up, though, I thought I’d take a moment to provide some insights into why.

There are a few reasons I choose not to make beer recommendations or endorse any particular brand :

  1. My work is about promoting beer appreciation.
    • Everyone has their own palate and preferences, and the range of beer styles and flavours out there is certainly broad enough to satisfy any taste. I therefore prefer to encourage people to follow their palate and find their own favourite beers.
    • Just because I like a beer, it doesn’t mean that someone else will appreciate it in the same way and just because a beer is skillfully brewed, it doesn’t mean that its particular flavours will appeal to everybody.
    • There are still a lot of people who order beer by brand and I feel that a shift is necessary here because a flavour or style-based approach makes much more sense.

For example, when we’re picking a wine to accompany a meal, we don’t look at brands first; we usually start by deciding between white and red and then look for the most appropriate or preferred grape & region. From there, if there is a selection, we fine-tune based on brand. I advocate selecting beer in the same way because a beer chosen based on flavour first (instead of by brand, or based on a recommendation) becomes a complementary part of the moment.

That’s why I prefer to recommend a style rather than a specific brand or brewery.

  1. The goal in all of my work is to support the beer industry.
    • I haven’t tried every single beer out there. If I say ‘these are the beers worth seeking out’, I’m implying that other beers might not be…beers that I’ve never had or, perhaps, never even heard of. That doesn’t seem right to me. Every beer is worth trying at least once.
    • I promote the idea that there is a beer for every mood every food and every occasion. Recommending a beer out of context – simply as being ‘good’ – flies against this philosophy.
  2. It keeps the door open.
    • Recommending a specific brand means that only people who live in an area where that brand is available can take advantage of that recommendation. If, instead, I suggest a style or flavour family, a much larger number of people are able to take advantage of this recommendation.
  3. It is key to my work that I remain brand neutral.
    • I work closely with brewers and rely on them to give me the inside scoop on their brands, that I can then share in my public tastings and workshops. I don’t think we would have the same quality of exchange if I positioned myself as a critic or a journalist. I do write articles but, in keeping with my goal to promote the industry, they focus on showcasing each brewery’s particularities and strengths or are written on a theme, exploring history, local trends or beer appreciation.
    • A lot of my work involves picking the right beer for the occasion. I approach my guided beer tastings and beer dinners in the same way that I approach my writing – choosing a topic or theme and finding beers that convey it well. From there, I am more concerned with showcasing as many different styles, flavours and breweries as possible than promoting my favourite brands. This way, hopefully every person in the crowd will discover new flavours and find at least one beer they enjoy.
  4. It’s not important.
    • I can appreciate the fact that, because I have spent the past seven years training my palate, people are interested to know my opinion on specific brands. Of course, I do have personal preferences but those are beers that I enjoy in my personal time, not ones that I push on others through my work.
    • I think drinkers should trust their palates and not decide whether a beer is good or not based on an endorsement. It happens to me often, when I meet someone socially, that they apologize for the beer in their hand or are concerned that I may not approve of their choice. I find this distressing. People should drink whatever they like.
    • NOTE: I do use my training to inform my work. I have a pretty good idea of which beers are brewed well consistently and which ones aren’t. I use this knowledge to avoid sharing poorly brewed and regularly infected brands in my talks and workshops. I am not interested in standing in front of people and pretending the beer we’re all tasting is in great shape when it isn’t. 

    Of course, as a part of my consulting work, I’m happy to lend my palate and experience to any brewer who asks. In the spirit of being constructive, I often share tasting notes, queries and impressions if I’m sipping a beer in the company of its maker. In this spirit, I will also contact a brewer and let them know if I identify a serious problem with their beer.

    Finally there are many knowledgeable professional writers and beer bloggers out there offering suggestions, for those who feel more comfortable seeking out recommended brands. I have nothing against this approach – it’s just not what I do. At the end of the day, I’m a sensory evaluation specialist, educator and a consultant, not a journalist.

Photo by Brilynn Ferguson

Photo by Brilynn Ferguson

 

2 comments

  1. This is so true: “Everyone has their own palate and preferences, and the range of beer styles and flavours out there is certainly broad enough to satisfy any taste.”

    And in fact, timing is important too. Having a beer on the beach, vs a backyard bbq, vs a cold winter day – it’s all different.

    Comment by Dan Ho on June 6, 2014 at 4:34 pm

  2. I think this is very appropriate point of view for a person such as yourself. Although I would like to know which beer is your favorite, I appreciate the fact that you will are product neutral.
    Thanks
    Bruce

    Comment by Bruce on June 14, 2014 at 9:22 pm

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