Education: Certified Cicerone [U.S. certification]; Prud’homme Beer Sommelier [Canadian certification].
What do you do? I run my own company called Experience Beer, where I write about beer, facilitate tastings for private parties and corporate events and teach people how to do beer better in their lives.
Length of time at current gig: Four years
Typical hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. One or two evenings a week, I’m either out at a beer event or leading a tasting.
What do you do in the morning to make sure you’re read for work? I wake up at 6 a.m. because I have two babies. I have cereal with my 2.5-year-old daughter at her tiny little table and make sure her bag is packed for daycare. I always walk her there in the morning. I cherish that time with her before I start my day.
What do you usually wear to work? I work from home, so I just wear leggings and a long tunic with a blazer or a cardigan over top. I find that people who work at breweries like to wear plaid. I do too, but I try to dress up when I do a tasting. I’ll often wear a dress or a skirt or a really nice pair of fitted jeans with a chunky belt and a blouse.
When people think about drinking beer for a living, they might think it’s a constant party. What’s it really like? I taste beer [usually in small 3-ounce pours] with my laptop and a huge Excel spreadsheet by myself at the kitchen table at 10:30 a.m. because that’s when your palate is at its best and not spoiled by food. Then I will dump all five or six beers down the drain. So it’s not like I go out to the pub and have a ton of drinks. It’s pretty rigorous and intensive. I take my beer seriously.
What do you love about the job? I love the variety. I spent a lot of my time drinking the same style of beer in university, like pilsners or blond ales, because that’s almost all that was on offer. When I became a sommelier, it was partly because we have so much choice now in North America—there’s so much experimentation happening with all of these smaller breweries popping up, and I just love that. I also love how well it goes with food. I used to just consume beer by the six-pack. I never thought about having it with anything except for pizza. Now that I’m a Cicerone, it makes me sick to think I ever did that because beer is so fantastic with so many different types of food from Caesar salad to fresh oysters.
What is the vibe like at beer tastings and events? It’s very fast-paced and social. Once the event is in full swing, I’m on and interacting with a group of people—anywhere from five people for an at-home tasting to 100 people at a corporate tasting. I like to use beer as a way to bring people together and break down walls. Whether it’s at a team-building event or a bachelorette party, I really try and make it fun and loose and get them laughing while I’m getting the education in. After everyone’s had a couple of beers, that usually just happens.
What are the biggest things you want people to know about beer? You should always pour your beer into a glass and you should always smell it before you drink it. Your nose picks up around 10,000 aromas but your tongue, as far as we know, only can pick out six different flavours. So if you’re not smelling your beer, you’re not tasting it. A lot of people also complain that beer makes them feel bloated, but it’s actually over-carbonated in the bottle or can and the brewer intends for you to pour it out. That releases a ton of those bubbles so you can drink it without feeling extra full. Those are my two top tips for increasing the enjoyment of beer in your life.
What’s the best part of your day? I just hired my sister [who was recently certified as Prud’homme beer sommelier] to work with me. After building up my company for so many years, I like growing the business together. My meetings with her are probably the most exciting part of my workday.
What’s the worst part of your day? Accounting. I hate it, so I avoid it. We’re going to hire an accountant this year. That’s my new year’s business resolution.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? When I was working as a journalist, there was a new newspaper launching in Toronto, and an editor there asked me to write about real estate. I really wanted a column, but I didn’t want to write about that subject. My husband asked me, “If you could write about anything what would it be?” and I said, “Beer.” He said, “You can do it, just ask.” I think it’s a big thing to just ask for what you want without being afraid, even if it seems insane. That column is how I started my career.
Who do you admire most in your profession and why? Stephen Beaumont. Like him, I started off writing about beer as a journalist, but he’s worked his way up to the point where he wrote The World Atlas of Beer, this hardcover glossy book where he travelled to breweries all over the world. It’s kind of my dream job to be able to travel everywhere from Chile to China to Italy and just taste all of the new stuff that’s coming out, visit all of the new breweries and figure out what’s the best.
When drinking beer is your job, does it make it hard to kick back with a cold one? When I just want to have a beer with dinner and not think about it, there’s nothing in my house that I can do that with. I just have a glass of water or open a bottle of wine because otherwise I have to sit down and write a tasting note #beerwriterproblems.
After a long day of sampling brews, how do you unwind? I love beer and cheese. Lately, I’m loving stouts with blue cheese. The combination brings me a deep sense of relaxation and pleasure. I’d rather have that than chocolate any day.
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