Before he went to work as a navigation officer on an American flag merchant ship, Don Lindsay was the brew guru at the Coral Gables Whole Foods Market, leading Beer Appreciation classes and craft beer demos, and beer columnist for edible South Florida. Now he has an impressive new title: Beer Sommelier Vizeweltmeister 2013, or runner-up to the world champion of sommeliers of beer in an international competition held in September in Germany. Here is his account of the event. Congratulations, Don, for doing us all proud! Update: Here is Don’s website.
The competition was arranged with approximately 30 competitors from the other countries and 30 competitors from Germany: one American representing the USA, one from Puerto Rico, several from Canada, 15 from Europe (outside Germany), including Czech Republic, Netherlands, Austria; five from Italy, and 10 from Brazil. The majority of the contestants were master brewers, sommelier course instructors, and beer brand representatives. There were also some employees from Weyerman Malt and Barth-Haas Group Hop Brokers.
There have been continuous courses in the past six months, with about 90 new beer sommeliers, mostly in Brazil. There are over 1,700 Doemen’s Academy-certified beer sommeliers worldwide.
For the competition, the top six contestants from five elimination exams advance to the finals. Each exam was limited to 45 minutes.
How it worked
The first exam was 10 beers, each spiked with a different aroma. There were 30 possible aromas to choose from.
The second exam was a German multiple choice exam with 50 multiple choice questions covering general beer knowledge: brewing process, fermentation, malting process, types of malt, malt characteristics, types of hops, hop characteristics, beer styles, historical evolution of specific beer styles, the lagering process, beer storage, beer dispense (draft), barrel aging, real ale or cask ale, beer storage, causes of off flavors, flavors in beer from aging, causes and descriptors of fermentation-driven flavors — lactic, brettanomyces, yeast type, fermentation temperatures; also, glassware, storage, proper serving of beer, etc.
The third exam was style identification. Contestants were required to correctly identify 10 unknown beers from a list of 30 specific beers, such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Augustiner Fest Beer.
The fourth exam was style identification of an unknown beer, sensory description of the beer, and food pairings suitable for that beer. It was a Belgian Triple. Only those who correctly identified the style were eligible to advance to the final. Both the World Champion, Oliver Wesseloh, master brewer from Kehweider Kreativbraueri, and I advanced from this round.
The fifth exam was a food item. The contestants had to write a descriptive recommendation of a pairing for a specific beer, and justification of that pairing.
Last round: Food pairing
The final round of the contest was a kick-off celebration for DrinkTec 2013, the world’s pre-eminent beverage and liquid food industry trade show. The contestants were sequestered in a soundproof room while the master of ceremonies, Dr. Michael Zepf, a master brewer who heads the beer sommelier program for Doemen’s Academy, explained important taste elements, style characteristics, distinguishing and remarkable features, and sensory description of three different beers. Each contestant had to come up to the stage in front of approximately 300 people, choose one beer, and begin a five- to 10-minute introduction of the beer; pour and serve each of six judges a sample of the beer in a wine-style stemmed beer tasting glass; and give a description of the beer, its flavor characteristics, remarkable or historic details of the style and the particular beer. A food pairing was also required. After each contestant finished, the master of ceremonies introduced a new beer.
The World Champion, an IPA lover, described Firestone Walker Double Jack to perfection and suggested a pairing of red curry. I gave an acceptable description of a West Flanders Red Ale, Duchesse de Bourgogne; an acceptable food pairing, and won the hearts and minds of the audience through the passion with which I shared my love for this beer, description of the creation of flavors from the barrel-aging process and love of the sensory impact of the beer. I challenged each person to rise above their preconceived ideas of what a beer tastes like and enjoy the concentration and depth of flavor that this style of beer has to offer.
I prepared for the competition by general review of subject matter related to ingredients, brewing process, beer styles, beer food pairing, storage, aging, dispense (draft systems), serving, glassware, the causes in off-flavors, characteristics of off-flavors, and so on.
Pairing: Lobster Roll
The single most helpful thing that helped me to prepare had nothing to do with studying. A close friend at work, Scott Keller is from Scarborough, Maine. We spent hours discussing the minute differences in preparation of lobster rolls to while away the time while our jobs took us away from the people and places we love. Scott is sort of the Zen master of lobster roll appreciation. As luck would have it, the beer in the fourth exam was a Belgian Triple that — among other things — would pair well with any really rich lobster dish. So I wrote that the beer went with milk fat + lobster. An elegant choice is Lobster Newburg. A casual choice would be lobster rolls, but not the ordinary ones made with mayonnaise. The lobster roll for this beer needs to be warmed and then thickly spread with soft butter so that the butter oozes into the roll, then piled high with chunks of Maine lobster tail mixed with claw meat, enjoyed while sipping this beer and looking out over the harbor at the sailboats, no matter whether it was in Camden, Maine, or Lubeck, Germany. Then, for an unconventional choice as a breakfast: Boil lobster shells, simmer with fresh sweet cream butter, cool and serve as a modern take on the traditional biscuits and gravy, or spread on a baguette served with fried eggs, or a fresh chèvre and chopped parsley omelette.They loved it and I advanced to the final round. I couldn’t have done it with out the camaraderie that comes from whiling away the hours at work, far from family and friends, talking about food, flavors and roadside lobster shacks.
As you can imagine, there were some egos present, some intimidation and some serious nerves. The beautiful thing about the event was that the people who didn’t make it to the finals were so supportive and congratulatory to each of the finalists. It seemed as if all Brazil were cheering me on and I got so many heartfelt hugs from the Brazilian delegation. I was swept away on a high. Brewmasters, hop brokers, malt company representatives, people working in Japan, Czech Republic, former world champions, sponsors and contestants all identified with my performance because we all shared one thing in common: the love of great beer and pairing that with great food. It was really cool to hear the names of the third through sixth place finishers announced knowing that I was certain to be number two, or — as the Germans say — Vice-World Champion for the Sommeliers of Beer.
Beer Sommelier Vizeweltmeister 2013