The Educational Aspects of Alcohol

My interest in adult beverages goes back long before I was even legally able to drink alcohol. From collecting beer cans and beer signs in high school, to gaining exposure to great wines while working at the Los Angeles County Fair, to experimenting with various cocktails as a I got older, to now writing about beer, wine and spirits, it seems I’ve always had a passion for adult beverages. Moreover, I’ve always been fascinated – and curious.thumb_00409_s_15am63mzjj0409_1024

For example, my early beer tastings always included a wide variety of imported beers (and I added the bottles to my collection). And even though I hadn’t yet developed a taste for wine, I took a wine education course in college.

As I grew older and beer gave way to mixed drinks and my more advanced wine palate, I wanted to learn how to make a good cocktail. Unfortunately, the period during the 1980s into the 2000s was the “dark era” for quality mixed drinks. Pre-packaged mixers, sodas and canned juices were the norm, with little attention to quality fresh ingredients. As documented (sort of) in the 1988 movie “Cocktail,” there was more focus on flashy bartending skills than on superior drinks. The priority was on banging out as many drinks as quickly as possible.

thumb_00089_s_15am63mzjj0089_b_1024Because this is what I grew up with, the only exposure I had to complex cocktails was when I was too young to care. But over the past decade I remembered that early introduction that came from watching my dad wield creative concoctions at home, and I decided the time had come to learn how to make a good cocktail.

I subscribed to Imbibe magazine and found the BarSmarts online bartending program. Still, I’ve never worked behind a bar in my life (except with family and friends). That program opened my eyes to a wealth of valuable intelligence, beginning with the history of fermented liquor to advanced bartending practices. Fortunately, my discovery coincided with the somewhat recent resurgence of the craft cocktail. It expanded my taste for certain spirits and helped me to better understand, appreciate and mix a well-made cocktail. It’s the kind of education that shouldn’t be limited to bartenders.

My most recent bit of schooling takes me back to beer. Of course, beer today is a completely different product than it was 20, 15 and even 10 years ago. The world of craft beer grabbed me hard and has my attention. I’m not yet brewing, but I want to know how and perhaps try.

My latest plunge is an extended university course at Cal Poly Pomona that covered the inner workings of the craft brew world. The four-week “Culture of Micro-Brewery and Handcraft Beers” class explored the history of beer back some 7,000 years, to the European development of ales and lagers, to Prohibition in the United States to today’s craft beer explosion.thumb_IMG_3295_1024

Michael “Porter” Barichere, who admittedly is not a brewer but a major craft beer enthusiast, teaches the class. He also works at BevMo in Chino Hills and leads the Friday night in-store sampling sessions. Porter formed the Chino Valley Beer and Friends group to help publicize local beer-related events.

Located in a classroom adjacent to the university’s own craft brewery, Innovation Brew Works, the class is remarkably interesting; you won’t find students nodding off watching the clock waiting for the bell to ring. Almost everyone in the course I took already had a decent knowledge about craft beers, but that certainly wasn’t a prerequisite.

Talking and sampling great beer is not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. But perhaps the best aspect is the interaction between Barichere and the students, who all have the chance to talk about their favorite brews. I routinely left each class session with notes about beers I need to find and sample, and breweries I need to visit.

Another session featured a guest appearance by Koby Harris, the chief brewer at Innovation Brew Works, who shared several of the brewery’s beers and led a tour of the brewery. Nothing like watching the beer-making process in action.

Yet another session focused on the science of beer making, with a Cal Poly microbiology graduate student explaining the role that yeast plays in creating different beer styles. Different types of yeast yield different flavors and styles.

As he should, Barichere opened every class with a reminder about drinking responsibly, designating a driver and knowing the higher alcohol content that comes with craft beer. Our instructor gave rightful attention to the dangers that can come with alcohol consumption.

As far as I know, you can’t find this kind of education anywhere else locally. Check the Cal Poly Pomona Extended University website for future class offerings. Cheers.

Sid Robinson is managing partner of the strategic communications and public relations firm Robinson and Associates, LLC. (www.robinsonandassociates.us). His articles about craft beer, wine and spirits also appear in publications such as Foothills Reader and 909 Magazine.

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