After completing level 1 and level 2 of the sommelier course with StiBON (Stichting Bieropleiding Nederland), the last and final part to become Doemens internationally certified (level 3) took place abroad. With a group of 17 enthusiastic fellow beer students from all parts of Holland (14 guys and 3 gals) I spent an exciting two days in Obertrum, Austria! Obertrum is a lovely town near Salzburg and the home of the Trumer Brewery and Kiesbye Academy, founded by the former master brewer of Trumer, Axel Kiesbye. His academy has a partnership with the Doemens Institute in Munich and offers the international beer sommelier courses and the certification exam. Through the partnership StiBON has with Kiesbye Academy, we were able to follow the classes in The Netherlands instead of abroad, but the final certification exam is done onsite.
The third level turned out to be more of an add-on to level 2, which was the most difficult part of the training. So the good news is that after passing level 2 in Holland you have a very high chance of passing the finals and achieving your certification! Just to spur you all on who are currently doing the program! Of course there was still a lot to learn in Austria. Personally I think it was a great idea to do this away from home in such beautiful surroundings. An experience to never forget and which left us wanting more. Here are a few highlights from that inspirational trip.
Highlights of level 3
One of the main focus points of this part of the course was German and Austrian beer styles; and can you blame them? With such a rich diversity and beer history it’s definitely something to be proud of. Considering the fact both countries were once part of the same empire, it’s not strange that they are known for similar beer styles. However, after the countries were separated following the Napoleonic wars, the German and Austrian beers morphed into their own particular beer styles. Take Märzen, an ongoing commercial success for both nations. Where the Austrian version tends to be lower in alcohol, lighter in color and milder in flavor, the one from Bavaria (which was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire!) has a higher ABV and is darker and maltier. Naturally there is some healthy competition when it comes to who invented the first commercial bottom-fermented beer or the first pilsner. In the former case, it was Austrian’s Anton Dreher who introduced bottom-fermenting beer in 1840, now known as Vienna Lager. The latter was invented by a Bavarian brewer in Pilsen, Bohemia (also at the time part of the Austrian empire). In short, the Austrians seem to lay a legitimate claim to starting the commercial lager revolution. Unfortunately missing the experience and beer background of these countries made me fail miserably at the blind tasting that followed! How to tell a premium Helles Lager (Export) from an Austrian Märzen? Almost impossible!
One of the most interesting processes in the production of beer is barrel aging and so I was super happy that this was a big part of our first day (including a vintage beer tasting!). The goal of barrel aging beer is pretty straightforward: to add flavor and aroma to the beer. Wood being a living thing, the process itself however is extremely complex with no guarantees the outcome will be what you expect. There are all sorts of factors to consider, for example the type of wood used; how long the beer is matured in the barrel (the more alcohol, the longer it can stay in the barrel); or the way the barrel is made (a barrel maker is called a “cooper” by the way) and how much the wood is heated or roasted (e.g. to make it pliable), which has impact on the flavor. Wood and yeast work well together, which is why spontaneously fermented beers are usually matured in wooden casks. Another interesting fact I learned is the difference between aging beer in barrels or just adding oak chips to the beer instead. Oak chips give off a similar flavor, but the beer doesn’t age as optimally, because the wood aroma stays separated from the beer flavor and doesn’t integrate well. Hence the importance of paying attention to see if the label on the bottle says ‘barrel aged’ or ‘oak aged’ if you are thinking of laying it down to mature.
Much attention was also paid to the topic of glassware, probably one of the most overlooked aspects of the beer experience. You have to be somewhat of a physicist to quite comprehend all the effects the glass has on how you taste a beer. That explains why so much attention is paid to design of beer glasses. Visually (which has a major effect on your flavor experience) a wider glass will make your beer look darker. Unfiltered beers with a lot of yeast residu will turn gray in wide glasses. So be sure to pour light bright beers like pilsners in narrow glasses! A narrower glass also provides more carbonation and improves head retention; much like nucleation points do (those etchings in the sides or bottom of your glass). I’m a sucker for fun facts like that! Some beer glasses, for example used for Weizen, are relatively tall, which gives the beer a higher flow velocity. Aside from the fact that you taste less when the beer flows faster, it reaches farther into the back of your mouth where the taste will seem more bitter than sweet. For this reason dark and / or higher ABV beers are drunk from broader tulip-like glasses, where flow velocity is much lower and the bigger diameter allows for better aroma detection.
The most time was spent on eating, hurrah! Or better yet beer and food pairing, which of course required rigorous and extensive tasting. Herr Karl Zuser jr. – chef and beer sommelier – treated us to delicous combinations such as salad with beer vinegar paired with Brauwerk’s Flemish Red Ale, wheat beer soup with croutons from malt pastry and malted whipped cream paired with Hofbraü Münchner Weisse, or in wort poached trout on root vegetables with malted potatoes (cooked in the pan with malt thrown in) paired with a Pale Ale. A common denominator in his recipes is that he prefers to cook with the ingredients of beer rather than beer itself. He says: “It’s easier that way and beer is usually too hopped for cooking, making the dish too bitter.” The main takeaway was: almost everything pairs well with Weizen or wheat beers haha! All kidding aside, there are of course some ground rules, such as sweet beers pair better with sweet flavors and hops accentuates the spiciness in food. But almost just as true is that flavor is subjective, hence you either have to know your audience very well to hit the mark or play it safe with flavors that everyone can appreciate.
The fun-filled course program also included a tour of the local Trumer brewery that has been brewing beer there since 1601. Our tour guide – passionate beer sommelier Johanna – showed us around the large modern complex with its gleaming open tanks. Trumer brews according to the Slow Brewing philosophy, which means their beer is brewed by open fermentation using only natural hops and given more time to age. Interesting fact: you cannot swim in a beer tank (so don’t fall in). Apart from the fact that the density is lower than the water in your body and you might sink, the air above the liquid is made up of so much carbon dioxide that you will die just breathing the fumes. At the end of tour we were treated to a tasting of their annual limited edition ‘Trumer Hopfenernte’ made with fresh hops (wethopping) from their own hopgarden (‘Ernte’ is German for harvest).
Another fun activity was the mystery shopping assignment in Salzburg. The mystery shopping service is offered by the academy (for which the bars pay for to participate in) and we were split up into groups to test four different bars on an extensive list of topics such as interior, hygiene, beer selection, knowledge and service. Our unanimous vote on the bar my group visited: no, we will likely never come back. It wouldn’t be fair to post the name here, but if you’re curious drop me a line and I’ll tell you which one not to go to when in Salzburg.
Doemens Academy and Beer Sommelier Program
The Doemens Academy is located near Munich. Founded in 1895 initially as a brewing academy, Doemens has been training beer sommeliers since 1965. In 2000 they launched the World Brewing Academy together with the Siebel Institute of Chicago (established in 1868 by the German Dr. John Ewald Siebel). In the US the term for beer sommelier is ‘cicerone’. The knowledge required for certification includes an understanding of beer styles, brewing, ingredients, history of beer, glassware, beer service, draught systems, beer tasting, and food pairings (thanks Wikipedia for that concise definition!). The StiBON training is spread out over 3 levels, but Doemens also offers intensive crash courses, where you are able to obtain your internationally recognized certificate in just two weeks! Both courses costs approximately 3000 EUR in total.