Speaking exclusively to The Morning Advertiser, Molson Coors on-trade category controller Mark Bentley tells us more about the role and how operators can benefit from it.
Why did you become a beer sommelier?
I’ve always loved beer and how much variety there is within the category. However, my understanding about the artistry behind brewing was limited until I joined Molson Coors.
Becoming a beer sommelier was something I’d never heard of until I’d started, and I was instantly intrigued. The idea of getting a qualification for something I was already passionate about appealed to me.
My interest was cemented during a trip to Sharp’s Brewery in Cornwall in November 2016, where I met a beer sommelier called Ed Hughes. Just looking at the way he paired the food and beer together while we had dinner at the Mariners Pub in Rock was incredible. I also loved hearing about the stories and history of each beer. Seeing Ed’s passion and expertise was the final prompt – I knew I wanted to play a role in shaping the future of the category.
How hard is it to become one?
I’m not going to lie, it takes a lot of study and practice to become a beer sommelier. You’re expected to attend a lot of courses, which cover everything from understanding beer styles from around the world and the brewing processes, to food and beer pairings and being able to identify off flavours. There are formal assessments throughout and the final exam is quite intimidating. You have to do a blind taste test of beers from across the world, being able to talk through the appearance, aromas, flavours and correctly identify the beer style. This is tricky when you consider that there are well over 100 styles of different beer.
It took me two years to get my qualification, which is relatively short. However, if you’re genuinely passionate about beer, it’s definitely worth the time.
What do you enjoy most about the role?
I love the variety of being a beer sommelier. From supporting company welcome days, to running food and beer tastings for our customers – no two days are the same. I’ve also been involved in events like Taste of London and the Padstow Christmas Festival with the Sharp’s Brewery team. These are real highlights of the year, especially when you manage to convert non-beer drinkers into beer lovers!
How can operators benefit from it?
My role relies on me being one step ahead of what’s happening in the market and consumer trends. As a beer sommelier, I help operators and their staff to grow their knowledge and confidence. I also advise operators about the range they stock and encourage them to think about different flavour profiles and ensuring that their range offers real choice for drinkers. I can also help people with food pairing suggestions. Education is a big part of what we do, and this is something that operators value.
What do different beer describing words mean?
If I’m doing tastings, I would encourage people to describe the aromas and flavours using their own words. Taste is subjective. We all pick up on different flavours, so there’s no hard and fast rules when it comes to the vocabulary. Beers are all about the balance between sweetness and bitterness from the mix of malts and hops. All beers sit within this as a broad spectrum, but I love dissecting the profile and hearing what other flavours people identify.
What’s the best way to describe a beer?
The flavour possibilities with just four basic ingredients of beer (water, malt, hops and yeast) are huge. We use a simple five-step process when holding beer tastings, which works really well to draw out descriptions. It starts with making notes about the appearance, the aroma followed by taste, mouthfeel and finish. Walking through these stages creates a full flavour profile of the beer you’re tasting.
What are your plans for the future?
Talking about beer all day never gets old for me, so I’m keen to keep learning and sharing my passion for beer with as many people as possible. Beer is the third most consumed drink in the world, after water and tea, but it’s amazing how little people actually know about it. Many people default to wine when eating out. It’s fair to say that the wine industry has done an incredible job at cementing its association with food. Although I may be biased as a beer sommelier, I believe that beer’s food-matching capabilities are unrivalled and I want to play a part in showing people that beer deserves a place at the table.