Tips from a beer sommelier

Back in the summer of 2002, I spent time with Filip Wretman, then the newly-appointed water sommelier at the Battery Park Ritz-Carlton hotel in lower Manhattan.

This was in the midst of America's embrace of imported waters, when everyone was trying to get in on the boom and well before the flavor-added, vitamin-added, everything-added waters hit the market.

Creating the position of water sommelier was a nice gimmick. In fact, the Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton later that same year created a hot chocolate sommelier for the holidays.

Most people know what a traditional wine sommelier does, selecting wines to pair with food, educating and guiding patrons who care for such service, and sometimes pushing certain wines with a higher profit margin.

The water and hot chocolate sommeliers, while not traditional by any means, thus had a model to follow. So, when it comes to an ancient beverage such as beer, there should have been beer sommeliers in large numbers long ago.

That situation may change if the idea of pairing alcoholic beverages with multi-course dinners, just as is done with wines, continues to grow. (Here's a look at a recent beer dinner I attended in San Antonio.)

Miller Brewing Co. is trying to get on the bandwagon, and its public relations people are pounding the drum for Ryan Johnson, whose job is to push this trend. Johnson, the U.S. trade brewer for Miller's International Brands Division guides people through beer dinners and tastings.

While much of Johnson's pitch is to plant the Miller brands, such as Pilsner Urquell, in consumers' minds, many of his suggestions and admonitions work with competitors' beers as well.

For example, Johnson says, "The insights I provide enable consumers to pair the original clear, golden beer with the ease and panache of a gourmet chef. Pilsner Urquell brings a pleasantly bittersweet flavor, delicate malt/hop balance, refreshing cascade of carbonation and crisp, rewarding finish to any dish. Consumers should follow these simple pairing guidelines when preparing an adventurous dinner at home or when dining out."

A few other points:

• Don't pair full-flavored beers with lightly flavored dishes. The nature of such beers cannot be balanced by anything less than a dish of equally complex flavor notes.

• Try regional food from beers' regions of origin. They have more of a natural affinity for each other and tend to bring out the best in both food and drink.

•  With different meats, try specific types of beers and ales. For example, roasted pork and zesty, spice-rubbed pork medallions bring an explosive flavor best paired with a well-balanced malt/hop pilsner. Marinate beef in a vinegar-based marinade or rubbed with spices, and served rare to medium to properly accentuate the delicacies of the beer and help ensure that the robust beef flavor does not overpower the palate.

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