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Want to learn more about beer? Better hops to it
Demystifying beer is a sip by sip process. BeerMatt image.
Craft beers and bars are booming. But for people who don't know their stout from their lager, or their pale ale from their pilsner, the brewery scene can be almost as bewildering and intimidating as the world of wine.
Enter Matt Kirkegaard, also known as Beer Matt, a freelance beer writer, educator and raconteur, who has made it his mission to demystify the new breed of beers, helping drinkers discover what they like and why. 'There's no way to say this without sounding smug, but I drink beer for a living,' he admits.
Matt concedes that educating people on the subtleties of well-crafted ale and lager can be an uphill battle in Queensland. That's because the Sunshine State is presided over by the winking visage of Mr Fourex, leering from the roof of the Milton brewery and from any number of city drinking holes. 'Trying to explain the difference to people who have only ever drunk XXXX is like trying to describe a rainbow to someone who's colour blind,' Kirkegaard says.
But Matt is converting people, one sip at a time. At one of his regular beer and food masterclasses at the atmospheric Alliance Hotel in Spring Hill, my partner and I sampled beers across ten different styles, all of which were new to us.
We sipped clean, crisp, refreshing lagers and fruity amber ales hinting of passionfruit, lantana and lychee. We sampled wheat beers reminiscent of lolly bananas and smoky bacon, German style hefeweizens which brought to mind cloves and Belgian styles such as the spicy Saisons. We even tried one, known to be fermented with wild yeast and aged in wooden barrels, which was bracing in its sourness (and is typically described by beer aficiandos as having aromas of horse blanket or wet dog).
Holding hops in the palm of your hand. BeerMatt image.
The beers were accompanied by generous platters of cheese and charcuterie along with Matt's beer and food matching principles which contained some surprising inspiration, such as 'stout and oysters is a classic match'. We crunched on different types of malted barley and rolled fresh hops between our hands. Accepting no sponsorship, Kirkegaard buys the beers he presents, which enables him to support only the ones he truly likes.
My personal favourite was the Holgate Brewhouse'sTemptress (chocolate porter) which describes itself as 'brewed with over 300 kg of malt and infused with a dash of rich Dutch cocoa and whole vanilla beans'. My memory of this one is somewhat hazy - well, it was the last of the ten beers we tried - but I do recall it was served with affogato. Participants then challenged their tastebuds by trying out different combinations of the Temptress, vanilla ice-cream and shots of coffee and frangelico - proving that the right beer really does go with everything.
Kirkegaard runs these two-hour Introduction to Beer Masterclasses about once a month. He also offers monthly 'Hump Day' beer tastings which pair four or five new craft beers with light nibbles and finger food. 'The best part is that if you don't want to play up on a school night, the tastings are usually over by 7.30pm,' he says.
Kirkegaard's encyclopaedic knowledge of beer combined with his frequent, funny turns of phrase - for example, Corona is described as 'the cheese singles of the beer world' - make this an entertaining experience as well as an educational one.