The Knowledge: Is a little learning about beer a dangerous thing?

Did you know beer makes cows less farty? It’s true! Rod Jones of Meantime Brewing told me. OK, it’s nearly true. Actually, it’s feeding cattle on spent malt grains that reduces the cow’s methane emission by 40%. Helps make the world just that little bit less greenhouse-y.

Meantime Brewing The Knowledge beer appreciation courses

Part of The Knowledge Master Class course

I learned this amazing flatulence fact at the launch of Meantime Brewing’s new beer appreciation courses called The Knowledge. Rod Jones, Meantime’s beer taster supreme, is our host and is here to tell us all about The Knowledge.

Rod tells us these courses came about because, among other things, Meantime is fed up with the lack of beer knowledge in some of  their trade customers. Perhaps that’s taking it a bit far, but it must be A Good Thing for those who sell Meantime’s wares to have access to a bit of education so they are as informed about beer as they are for, say, wine.

Meantime’s The Knowledge is a range of courses, with different aims and different lengths, some open to the public, and some for people in the trade, including Meantime customers like Majestic Wine and Waitrose. I was very glad to hear there are (or will be) courses aimed at making bar staff more knowledgeable. Don’t you just hate it when, if you ask behind the bar for beer advice they can only say “Oh, I don’t drink beer!” and sound like they’re almost proud of it.

Meantime Knowledge med

Attentive pupils in front of an impressive bottle collection

Meantime Beer Masterclass

Rod, in his witty and engaging style, took us through a shortened version of the Beer Masterclass, which in the real world will be available as a one-day course or as a couple of shorter evening sessions. All the expected aspects of beer making are included as well as background on world beer styles and beer appreciation. You come away with a certificate too!

I’ve earmarked one of the four two-hour mini-courses as must-do: Beer and cheese matching. Ever since I read Garrett Oliver‘s demolition of the myth of the supposed brilliance of cheese-and wine pairing, I’ve been adding to my knowledge, cheese by cheese, beer by beer. A practical, condensed leg-up, though, sounds ideal.

You might fancy the other mini-courses: Beer Appreciation, How Beer is Made, or The History of Brewing in London. Other courses are at the ideas stage, including a two-day expert course and a beer sommelier course.

New kit at Meantime, Barrel-aged IPA bottles, and whisky barrels aging more beer

New kit at Meantime, Barrel-aged IPA bottles, and whisky barrels aging more beer

Meantime are not the only beer educators in town. The Beer Academy have long done a fantastic range of courses and events, and I’m pretty sure Rod Jones did their beer sommelier qualification. The Knowledge is a welcome addition, and it seems like a win-win-win for Meantime, the businesses they supply, and for the beer-drinking public.

Should beer remain unexamined?

But there are doubters. Henry Jeffreys, promoting his new book about “booze” in a Guardian article entitled: “How to get the Brits to drink more beer“, praises beer as “an uncomplicated pleasure” and worries that matching beer to food “can add a layer of pretension”. He wants to: “save beer by drinking four pints instead of two”.

Then there’s the ebook “The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer” by Max Bahnson and Alex McLeod, who opine: “That unadulterated pleasure devoid of the prevalent bollocks. That is what beer is truly about”. And proceed to go on about how it should be done. For another 148 pages.

The thing is, the British are drinking more beer, in a richer diversity. How are non-geeks supposed to know what’s going on? I agree partly with Jeffreys; one aspect of beer, is its beauty in simplicity. That beauty, though, doesn’t lie in macro brands. And if you want it to, and that’s the point, beer can be more complex. We don’t need to fetishise it, but if The Knowledge isn’t disseminated it will remain in the domain of the high priest. Like wine.

The future of Meantime and beer knowledge

I can’t finish a piece on Meantime without mentioning the recent acquisition of this pioneer of the London craft brewing scene by global brewing giants SABMiller. I am pleased to hear that SABMiller has promised to be hands-off on the beer front. As well as this, they are already making good on the promise of investment. Rod was keen to show off two shiny new fermentation vessels. Or they might be solid rocket fuel boosters. Look at the photo above, and get back to me.

There is something for most people in beer. From the Jeffreys, Bahnson and McLeod viewpoints to beer and philosophy essays: “The unexamined Beer isn’t worth drinking“. The Knowledge aims to make beer more accessible. You don’t have  to become a beer sommelier, but why wouldn’t you want to get the most out of your glass? A little learning about beer is surely not a dangerous thing.

Further your Knowledge

Find out about all the available courses at:
Read Pete Brown’s appraisal of why the SABMiller deal is a good thing

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