I've been keeping an eye on what the Beer Academy have been up to since I heard about their initiative (to raise beer's image and profile through education and information) a year ago. So when the trade newspaper Off Licence News offered the day-long course for a knock-down £10 (as opposed to £95), being held at Harvey's brewery in East Sussex, I booked my train ticket before you could say "five hour journey".
Held at the fabulous John Harvey Tavern, and hosted by the engaging brewer and beer writer Tim O'Rourke, the day covered all aspects of beer culture, from field to glass, in an accessible manner. And if some of us found the technicalities of brewing a little complex, well, that's because they are, and you need to know this stuff if you want to understand our proudest national export.
To cut a long story short, the day was excellent, although with a few caveats thrown in.
The good things first. The presentation was excellent - I hope that all the presenters of the course will be as informed, enthusiastic and engaging as Mr. O'Rourke. The technical bit was interesting and laid the groundwork for some of the issues that arose during the tasting. The tastings were fun and the food pairing was well thought out, although if some of it seemed a little uninspired (Budweiser and tortilla chips, anyone?), the Liefmans Kriek and dark chocolate was worth the wait.
The downside? Well, my main beef is that the day comes on a little too strong with the propaganda; it's a shame that it has to be done in an exclusive way - wine bad, beer good. Explaining why Carling tastes as it does is interesting technically, but I'm fairly sure that people who drink Carling don't do so for the taste, they do it because they don't know better. Yes, this is judgemental, but part of working in the trade, and of taking this course, is to exercise judgement.
Admittedly, this course is really aimed at the on-trade (pubs & bars) as opposed to the off-trade (shops), so the emphasis is on trying to create a better image around beer generally. Trying to get people to adopt a more continental approach to drinking (drinking better quality, presented nicely, with a morsel of food) has to be applauded.
Overall, I have to applaud the Beer Academy for what they are trying to do, but I do hope that they will focus on the premium end of the marketplace. After all, getting people to trade up in an educated manner is the objective of everyone working in the drinks trade. Isn't it?