Beer som­me­liers could be com­ing to high-end restos

NOW Magazine - Beer Guide - - TORONTO BEER GUIDE - By NATALIA MANZOCCO food@now­

The tidal wave of craft suds sweep­ing the city’s din­ing scene ap­pears to be wash­ing up on some very ex­clu­sive shores. Atop the Man­ulife Cen­tre, the newly re­vamped One Eighty lounge hopes to trade tourists’ dol­lars for pints of Goose Is­land Ale or bot­tles of Mill Street 100th Merid­ian. The Can-Con on Ca­noe’s menu now ex­tends to Muskoka Cream Ale and Left Field, while Bymark of­fers lo­cal faves like Steam Whis­tle and Beau’s Lug-Tread. Even the Trumped-up Amer­ica has made a point of of­fer­ing Mad Tom IPA by the bot­tle (nat­u­rally, at a hideous markup).

That’s good news for those who are will­ing to wash down a day and a half’s pay with a toasty craft lager or a brac­ing IPA. But since drink lists are still dom­i­nated by wine lists as long as your fore­arm, chi-chi cock­tails and trea­sure troves of sin­gle malt, the city’s top kitchens have yet to fully ex­plore the love af­fair be­tween beer and food, say lo­cal beer scholars.

“There is a move­ment to­ward hav­ing craft taps – but there isn’t re­ally an un­der­stand­ing of how well beers pair with food,” says Doug Ap­pel­doorn, who con­ducts tast­ings and teaches Prud’Homme beer som­me­lier cer­ti­fi­ca­tion cour­ses un­der the Schoolouse Craft Beer ban­ner. “There’s lot of thought go­ing into what wines pair with food, but not the same with beer.”

Beer can be more for­giv­ing. The wrong wine match can bring out pretty bad ef­fects.

Adds Matt Sier­adzki, a beer som­me­lier and the bar man­ager at the newly opened Craft Brasserie in Lib­erty Vil­lage, “I don’t ex­pect beer to be the main fo­cus, but gen­er­ally, when I look at what beers [up­scale restau­rants] have – if there are any – [the list] looks ei­ther thrown to­gether or very heav­ily in­flu­enced by a se­lect brewer.”

Nowa­days, a range of craft brews is stan­dard in any culi­nary hot spot worth its salt and not just at brasseries like Beer­bistro or Bar Hop, which have es­sen­tially rede­fined beer-friendly cui­sine. Mean­while, train­ing pro­grams are turn­ing out an in­creas­ing num­ber of qual­i­fied beer som­me­liers, while ed­u­ca­tors like Ap­pel­doorn are busy giv­ing pair­ing work­shops that teach drinkers to en­joy beer in tan­dem with choco­lates and cheeses.

So why haven’t high-end eater­ies put their con­sid­er­able re­sources to­ward bring­ing in their own som­me­liers or ex­plor­ing dar­ing pair­ings?

To­nia Wil­son, a chef and beer/wine som­me­lier who’s work­ing on a beer-pair­ing cook­book, ac­knowl­edges that the burn­ing thirst for craft beer among younger din­ers may not yet have spread to the ex­pense-ac­count crowd.

“I think those restau­rants – the re­ally high­end ones – are go­ing to pull in wine peo­ple more than beer peo­ple,” she says. “That’s not to say those peo­ple won’t splurge on an ex­cel­lent beer, but they’d prob­a­bly go to Bar Volo or some­where where [they do put] beer first.”

But there are some dis­tinct ben­e­fits for those restau­rants that might be will­ing to experiment with beer, she says.

“Some­times, I hate to say it, but beer can be more for­giv­ing – with the wrong wine match, it can bring out pretty bad ef­fects [in food].”

Higher-end restau­rants might still be far more ea­ger to fill a menu with $25 glasses of wine over $8 bot­tles of beer, but the lower whole­sale cost as­so­ci­ated with beer al­lows bars to take more in­ter­est­ing risks.

“You can of­fer re­ally cool items and not com­mit too much fi­nan­cially,” Wil­son says, “With wine, you could be drop­ping $400 for a case that might sit in the cel­lar. With beer, you can drop maybe $40 and see if it moves.”

And as craft brew­ing be­comes ever more com­plex and fas­ci­nat­ing both at home and abroad, the op­tions are grow­ing more en­tic­ing. Ap­pel­doorn points out that restau­rants could make room in the cel­lar for rare picks like Sa­muel Adams’s Utopias – at $115 per bot­tle, the brandy-like 27 per cent ABV brew is avail­able only ev­ery two years – or Westvleteren 12, brewed in small batches by Trap­pist monks in Bel­gium.

“Peo­ple are will­ing to spend on that,” Ap­pel­doorn says. “If you have a cel­lar like that in a res­tau­rant, you can kind of up the game.”

With any luck, the days of high-end restau­rants hav­ing beer pair­ing menus or a ded­i­cated beer som­me­lier could soon be upon us. Ap­pel­doorn of­ten trains chefs, res­tau­rant servers and bar staff in his cour­ses. Sier­adzki, mean­while, has seen an in­creased de­mand for his ser­vices in re­cent years, whether for build­ing a beer port­fo­lio, hold­ing tast­ings or train­ing res­tau­rant staff.

“It seems like there are more and more places with a ‘beer guy or girl’ – which is great be­cause I’m see­ing more and more places where I want to drink beer.”

Wil­son has seen the same thing hap­pen be­fore. “Wine has made huge strides over the last 30 years. Be­fore that, peo­ple never thought of wine as a bev­er­age to pair with food – it was more of a so­cial drink. Peo­ple have learned a whole lot more, and have a huge in­ter­est in learn­ing about food and wine pair­ings. It will get there with beer, too.”

Panorama says yes to craft brews but has no beer som­me­lier yet.

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