BierTalk English 6 – Talk with Mirella Amato, beer consultant, beer sommelier, and author based in Toronto, Canada

Mirella Amato started out with her Italian temperament as a furious opera singer, but then discovered the fascinating world of beer for herself. First she combined live music with beers, then followed beer events, beer education and beer judging with her own brand Beerology. In 2014, she published her first book, also under the name Beerology, which is also available in German. In 2021, she broke new ground with an online course on food pairing. In BierTalk, we talk about this fascinating development and learn about the innovative course concept…

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Markus Raupach: Hello, and welcome to our podcast BierTalk. Today we have another episode of our English-speaking BierTalk, and we are going to a very interesting country and a very interesting lady, indeed. We are going to Canada and meet Mirella Amato. So Mirella please introduce yourself a bit to our listeners and let us know.

Mirella Amato: Well, hello Markus. It’s a pleasure to be chatting again. It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other and yeah, my name is Mirella Amato. I am based in Canada. I’ve been working in the beer industry for about 15 years now and I’m a craft beer and sensory specialist. So I work more similarly to you on the education and beer sommelier side. I do have my Doemen’s beer sommelier as well as my master Cicerone certification. I’ve also written an award winning book on beer that is available in German.

Markus Raupach: I got it and it’s a fantastic book. So we’ll put the link also in the show notes of the podcast so that you, dear listeners, can also get the book and I really can recommend it. It’s wonderful and it’s very also much describing the German beer scene. So it’s a great thing. Maybe first question, it’s on your website that you are trilingual. So of course, English, maybe French, what is your third language?

Mirella Amato: My third language is Italian. Which you, some might have guessed from my name. Mirella Amato, and I speak also ein bisschen Deutsch.

Markus Raupach: Oh, so we could switch to German.

Mirella Amato: No, not unless I’m a few beers in. Give me a few beers and my German comes back. But unfortunately, I haven’t had a lot of time to practice. So my vocabulary is not where it should be.

Markus Raupach: But I remember sitting in a Bamberg brewery and then we spoke a little German, so it works. So maybe first we will start with, you are 15 years now in the beer scene in Canada. So how did you yourself personally come to beer? Was it as a young girl or later? Or when did you have your first beer?

Mirella Amato: Well, I’m in Canada, so we have drinking laws. Is there a minimum drinking age in Germany?

Markus Raupach: Yes, about 16. But as we are in Bavaria, it’s about. So you see always some also sometimes younger.

Mirella Amato: Yes. Yes, and I certainly my father is from Italy. So I do have a bit of that European looseness around alcohol and children, which I think is healthy. I think, you know, depriving and making it this, you know, an illegal untouchable thing actually leads to more problems. But that’s a side story. How did I come to beer? I came to beer fairly early on, and specifically to craft beer, which, again, I think is maybe a bit more of a North American phenomenon in that, you know, we didn’t really have a beer tradition here. So when our beer tradition, sadly, is basically, you know, large companies making a lot, and a lot of golden lagers. So, my experience early on, it just so happened that when I started drinking and when I started going to pubs, my friend of mine was English. So very interested in English style ales and so I discovered craft beer right away. So whereas most people my age in Canada would have been drinking pitchers of mass market lagers, I just had this very good fortune of discovering craft beer right away. These more flavourful beers. At the time, definitely more English than Belgian or German, but flavourful, nonetheless.

It was very interesting because the scene has changed a lot now. Now, if you go anywhere in Canada or the US, you will come into a bar or there will be one or two, you know, you’ll definitely have some kind of stout on tap and some kind of IPA on tap, almost no matter where you are. Whereas back then, anywhere you went, it was just a bunch of lagers on tap, maybe Guinness, and if you wanted more flavourful beers, you had to go to these specialist bars that only beer geeks went to. So that’s where I would go drinking and you know from those early days, I always said, one day when I retire, I’m going to write a book about craft beer, because I want people to know about these delicious, flavourful beers. Because you know, most people didn’t even know that they existed.

Markus Raupach: You said when you retire. So what is your normal job?

Mirella Amato: So back then I was actually studying to be an opera singer, which I did do for a number of years. But then it came to a point where I realised I wanted to live in Toronto, I wanted to go back home and a career in opera usually means living abroad. There is not a lot of opera going on in Canada. We have I think we probably, there are some cities in Germany that have more opera houses than the entire country of Canada, I am quite sure. So just in terms of the numbers of opportunities, that means living abroad, and the timing was, it just ended up being really perfect, because I came back having decided I wasn’t doing opera anymore and I was trying to figure out what to do with my career. I actually was on a completely different career path and I, one night was having drinks with a colleague of mine who was trying to help me decide what I was going to do next. At one point, later in the evening, I remember, he just looked at me, and he said, “If you could do anything right now, what would you do?” I said, “Well, I would work in craft beer, for sure.” You know? Back then it just didn’t even seem like a job possibility. Because craft beer, like I said, was this very niche, obscure thing, you know, flavourful beers in general. So unless I wanted to, you know, work in advertising for a large company selling lagers, it just didn’t really feel like there was an opportunity there. But he just looked me in the eyes and said, “If that’s what you want to do, then do it.” I woke up the next day, and I started researching and I got to know local brewmasters and I put together my business and I’ve never looked back.

Markus Raupach: That’s a fantastic story. So, but when you were singing, were you alto or soprano or what was your voice?

Mirella Amato: I was a soprano and I was, for those who are in the know, I was a spinto. So not so much, you know, the young ingenue more, you know, the jilted lover, the you know, more of the passionate roles I did. My voice was particularly well-suited to Russian repertoire. So that’s the sort of of stuff I was singing and you know, I did love it very much. Are you a musician as well, Markus?

Markus Raupach: Yes, I was also singing a lot. I started to do a little bit solo things when I was younger. I started as a boy, also soprano, and then down to tenor and bass. From time to time, I’m still singing. I’m still a member of a choir. But since the Covid thing, I haven’t been there. So but maybe next year or something like that, I will go back again. But singing is great.

Mirella Amato: That’s wonderful. It is a, I mean, I don’t know if there’s a more amazing feeling than singing with a whole orchestra, you know, under you, supporting you. Or with a whole choir behind you singing. It’s a wonderful feeling and I do hope to get back to it on a, you know, just for fun at some point, but right now, I’m really focused on beer.

Markus Raupach: It’s a great thing to have that as part of your life. I was always a little bit in another life, in another world when I was singing so that’s obviously, it was good for me. So I’m also looking forward to have that back again. But maybe one question, did you ever pair singing and beer? So like, maybe serving a beer at a tasting and singing the correct song to it?

Mirella Amato: Yeah, I did, actually. Do you know the answer to that question already? Or were you just guessing?

Markus Raupach: No, no, totally not.

Mirella Amato: Wow. Yes. For four years, I ran an event called wait for it, Hopera, and what I did, this is after I was already done with my opera career, but I still had a lot of friends who were very good opera singers. So I hashed out this kooky idea, we sang only … it was only with a piano, but we sang in a bar and I brought out these opera singers. We had three or four opera singers singing a variety of excerpts. So some would sing arias, some would sing duets, there were some ensemble numbers, and then I would pair a local craft beer with each song based on mood, sometimes based a little bit on the lyrics, and it was a very popular event and you know, frankly a pretty cool event. Because it brought out, you know, people who were very much into beer but had never heard opera before. It brought out opera lovers who had never tried beer before and then it brought out people who love both beer and opera and thought this was a really nifty concept. I think you’ll appreciate this, Marcus.

Markus Raupach: Definitely, yes.

Mirella Amato: The very, very first night that we did it, so the way I would do it is, I had a musical director with me, we would get up, she would explain the excerpt that was coming up, especially, you know, sometimes they’re in a foreign language. So just explain like, this is the character, this is what’s happening, this is what the song is about. Then I would present the beer, and this is what the flavour, this is why it goes well, and the idea was that people would sip the beer while they’re listening to the music and that would be the pairing, right? Never in my life, have I had to remind people to drink. But that first person went up and sang and you know, even the people who had heard opera before, it’s not something you usually hear in a small space, right? So just the power of the voice and the way it vibrates in your chest when you hear it and everyone just like stopped moving for the whole song. They just had their beer in their hand, and they were completely agog. I actually had to get up and remind people to drink. Then once they got into it, it was fine. But it was, for me a very funny moment. You know, how often do you have to remind people?

Markus Raupach: It’s such a very special experience. So I really would love to take part in such a thing. We did with the Bamberg University, research on music and beer. But not with live music. We had, we were in a special cinema place where it was totally dark and we gave the people different beers and played different songs and they had to fill in papers about their feeling before and afterwards. Then they had the same beers without the music and we compared, and it’s quite interesting that it really changes the perception of bitterness and sweetness, if you hear the other music or the other one, that’s really interesting. But I think it’s still much more impressive if you have someone right before you singing. That’s great. Wow.

Mirella Amato: That’s a really cool experiment, I would love to see the results of that. You know, they have definitely shown that the environment around us can impact sensory evaluation. So that makes sense to me that there would be a difference there. Hey, if ever you want to mount a Hopera locally in Germany, I’m happy to talk you through, you know how it was done.

Markus Raupach: Yes, maybe sometime when you come back to Germany for a longer time, maybe we could think of making such an event. I really would love that.

Mirella Amato: Sure. Well, we can chat about it when I see you in August.

Markus Raupach: We will do. Perfect. So but back to beer, or only beer, and your company with a great name, Beerology, which I really think it’s fantastic. How did you come to this idea and how did it develop?

Mirella Amato: Well my company has evolved greatly over the years. I wanted a company name that was identifiable and recognisable and I actually, I’ve trademarked the word Beerology here in Canada. I don’t know how, I don’t remember how I came up with the name. But the company itself has … my goal with Beerology has always been to help drive the industry forward. I’d be very interested to hear from you sort of the arc that you have had because of course, in Germany, the beer scene is very different. You have a much stronger beer tradition, you have a much larger set of laws around beers and protective laws, and then, you know, you also now have a craft beer movement, but it was born a little later. From what I’ve seen, it has some interesting different dynamics. But for me, you know, really the goal with Beerology was to foster and to keep pushing the local craft beer industry forward. Because as I was telling you earlier, I really fell in love with craft beer. So in the early days with Beerology, the main thing I did was education and guided tastings and staff trainings, because the big issue the industry faced was that people had never tried these beers. They had never seen a beer that was red, or brown, or black in colour. You know, they had, they didn’t know what to expect in the flavour, you know, never mind a fruited beer. So I would do a lot of public tastings, staff trainings to help staff communicate the beers better to customers, that sort of thing and then as I continued to gain different accreditations, I started doing sensory training in off-flavours for breweries and homebrewers would also attend, and I did that for a number of years. Because it was something that was missing, and that I thought was important and you know, at this stage, I find that as I mentioned earlier, everyone knows now what craft beer is. There’s a good beer selection everywhere. There are a lot of resources for people who want to learn about craft beer and beer styles. Amongst them are my book, of course. So the next frontier for me, which I just launched last year, was my beer and food pairing course. Because my feeling is now that everyone has a good beer selection from small, more down to earth establishments right through to fine dining restaurants that are maybe now bringing in an interesting selection of beers, the next step is to really understand how to pair those beers with food and maximise the experience of the person who’s enjoying them.

Markus Raupach: It’s also interesting to have a professional approach on this idea. Because in former times, I think food pairing was more or less something which people did for 20 or 100 years and it was just normal knowledge, but not really with a scientific background. So we also started to do research on that and it’s interesting to find out why something matches or not. So we will talk about this course later, but maybe first, some few words about the idea behind Beerology. So I read on the website, it’s about knowledge, passion, and taste. So knowledge should just told us that there was not so much knowledge in the Canadian beer scene or beer world, but passion, was that a missing thing and did you achieve that to bring back passion in the beer world?

Mirella Amato: I think it was more about spreading the passion. The passion was there, but it was very, very few of us being passionate. But that piece for me is a broader piece and it has to do with my approach to beer education and to beer knowledge in general. As I’m sure you know, Markus, because you work in beer education as well, a lot of the beer courses and beer resources that we have and certainly in North America, the beer scene in general, can be traced back to homebrewing. You know? So a lot of the way that we communicate beer, a lot of the normal ways that beer is taught, a lot of the ways that beer is written about is highly, highly technical. Because originally, it was meant for people who wanted to brew beer. But now we have a lot of people who are very passionate about beer, who are very passionate about drinking beer and have no interest in brewing it. I think we need to reframe how we communicate a lot of these materials. You know, for example, why are IBUs so important? Is this a thing in Germany? For many years in North America, everyone just wanted to know the IBUs of everything.

Markus Raupach: No, not really. It’s not even written on most of the beers. It’s now coming, but most of the people just don’t know what it means. So and they don’t have a comparison. So if now today, in a tasting, I say this beer has made maybe 34 IBU they don’t know what to do with that information. Because they don’t know what is a helles or what is a weizen and where is this beer now?

Mirella Amato: Exactly, exactly. So this is very interesting to me to hear this from you, because it really highlights that this is a North American phenomenon. So in North America, in the early days, when I was just starting in craft beer and even earlier than me the people who were really championing flavourful beer and beer styles, were all homebrewers. So if you look at most of the literature from North America, most of the books, most of the courses there’s a lot of technical information out there in the courses that is required if you want to brew a beer, but not if you just want to enjoy it. So my approach is to always think about what’s in the glass, and you know what information is going to be useful to people in drinking their beer, and which information is just required if you need to brew a beer, and does not need to be in the material. So it’s really about … that passion piece is about just being passionate about beer and not necessarily needing to make it.

Markus Raupach: That’s really very, very much interesting. I never really thought about that. But it’s so obvious that there’s a big difference. Because in the North American beer scene, as you said, really evolved through the homebrewing movement. If I look to Germany, homebrewing was never a big thing, because there were so many breweries and always beer around so we didn’t really have a homebrewers scene. That grew now in maybe the last ten years, it started growing, and now it’s significant, but it’s not so big, not comparable with the American scene. But also, if you think about the information of beer, I think the only important information about a beer in Germany, maybe until 20 years from today, was the price. So people looked more or less for the cheapest beer, because, okay, they knew all the German beers have a very high quality, which is true, because of purity law and the high competition between all these breweries. But they never talked about their beers. They never told the stories about the breweries, about the beer styles, about the brewers, about the raw materials, about all the things you really can talk about if you want and you can make beer interesting, and you can differentiate beers. So and that all evolved due to this craft beer movement, which arrived in Germany, maybe 2000 and started also here and that’s the good thing. In Germany, we still have a market share craft beer, maybe half a per cent of the market. So it’s more or less nothing. But it changed the behaviour of the consumers. So they are now willing to pay more for a beer, they are buying not five crates of 20 bottles of half a litre lager, they now maybe buy a six-pack and even that is, they mix between different beers and breweries and so that’s a very huge change, which we have now here in terms of beer, which has both chances and trouble for the brewers. So but it’s interesting to hear that you had it vice versa somehow like that.

Mirella Amato: The thing is, you know, you always had some semblance of selection, which I think is the big difference. Here, our craft beer movement started in 82, and so before 1982, if you wanted a beer that wasn’t a golden lager, you might be able to find an import. Although imports really just started in the 70s. Otherwise, if you wanted a beer with you know, that wasn’t a golden lager, it had to be homebrew. So that’s why the homebrew movement, and even if you think of the Brewers Association in the US, which is the largest I think Brewers Association out there, in terms of craft brewers associations, they started as a homebrew association, right? It all started there.

Markus Raupach: Charlie was writing books about home brewing, so it’s all that. Maybe if we talk about the American market or the American development. Since you are in Canada, so is there a separate Canadian market or development? Is it a whole Canadian thing? Or is it also English-speaking and French-speaking parts? What about the age and the laws about drinking? So maybe a little insight in the Canadian market?

Mirella Amato: So at this stage, I would say that the Canadian beer scene in terms of the craft beer scene is very, very similar to the American scene in terms of the selection and the variety and the level, the general level of brewing. We started more or less around the same time, which is the late 70s, early 80s, in terms of our craft beer movement. But for some reason, the evolution here was, it was different and a piece of that I think has to do with our population. So we have a very strong English, very large, significant population of people who are of English extraction, either born in England or whose family was from England, as well as a very strong population of German extraction. So a lot of our early breweries were English or German in terms of their, our craft breweries, in terms of their inspiration. There were, you know, then on the West Coast, we had a lot of American influenced beers because, of course, the American craft beer movement was born on the … or certainly a lot of the hop-forward beers that we associate now with the American craft beer were born on the West Coast. It was like a stronger influence there. Then we had this interesting little pocket in Quebec of Belgian influence. So that’s the French-speaking region of … or the French-speaking province. I shouldn’t say the French-speaking region because I am French-speaking and I’m not in Quebec. So in the early days, certainly there was … and here in Ontario, we had and still to this day, have a very, very strong cask-conditioned ale presence, which is something unique to us. But no, at this stage, I would say it’s pretty even across the country in terms of the selection that you can find, and there’s, you know, some breweries who really focus on making German-style beers, some breweries are focused on English style, some breweries focus on Belgian style, some breweries are doing whatever they want. Some beer breweries are just doing, you know, some spontaneous work. So it’s a really, it’s a really lovely variety and we … the one, if I dare I say positive thing that has come out of Covid has been a loosening of … we had a lot of very, very strict distribution laws. As soon as Covid started, they just started taking all those laws away. So that’s been wonderful to see because it was quite restrictive before. It’s still restrictive, but not as bad.

Markus Raupach: So it was on importing and selling beer, or also on the drinking age?

Mirella Amato: The drinking age hasn’t changed and the drinking age, it depends where you are in Canada, is either 18 or 19. But the … no, so for example, in many provinces, if not all of them, so it’s important to know that in Canada, all of the alcohol laws are provincial. So each area has its own separate set of laws. So certainly here and in many other places, if you ordered food at a restaurant to take out, you could not order alcohol to take out with it. That was not allowed. There were also laws around, what time of day stores could sell alcohol, when they could start, by what time they had to stop, that kind of thing. So those are the laws that have been slowly but surely eliminated permanently. So that’s very exciting. Another, just a bunch of, you know, really restrictive legislations. We’re still not allowed to drink in public at all.

Markus Raupach: That’s really something which is very uncommon for European like me. When I remember inaudible.

Mirella Amato: It’s unthinkable really, right? You don’t even think about it. So in some provinces, in Quebec and in BC, they’re piloting with allowing some outdoor drinking in parks. But in Ontario, they have absolutely not. They talked about it and they said no, no, no, no, no. So we just need to be happy that now … or for example, if we this also, I’m sure is unthinkable in Germany, but if you know if we went to a restaurant and ordered a bottle of wine and you didn’t finish that bottle of wine, you couldn’t bring it with you. Or you know you couldn’t just grab another bottle of something and bring it home. That was against the law.

Markus Raupach: But also we had some vice versa development here during Covid. Here they started to restrict public drinking, because people were gathering as usual and then they said okay, if there are hundreds or thousands of people out on a bridge for example drinking, we have to stop that because of the virus. So some of these things were forbidden and now they are slowly taking away these restrictions. So we all hope that it will be done soon, but because that was really also strange to be not allowed to anymore to sit maybe in the sunset on a nice bridge and have a beer. But let’s see what the next time, the next months bring.

Mirella Amato: It’s been interesting to see that you know, the differences. I know that in the early lockdowns here, there were some provinces that talked about, because in the early lockdowns, it was only essential goods that you could sell. So only basically grocery stores and pharmacies, and at the beginning they were saying that alcohol was not considered an essential good and therefore, could not be sold. But they quickly changed that. I don’t know if you saw, but in South Africa, they completely banned alcohol.

Markus Raupach: We had a BierTalk, for example with the owner of a bigger German brewery which lives partly in South Africa, and when the first lockdown came, he occasionally was in South Africa. So he was trapped. We made the recording while he was at home in South Africa, and he told us that you were not allowed to buy alcohol, whatever. And that all the breweries really are struggling, and also the pubs and restaurants.

Mirella Amato: It’s just fascinating, you know, because there they decided to completely ban it and here, it was the opposite. We thought about maybe banning it and then we realised it was much safer for the public to make it available.

Markus Raupach: Somehow we all came across over the pandemic hopefully. Maybe one thing about Canada, if we talk and also in our education, about the American beer history, prohibition is always a big part of it, because it had so many effects that it was such a long time and it changed the beer scene in the United States quite hard. If you think of Canada, I think there was only one or two years prohibition. Am I right?

Mirella Amato: It’s a bit of a complicated answer because again, as I mentioned earlier, all of our alcohol laws are provincial. So in the US, prohibition was nationwide, right? I believe it was 1920 to 1933, roughly.

Markus Raupach: That was the end of a development and I think also some of the states got very much earlier into prohibition, even in the 19th century. So step by step.

Mirella Amato: But they did make it eventually it was nationwide. In Canada, there isn’t the ability to do that, because it’s by province. So for example, in Ontario, we had it here I believe, from 1916 to 1927. We had some provinces that had it from, you know, a much longer. One of our provinces was from 1900 to 1948. Then some provinces, for example, Quebec didn’t have prohibition at all. So they voted that prohibition would happen, if I’m not mistaken, until the end of the war, but they weren’t going to start the prohibition until the following year and then the war ended before the time came to enact prohibition. So they basically never had prohibition. So that’s probably why you don’t hear about prohibition in Canada so much, because it was so uneven and very similar to what you were seeing in the US with, you know, different neighbourhoods making decisions. We also had that. We had a neighbourhood in Toronto that was still dry ten years ago, and just recently, so and, you know, voted to allow bars in that area again. So it’s a very interesting history and, you know, I think the most interesting piece of prohibition, if you want to talk about Canada, is all of the rum running, right? Because we’re just across the water. So there were many, many years where we could still produce alcohol legally, and many, many years where maybe it was a bit of a grey zone. We were just, you know, shipping boatloads and boatloads of alcohol down to the US, bootlegging it. So there are a number of really fascinating books written about that and there are a number of companies in Canada that did very, very, very well during prohibition.

Markus Raupach: So when Canada saved the United States. Okay.

Mirella Amato: That’s right.

Markus Raupach: Okay, maybe that’s a good reason to come back to the 21st century and look at your third point, which is taste. I think that’s also, you already mentioned it that you are doing a lot with food pairing. So can you remember when you first did food pairing and how you developed your idea, your skills and what is behind your food pairing?

Mirella Amato: For sure. Food pairing was part of my work from the very beginning and as I’m sure you know, sometimes the best way to introduce someone to a new flavour of beer or to a flavour of beer that they are resistant to, you know, whether that’s the the dark roasty flavours of a stout or, you know, the sharp flavours in a sour Berliner Weisse or a Gose, or perhaps the fruitier flavours in a fruited beer, is to pair it with the right food. Because if you present that beer in context, then it makes sense and someone could easily say, “Oh, well, I don’t usually drink this beer. But I understand why with this food, I might want to have this beer. Because it works so much better than the beer that I pair, so much better than the beer that I normally drink.” So pairing beer with food was something that was always a part of my work and as I mentioned earlier, I’ve done a lot of training with my beer sommelier and my Cicerone certifications. So most of what I learned in the beginning about pairing beer with food was what I could find in books and books have lists of rules and they also have lists of pairings that work well together. A lot of them are traditional. I’m sure like in Germany, you have your Weisswurst and weisse beer as a classic or like a schnitzel and an amber lager is another classic. So learning about those pairings, tasting those pairings, and then looking at all of the different rules that I could find. But I would say right up until now, the pairing process really does, did rely mostly on instinct because there wasn’t really a resource out there explaining how to pair beer with food. It was just, you know, these are things that go well together, here are tons and tons of rules. Go. So, you know, a lot of what I developed was through experimenting with these rules, a lot and a lot of experience food pairing over the years putting together beer dinners and then over the past, I guess, five or six years, I’ve done contract work for a number of different breweries and organisations creating beer trainings for them and a piece of that has been beer and food pairing. So I’ve had a lot of time to think about how to communicate beer and food pairing and how to make it easier and more accessible. So the goal that I gave myself with this course was to create an actual how-to. So a course that people could take, and they could come out the other end, knowing okay, I have this beer, these are the steps I need to get to, to find the right food for this beer, or I have this food, here are the steps I need to go through to find the beer to go with that food. I wanted something that was a practical skill that people could learn, use, and apply. So that was the challenge that I gave myself with this course and I’m delighted now to have received feedback from people who have taken the course that I have managed to achieve that goal.

Markus Raupach: Perfect. That was my next question. So what was the feedback? What did the people say?

Mirella Amato: So far, I’ve had really, really great feedback. The course is new. I don’t how many people have completed the course, but I’ve had over 50 people going through it. So far, the feedback has been really great. If you go on the website, which is, there’s testimonials from people who have taken the course and the people range from really beginners through to a number of very advanced beer folk. I had chefs and sommeliers taking the course. So the only prerequisite to taking this course is that you do have to have some working knowledge of beer before you start. So the two things you really need to know before you start taking the course is your beer styles. So, you know, what is the difference between dunkel and a schwarzbier, for example. You also should be confident tasting and describing beer, because this is an online course I’m not there with you, right? So, if I say to you, okay, you have a beer in front of you. What is the dominant note in that beer? You need to confidently decide what that dominant note is because I can’t, you know, come and check.

Markus Raupach: That’s always a challenge with the online trainings and also, we developed the online trainings in I think, 2020. We started with the first lockdowns, but also it took some time until we did more about that. But was it also something which you learned via the pandemic times to get into the online education thing?

Mirella Amato: I’d actually been thinking about it for a while. I knew that I wanted to do this course online because I knew I wanted to reach as many people as possible, very similar to, you know, my book. This is a skill that I thought would be useful to a very large range of people. So the way I designed the course is universal. So anyone can take it any time and with any beer. So you work with the beers that you have at your disposal. At no time do I say, you know, you have to get a Weiss beer, or you have to get an IPA. So the design of the course is really to work with the beers in front of you and take you to pairings that work with the beers that you work with, right? If you’re someone who works with beer in a pub, or in a restaurant, then I want you to work with the beers that are in that pub or that restaurant so that you can get to useful pairings that makes sense to you. So knowing all this and knowing that I wanted that reach, the online was the approach that made sense to me and I have, again, just been very lucky through my work. I am a consultant, I have created trainings for a number of different breweries and organisations, and some of those have been online. So I already had a number of examples of how it can be done and different approaches. So I had a pretty good idea in my mind. I think the bigger challenge for me was really to take my process, my pairing process, which at this stage is very instinctive and unpacking it and figuring out but what is really, what are the steps that I’m going through in my brain when I’m doing this, and what are the different pieces and explaining that in a way that was easy to follow and easy to understand. That was the bigger challenge for me than the online piece, which I was, although I hadn’t done it before for myself, had worked with before and was quite comfortable with.

Markus Raupach: I’m really getting curious now. So and as I talked before, of course, we will also put that link into the show notes of the podcast so that the listeners can also look into the course and see if they want to take part. Maybe a question on that. Did you have a special surprise during making this course? Or so maybe a surprising pairing or a surprising thing what you found out while making it? Maybe a new taste or a very interesting pairing, which you never tried before or something like that?

Mirella Amato: There’s two pieces to my answer. The first one is, you know, in terms of surprises, I wouldn’t say so necessarily. Because, to be honest, I’ve been working on the content for this for almost ten years now. That I’ve known I wanted to do this course, I knew that there wasn’t really a beer and food pairing resource out there that was useful and practical. As I mentioned before, with Beerology, my goal is always to find something that’s missing and to try to drive the industry forward and figure out what’s next. So you know, knowing that now a bunch of establishments have craft beer, and the next step for sure, as far as I’m concerned, is learning to use that beer to its maximum potential. So the process really, for me, has been, you know, collecting and organising that information and collecting and organising that information. I did it so slowly and so deliberately, that there wasn’t really any room for surprises. The second piece, and it’s interesting to hear you say that is, again, I don’t at any stage in the course, present specific pairings or make you do specific pairings. Because I really wanted to create a course that was different. What I saw out there was, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of courses and resources that are really a list of things that go well together and if someone wants a list of things that go well together, they can find that. They can find that in various books, they can just find that on the internet, the Brewers Association published a one-pager that just gives you a quick snapshot of, oh, I have this beer, you can use it with that, even in my book. With every style, I name, you know, some foods that would work well with that beer style. So that information was already out there and wasn’t what I wanted to put in the course. I wanted this to really be … So why don’t I talk you through what’s in the course and then maybe that’ll help sort of clarify. Does that make sense?

Markus Raupach: Of course, I understand and I think it’s a really interesting approach because also, especially here in Germany, people always would expect that they get a list of beers and a list of food and they get lines which mark this to that and this to that. But of course that’s only partly does make sense. But when we are doing the food pairing education, we are talking about the taste, which means sweet, sour, bitter, umami and salty, and we try to say, “Okay, in this way, you should achieve something like harmony.” So if we have a quite bitter food or a quite bitter beer, it’s okay to find something also bitter with it. On the other hand, we talk about the aroma, and there we also have different categories like flowery or fruity or whatever. There we say, okay, here, you should look for something where you have different things which together with the food or with the beer, make a greater experience, so that you have in the palate, something harmonic, but in the whole aroma, you get an addition. I don’t know if it was understandable, but that’s the idea. We talk about that.

Mirella Amato: That’s crystal clear and that’s, you know, a pretty accepted piece of beer and food pairing. It’s certainly that’s also in my course. It’s one piece of what’s in there, and it’s useful both taste interactions, which is what you were describing with the basic tastes, and bridging flavours, which is what you were describing with the aromas are two very important pieces of pairing beer with food, absolutely. So those are, those are part of the second chapter in my course. My course is five chapters. So those are in the second, in the second part, and very, very important pieces of beer and food pairing for sure.

Markus Raupach: Okay, so I’m really curious now to take part in the course and to then come back to you and talk about it. So, give us a little overview about the course.

Mirella Amato: I thought it might be useful to just give a bit of an overview of what’s in the course. So the course can be completed online, as I mentioned earlier. It has five sections, and each section is about an hour for the actual, to complete the section and the section has little … it’s just little video lessons with quizzes afterwards, just to make sure that you’re following and then after that, there is quiz, the assignments, homework, and projects to complete. So I recommend doing one section a week, and then really taking the week to complete the homework and to apply the learnings and so on, because it’s quite dense. So the five sections the first one is beer and food traits. So that’s, you know, as I’m sure you know, Markus from your teaching in beer and food pairing, learning how to pair beer with food is about finding the traits in the food that work with the traits in the beer. So the first section is about, you know, what are those different traits that you need to look at and what are the different you know, for example, as you mentioned earlier, we talked about taste and we talked about flavour. What’s the difference between taste and flavour? It also touches on, you know, mouthfeel, which is another important piece of beer and food pairing. So that’s the first section. It’s pretty straightforward. For some people, it will be review. But it also helps to, you know, establish how I’m going to be talking about these terms throughout the course, so that we’re all on the same page.The section two is the pairing basics and that’s exactly what you were talking about earlier, the bridging flavours, taste interactions, potential pitfalls, you know, areas that can be problematic. Then part three is the actual how-to. So I talk about, okay, you have a beer, here are the different steps that will take you to the food that matches with it, then we do food first and every step that will then take you to the beer. There are two other sections of the course, which will be more useful for some people than for others. But based on my experience, I thought were really important to share. So the first one was, is planning a dinner. So of course, if you’re pairing one beer with one food, there are some considerations. But what if you have three courses in a row? You know, or what if you have a five-course dinner? What are the added considerations that you have to think about when you’re putting one course, you know, before or after another one and how do you do that? Then the last piece of that section is how to host a beer dinner because some of the people who are taking my course will be hosting beer dinners. You know, if they work at a brewery, at their breweries or at the restaurants or even at home, and just little tips and tricks like, you know, when do you pull the beers out of the fridge? How do you get a good flow going for the evening? So that’s section three. Section four is advanced techniques. So I do recommend people who are new to beer and food pairing that they do sections one, two, and three, and then they take a little bit of time to practice before they dive into section four, because section four is really like small techniques that you can use to fine-tune and improve your beer and food pairings. So they’re not only good, but also dynamic and interesting. Then section five is presentation. So all the little details that you need to make sure that your beer and food pairing are shown in their best possible light. So it’s a very comprehensive course, like I said, the only thing it doesn’t cover is, you know, what are beer styles and how to taste beer. Because a lot of the books and the courses I’ve seen on pairing beer with food are 90%, you know, here is beer, here are beer flavours, here are styles, and then there’s just a little piece on food pairing at the very end. So I wanted to take that little piece, and really focus on that and expand that and so that’s what’s in the course.

Markus Raupach: Wow, that really sounds great. So more and more looking forward and yeah, perfect. So I hope also the listeners will be now curious too and will come to pass the course. Maybe also come back to you and maybe get to know you when you are over here and when you are singing at the German brewery when we are drinking a beer and trying the music and give pairing which sounds nice, Hopera.

Mirella Amato: Maybe I can join your choir for a night. That would be fun.

Markus Raupach: Oh yes, that would be great, too. Perfect. So thanks a lot, thanks for the information, thanks for your time. I wish you all the best and I’m looking forward to see you here in Germany in a few months and hopefully then having a beer together or two or three maybe.

Mirella Amato: Thank you. It’s been particularly interesting hearing your perspective as an educator and just as, you know, a beer colleague in Europe where I think the general experience has been very different. So that’s been really fascinating to me. So thank you for bringing me on.

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