I first met Ben at The Pig & Pallet Beer Versus Wine event that we attended before Christmas last year. The event was well attended, and it introduced me to the mind bending beer knowledge of Ben Richards; one of the few individuals who can call themselves an accredited Beer Sommelier.
Ben was kind enough to answer a 10 Questions for Eating Exeter on being a beer sommelier and a truly unique beer experience which Ben hosts.
- What would do you reckon are the important factors to matching beer and food?
Beer is a far more complex drink than many people think, and it offers quite a lot to consider when pairing with food but there are 2 basic factors I use when matching a beer to a dish. The first is to look at how light or heavy the dish is to see whether the beer needs to subtly complement the food or be strong and robust enough to stand up to big flavours. Then it’s a case of identifying the key elements in both the food and the beer, to work out which ones should complement and which should contrast. A good example would be fish and chips with a wheat beer, or a BBQ dish with porter. Both beers are well suited in type and strength of flavour for that dish, but swap them around and you’ll probably loose the light, refreshing elements of the wheat beer in a sea of charred meat, whilst the porter would dominate the fish with it’s roasted malt, chocolate or coffee flavours.
- How popular are the services of a beer sommelier, are you kept busy?
Yes – as drinkers become more interested in finding really good quality or adventurous, international beers I get such an array of requests and events now. Traditionally I find myself hosting corporate tastings, stag parties, sessions at beer festivals or food matching events such as Beer v Wine, but over the past year I’m had a lot more launch parties for breweries or bars as the industry grows.
- Why do you think Beer is so popular at the moment?
Drinkers are starting to expect the same level of variety and quality from beer as they have from their food for years, and there are now lots of breweries who are focused on making the very best beer they can, drawing their influences from styles and flavours all over the world. There are some amazing stories to tell because beer has always been such a major part of so many cultures, and this is really fuelling drinkers’ desires to explore and try new things.
- Do you reckon there is a particularly underrated type of beer that you would recommend to any budding beer nerds?
Rather than a style I’d recommend trying a new way of approaching beer. I’m a big fan of drink less but drink better, which means that I’m really open to trying beers that may cost a little more, or come in at a much higher abv but that offer a really interesting experience. A well made double IPA may cost £3-4 for 330ml, but at 7,8 or 9% it can offer offer a brilliantly balanced mix of intense, fruity hops and rich, sweet, malt flavours.
- Is there a particular person or group of people in the Beer World that you respect or hold to high esteem?
About 10 years ago the first beer writer that really captured my imagination was Pete Brown, who manages to combine beer, history, travel and entertainment really well. His early books helped me to realise that there is much, much more to beer than most people think, and was a big factor in my decision to really get into beer and brewing events.
- I’m not going to ask what your favourite beer is, but have you ever tasted one that you’ve taken a particular liking to?
I have got a handful of beers that are at the top of my list and it’s not very often that a new entry gets in. That said, I’m a huge fan of the dry, sour beers that belong to the lambic family of beers from Belgium. They’re not easy to find in Devon, but if you ever need a favour from me, asking with a bottle of elderflower Gueuze in your hand is a pretty good start.
- So, tell me a little about ‘Build-A-Beer’, it sounds like an amazing. What gave you the idea?
I’ve always loved learning about and brewing beer, and it came out of a desire to share that with groups of people. In short, we spend a long afternoon or evening tasting a really wide range of beers from all over the world, learning about flavours, ingredients, styles and the stories behind them. As we do this, we’re also creating a unique recipe and bottle design just for that group that is taken away afterwards and professionally brewed – everyone attending then gets a case of their beer, bottled and labelled.
It’s probably the event I enjoy hosting the most, as we get to be really adventurous with the tastings and regardless of whether it’s a personal or work group, everyone usually gets really excited about designing their own beer.
- Who brews the beer?
That’s my old friend I mentioned earlier, Toby from The Occasional Brewing Company. They specialise in smaller batches of unusual or adventurous beers and are always open to trying something new, so are an ideal partner for Build a Beer. He’s also quite a nice guy.
- Do you have any imminent plans for the future? Anything we should look out for?
There will be more Beer v Wine and festival or event talks in the coming months, but the dates aren’t quite finalised yet. As I’m increasingly doing private bookings I’m really looking forward to doing more of the Build a Beer days and I’ll be taking things a further afield from just Devon this year too. On the personal side, I’ve just got in some new brewing equipment so I’ll be tinkering and playing with that over the coming days and weeks as well!