Bottle & Tap: Bone Up On Brewspeak

click to enlarge Paul Ford for BeerSmarts. - Danielle Hopkins
Danielle Hopkins
Paul Ford for BeerSmarts.

People love to bag on the Middle Ages, but keep in mind that both beer and higher education as we know it came about between bouts of feudal plague and there's been a mystical link between scholastics and suds ever since.

But how often has beer been a subject itself, rather than a tasty diversion from an epically failed midterm? Assuming the answer to be "never," I've sought out a seasoned expert and some enthusiastic amateurs who offer some clutch opportunities for six-packs to benefit your brain cells for once.

If you're willing to set aside $35 and a Sunday afternoon to learn why beer shouldn't taste like wet cardboard, consider BeerSmarts. Branchline's brewmaster Paul Ford serves as professor, teaching a series of eight classes based on his own studies for a Master Cicerone certification (the brewski equivalent to wine's sommelier system) that's open to novices and experts alike.

"I wanted to practice off-flavor identification," Ford told the San Antonio Current via email, "and started talking with people around town about getting a group together to buy and execute an off-flavor kit [a necessary step to identifying potential beer infection, oxidation or other corruptors]. I found that there were many people that had never practiced off-flavors in beer, and decided there was an opportunity there."

In addition to identifying what's gone wrong in their ale, attendees learn the national characteristics of Belgian, German and American beer traditions, as well as practical knowledge about the care and cleaning of draught systems. Classes employ direct lecture, reference notes from the Brewers' Association and substantial class discussion about the impressions they draw from the 2-ounce samples that serve as their case studies.

If BeerSmarts represents the academic side of beer education in SA, She's Crafty reps for the longneck-chuggin' autodidactics. The podcast chronicles "beer lovers, not beer snobs" Catherine Contreras and Brandi Donavan's quest to learn the backstory to the IBUs.

"We want to uncover those stories," Conteras told the Current. "[To] bring more appreciation to the beer than just how hoppy it is, what notes it hits or whatever some dude with a beard and a unicycle told us about it at Whole Foods."

They've done so with a charming blend of humility and hilarity and some excellent tutors. Ranger Creek's brewmasters sat in on their inaugural podcast and Freetail's Scott Metzger guested on their second episode, bringing a pretty special stash with him.

"Scott [brought] a keg of Freetail Komorebi," said Conteras. "An 11.2 percent Belgian-style triple referenced on pears, 1/3-aged in used Mezcal barrels, 2/3-aged in used wine barrels. What the hell does all that mean? We have no idea! Come figure it out with us!"

Who's in?

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