“In Alberta, there are probably more styles of beer available. It’s because if you want to bring something into Alberta, you can. There really isn’t anyone putting up a big stop sign that says ‘you can’t bring that in’ whereas, in many of the other provinces or jurisdictions, you have to apply to get space. Those applications can take time, whereas in Alberta it’s very quick.”
And, because Albertans can enjoy new out-of-province microbrews before they get to other Canadian markets, there’s more reasons for our fans of suds to be more adventurous. And that’s where Mittag comes in. He makes regular stops across the country consulting liquor stores, bars and restaurants about beer and beer pairings. But he also gives a Prud’Homme beer certification course. Think of it as the equivalent to becoming a sommelier. And Mittag will be offering the Level 1 Prud’Homme course at the Host Edmonton Conference, which runs at the Shaw Conference Centre from May 22 to 24.
There’s a kicker. Mittag usually offers the Level 1 course over four weeks, not hours. But he’s cramming the material into two days. That means the students will sample eight beers on day one, then eight more on day two and then write an extensive exam. Afterwards, they’ll then have the chance to sample six more beers and discuss food and beer pairings, which Mittag believes is a lot of fun. For example, Mittag says you can pair beer with fruit and chocolate, and recreate the flavours of a Black Forest cake.
But, just because Mittag is a beer aficionado, doesn’t mean he is a beer snob. He doesn’t put down people who like their cases of big-brewery beer. He wants his work to be inclusive, to not make his students feel like they have to be in some kind of Belgian-trappist-beer cabal in order to gain entry into the Prud’Homme course.
“People get fascinated with microbreweries, and then they get negative impressions of big breweries and how they go about their business. My purpose is to bridge that gap and not talk about separation within the industry but how we can work together. There’s a place for every one of those beers.
“They serve a purpose, they’re not necessarily for everybody but, for me, I never ever think what you drink is wrong.”
There are more than 80 styles of beer, but Mittag believes it is a mistake to get hung up on them. Brewers have more freedom to play with recipes than winemakers do. For example, if you order a cabernet sauvignon, you know roughly the flavour profile you get. But, because brewers can make great variations on their ales, lagers and stouts, and even combine brewing techniques, you’ll get unexpected fruit beers or black lagers. So, Mittag believes beer experts should be talking more about flavour profiles rather than styles.