I am a man with severely underdeveloped tastes. I grew up as a child during the fast food boom with a father who tolerated little spice or seasoning. During the week, I would enjoy a piece of unseasoned chicken warmed in a skillet, while dining exclusively at hot spots like Chili’s and Cracker Barrel on the weekend. While there are still a number of things I refuse to try and/or eat, I have developed into quite the culinary adventurer over the past few years. The thing I credit the most for that is my love for beer. Like my food beginnings, I was introduced to beer by flavorless guides like Keystone Light. Through curiosity and beer tours like those at Old Chicago and the Flying Saucer, I’ve reached a point where there is no beer I’m not willing to try. While it’s all well and good to be able to power through even the skankiest of beers, I wanted some way to learn more about what I was drinking and the flavors and characteristics that made me like a beer. Enter Beer Appreciation 101 at Boulevard Brewing.
I took Beer Appreciation back at the beginning of the year. There is a new session coming up starting August 18th. It is put on through UMKC’s Communiversity program and you can find the information in their summer catalog under food (#3302 A). The class is limited to 20 people and consists of two sessions.
Our class, as well as the upcoming one, was lead by Neil Witte, field quality manager for Boulevard. He was assisted by Elizabeth Belden who does in house quality assurance for the brewery. The first class started off with the standard Boulevard tour video, followed by a more in depth tour of the brewery than I had gotten my previous two times through. The hops room was like a small slice of heaven. We then returned back to the tasting room where we ran down the taste profiles of Boulevard’s four flagship brews before Elizabeth schooled us in the varieties of skunked Boulevard Wheat. Drinking skunky beer is almost a treat when you’re actually expecting it and trying to figure out the flavor of foulness. I’ll leave the three we tried under wraps (take the class) but they did describe one that tasted like baby vomit, which I’m glad we missed out on.
The second session was a lot more in depth in terms of learning about beer and the reason I highly recommend the class to anyone. The first half of the class was spent running down the various styles of beer and what differentiates each. The discussion was accompanied by small samples to help illustrate the points being discussed. The second half of class was spent on pairing food and beer together, which is something I really benefited from. I don’t drink beer while I eat because the flavor always seems off, and I am normally too busy shoveling to pick up my glass. I’ve always been more concerned with ordering a beer I want and the food I want rather than considering how each would compliment the other. They started off with two cheeses that I would never consider eating in my normal world. I tried the pairings though, and found one to be actually tolerable. The other cheese reminded me of eating Provel during my bachelor party and almost hurling, but it did have quite the interesting effect on the flavor notes of the beer. There was a meat/beer pairing in the middle before moving on to a couple of chocolates, which I never would have considered eating with beer. I was amazed at how the bitterness of a chocolate could make a Dry Stout nearly taste like water. This final hour of the class was worth the $29 tuition alone in my book.
If any of this sounds remotely interesting to you, I encourage you to sign up for the new session. I can’t do this material half the justice that Neil and Elizabeth presented it with. My class was filled with a range of people from seasoned beer drinkers to a girl who never really drank beer prior to the class. There is something that most anyone can take away.