As craft beer continues to grow in the US, education about beer is becoming more and more of a necessity. Whether you are a craft beer connoisseur or you work in the industry, knowing as much as you can about this tremendous beverage is paramount. Marty Nachel is the founder of BeerExam.com, the author of “Beer for Dummies” and “Homebrewing for Dummies”, a professional beer judge (GABF, FoBAB, LongShot), and works on beer education in the Chicago area. He was kind enough to sit down and answer some questions for our blog. Check out the interview below and his website and see how his courses could help you learn more about beer! Prost!
How did you first come to have a passion for craft beer education?
When I first started writing about beer back in the late 1980’s, I realized that I was, in a sense, educating my readers. Presenting similar material in front of a live audience was just an extension of my writing…except that there was the intimacy and immediacy of being able to ask and answer questions.
Where did your personal beer education begin?
I grew up in a household where my Father and older brothers drank cheap beer (G. Heileman’s Old Style). In 1982 my wife and I took a weekend trip to Toronto and while there, we toured the Molson brewery. At the end of the tour we were treated to several samples of beer. Not only was the beer incredibly fresh, it’s the first time I had ever tasted a porter. Having experienced beer of that quality, I was determined to never drink swill again. Thereafter I began drinking a lot of imported beer and eventually I discovered American craft beer. The rest is history.
How long has your organization been around and how did it get its start?
I assumed Ale-Conner Beer Consulting as my business name back in the mid-1990’s, but I didn’t launch Ale-Conner Beer Certifications until 2011, when I partnered with an IT company to create BeerExam.com.
What is the biggest reason why we need beer education in the US now more than ever?
From the mid-1950’s on, the American beer landscape was littered with homogenous, bland product. By the time the craft brewing industry really started catching on, two or three entire generations of Americans had been raised on the pale, watery, gassy liquid that passed for beer. In order for people to fully understand and appreciate the wide variety of beer styles and flavors now available to them, some perfunctory knowledge of beer became essential.
Who is the target audience for your classes?
Anybody and everybody who loves quality beer and wants to learn more about it. My classes are designed to make beer drinkers better and smarter consumers.
Where would one take the classes that you offer?
All of my classes take place in the greater Chicago area, most of them at breweries or beer bars. They are not offered on a regularly scheduled basis. In order to know when and where they are due to take place, you’d have to follow me on Facebook.
The College of DuPage is currently developing a Craft Beer Certificate program and I am on the Board of Advisors. I’m hoping that I will also be invited to teach some of the program’s classes when it launches this Fall semester.
How would the average craft beer drinker benefit from learning about becoming a beer judge?
I think the most important thing that the average craft beer drinker would learn is to transition from being subjective in their tastes to being objective. Trained beer judges have to be objective in their evaluation of beer; this means setting aside personal opinions and prejudices. Trained beer judges also know how to differentiate between beer styles; which are appropriate aromas and flavors, and which are not. Spotting and identifying flaws in beer –such as skunkiness, for example—is part of being a good judge and a good consumer.
What would be an example of a great beer and food pairing that you might cover in your class?
Very few people ever think of pairing beer with desserts. The sweetness and richness of most desserts is difficult, but not impossible, to pair with beer. The key is knowing which beer styles offer the complementary flavors needed to make a good pairing. Framboise or Kriek with chocolate brownies is one such example.
As more beer styles become relevant to the casual beer drinker, do you see a higher demand or your classes focusing on style?
I sure hope so! I am already seeing an uptick in interest, but there’s still plenty of room for more.
Are there any new classes that you don’t currently teach that you would foresee offering based on new demand from customers?
I’m already developing classes that focus on barrel-aged beers as well as sour beers in anticipation of the demand for more information about these types of beers.
Anything else you would like our readers to know about you or your beer education program?
Just that many people who take my classes tell me afterwards that they learned a lot more than they thought they would. As I always tell them: “you don’t know what you don’t know.”