Mirella Amato is one of only seven Certified Master Cicerones (beer sommeliers) in the world. She has sat on juries for the Word Beer Cup, the Great American Beer Festival, the European Beer Star and the Canadian Brewing Awards. Mirella recently released her first book, Beerology, a guide to help beer enthusiasts understand and explore the world of beer easily. With summer patios and beer drinking in full swing, we spoke with the Toronto-based beer specialist to get her expert tips on beer glasses, food pairings and how to perfect your pour.
Q: How did you become a professional beer expert?
A: I’ve always been passionate about beer. In university, it always bothered me that people just picked one beer and stuck to it all night when there were so many flavours to explore. Then several years ago when I was contemplating a career switch, I thought since I’m starting from scratch anyway, why not follow my passion and see where it leads me. The timing was perfect; it coincided with the time when craft beer was on the rise and more people were looking for information on how to navigate through all the beer selection. And that’s what my company Beerology and the book is all about.
Q: Why is it important to pour your beer out?
A: This is my current, number one crusade. I really try to encourage people to use a glass when drinking beer. For one reason, you can’t appreciate the full flavour of a beer if you can’t smell it. Our sense of taste is very much informed by our sense of smell. If you’re drinking straight from the bottle or can, your nose has no access to the aromas. Also, brewers are expecting you to pour beer into a glass. So they’ve over-carbonated the beer in such a way that when you pour it out the gases will release to form that lovely head of foam. If you’re drinking straight from the can, the extra carbonation hasn’t been released. That’s why some people complain about feeling bloated when drinking beer — they’re ingesting the extra carbonation.
Q: How does glassware affect the taste of beer?
A: The shape of the glass is definitely going to affect how you perceive the aromas and flavours of beer. For example, a glass with a narrow opening would work well with a beer with delicate aromas to help concentrate it. Something that is very fragrant, however, a wider glass should be used. And taller, narrow glasses help to preserve carbonation.
Q: Do you have any tips for pairing beer with food?
A: I have a little technique to cheat a pairing and it almost invariably works very well. You want to match the intensity of your food with the intensity of your beer. It’s pretty straightforward if you think about it; if you pair a roasty, alcohol-heavy imperial stout with a salad, you’re not going to taste your salad. On the flipside, if you’re going to pair a really spicy stew with a light lager, you might as well be drinking water.
Beyond that, I have a rule that I call ‘Mirella’s Rule of Thumb’. What you do is line up the colour of the main ingredient in your dish with the colour intensity of the beer. So if you’re serving a chicken, you’re going to want to go with a golden beer. But if you’re having beef, you’re going to want to go with a brown beer. Just remember to keep in mind the intensity though. So steamed chicken should be paired with a really light flavoured beer, while a chicken in a rich spicy curry should be paired with a pale ale, which is the same colour but has a more intense flavour.
Q: What’s your favourite beer right now?
A: These days I’m obsessed with all the different hop varieties that are coming out. Hops, like grapes, come in many different varieties that grow well in different areas, and they’re able to reflect terroir in a way that other ingredients don’t necessarily do. So right now I’m going through a phase where I’m trying a whole bunch of hoppy beers and wrapping my brain around the different kinds of flavours and nuances — it’s pretty exciting.
Q: What are your best tips on doing a proper pour?
A: First, I always recommend giving your glass a little rinse with cold water. Beer is a lot more finicky than a lot of other beverages and it helps to get rid of any dust or residue that might have accumulated on the glass. We’ve all had it happen when we get a beer at a bar and the side of the glass is covered in tiny little bubbles — that’s from residue. Those little bubbles on the side of the glass encourage carbonation to break out of solution and the beer is going to go flat. So give it a quick rinse. A cold rinse will also lower the temperature of the glass and will help with a smooth pour.
When pouring beer, hold your glass on a 45-degree angle and pour slowly on the inside wall of the glass with the lip of the bottle about an inch from the rim. Half way through straighten the glass and pour directly in the centre. That helps to agitate the beer and get the lovely head of foam to form.
Inside scoop: Before Mirella became a beer expert, she was an opera singer! Check out this video where she compares the commonalities between beer and opera.
This interview has been edited and condensed.