Sunday, 4 September 2011

The man from ranti - BEER SOMMELIER?

Beer sommelier? BEER SOMMELIER?

Give me a break. Whilst all quarters of the beer community should be rightly proud of the progress that beer has made in recovering ground lost to wine in the last 30 or some years it's important not to forget the roots and potential of our national drink.

Yes - beer is by far and away in almost all cases the most appropriate beverage to enjoy with many foods but we must steel ourselves and refuse to indulge in pretentiousness.
With the proliferation of new, delicious and complex brews is coming new and more complex understandings of a humble drink. Don't get me wrong I love new interpretations of beer, drink them regularly and of course I spend much of my time indoctrinating new followers to the massive possibilities and exciting flavours that are available like never before in the UK. But as one majorly influential and highly respected purveyor of great beer noted to me recently; we must guard against the 'wineification' of beer.
It's a difficult task - the vocabulary of describing beer is derived directly from the techniques used by experts in analysing wine and thus it's hard not to sound preening when talking about 'nosing' a beer and discerning the metaphorical flavour associations of multi level flavours. We also need to redress the balance as regards food and 'go after' the wine drinkers for sure. But hoighty toi ghettoisation ain't the way. People need to be engaged and remember that in the UK we are lucky to have the perfect platform for furthering our cause - we still have (for now) tons of pubs.

As we slowly convince down at heel landlords about the benefits of great beer the customer will respond in demanding better drinks in the bars, 'gastropubs' and restaurants. Yes of course there's going to be some top down influence but on its own, top down will isolate the ordinary drinker and provide yet another platform for people to look down their noses from.

It will also lead us further down the path of singular venues with great beer selections that are poor in almost every other area. Bad staff, horrid decor, high prices.

High prices is the elephant in the room here of course as I often have to defend the prices I set, it's fair enough criticism, it is expensive to drink super serious beers in North but we always make sure there are some very competitive options as well. But remember tax on beer has increased 35% in two years, imported beers have had huge price increases due to the crazy fluctuations of the euro, dollar and pound and ingredients - especially barley malt - have also soared in price.

That's not to mention all the myriad costs of running a small independent bar in a city centre... But that's by the bye, you pays your money and takes your choice. Trust me when I say we're working really hard to try and get some great deals in the coming months and years. But still if you don't have a brilliant experience in North then you are likely dead (!) We compete through great service, brilliant booze (yes that does include the one of best selections of spirits in the land and yes wine and yes cocktails) the importance of music and atmosphere on an afternoon or night out. This is something that I have not yet found in venues purely focused on beer.

It's really hard not to appear snobby when you know a lot about something but everyone needs to at least try...


  1. Excellent article Matt as ever and good to see R.A.N.T.I back...
    Beer and wine can co-exist but 'sommelier' is definitely not a term to encourage in the beer arena. This guys already doing it:
    The rise of craft artisan beers does however require knowledgeable staff to flog it (and enjoy it more) thus the premise of 'experts in beer' is a good one, we just need a name for it. Something as good as the name for a mustard expert in Medieval Europe perhaps: 'Mustardarius'
    I hope people will continue to invest in training their staff about beer and not be scared off learning more by any pretentiousness which has leached out of the mouths of certain elements of the wine industry.
    Sean F

  2. Ah, I'm impressed by your quick pick up of my appropriation of RANTI mr F! You're completely correct of course... Now I'm sure there is a term for the singular beer expert - with any luck someone will pull it out of the bag in the next comment...

  3. Think the name you're looking for is 'Jim' HA!HA!HA!

    In all seriousness though you don't really need a word to describe someone who is knowledgeable about the product they're seeling. You don't call someone who works in a comic shop something special even though they know lots about comics! You wouldn't give a special name to someone who works at American Aparrel even though they know about the stock they have in, it's just a good business practice to have staff that know what they're talking about! The fact that someone feels the need to have a Beer Sommelier is ridiculous, they should train all of their staff to a level where they can give tasting notes and recomendations, it's just a good business practice!