Words by: Ian Cameron
Jo Miller from south London Sambrook's Brewery has just become a member of a small group who can officially call themselves Beer Sommeliers, a distinction awarded by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. Sambrook's erstwhile head of sales and marketing is now putting her new-found qualification to good use in the brewery's own Boudicea members bar.
I worked in sales and marketing in financial services for a number of years, but that world was a bit dull. I thought the drinks industry would be more fun culturally and allow for some more interesting marketing ideas. I've always been interested in the different flavours you can get in beer. I don't know if it's a Northern thing, but I have really fond memories with being brought up in Leeds, going for long walks and looking forward to a pint of Black Sheep at the end of it.
I have mixed feelings about the idea of 'women in beer'. I've never been put off from perceptions of the industry as being inherently masculine. Apart from being a bit of an idealist and hoping that it's what you bring to the table, not what sex you are, but I'm not going to burn my bra about it. As a female beer sommelier, I do hope I can encourage a new generation of women to take a new look at beer.
The reality is that women and beer have had a very interesting history. One of the earliest examples is the Sumerian Goddess of Beer, Ninkasi, and in medieval times there were 'ale wives' before it became normal for men to be brewers. These things tend to be cyclical so hopefully it will change again.
I still there's a way to go with the way beer companies market to women and use women in their marketing. I hope I can play a part in combating irresponsible marketing. It's not just the old days - Boddington's used to adorn women with froth, or scantily clad Budweiser ladies - it's present in recent marketing too. It's patronising, for instance, to create a beer especially for women rather than educating them so they can find one they like.
I love the craftsmanship of beer, the liquid itself, and the palate of flavours is incredible. Beer is far more accessible than most other forms of alcohol - some of the most revered beers in the world can be bought for the equivalent price of an average price of bottle of wine. And you can normally find a beer for any occasion, a nice flavour at a low abv. When there is a choice I will almost always drink beer.
To become a beer sommelier, you have to drink a lot of beer. That's not all though haha. You have to provide a portfolio of evidence showing how you have helped arrange beer lists and pairings and that you can judge beer properly, be examined in style and in a whole load of off-flavours - and knowing where they originate.
It feels good to get some recognition for your obsession - up to now I've been renowned as the beer bore. It's already changed my job. We've put in plans this year to train certain bar operators, and are planning new events for our bar members - it's open for members the first Friday of every month - as well as ticketed beer events. I'd like to restart a beer blog that I never really did anything with.
My personal ambition is to champion British beer. Personally I love Belgian beers and American brews are obviously very in vogue, but there are some amazing things you can do with British hops where you are not trying to mimic other styles of beer. I wish every new brewer didn't feel the need to go down the route of big American hopped brews. I don't want to walk into a country pub and see loads of American beers. If you look at our own Wandle ale, every single ingredient is sourced in Britain from quite a small radius. In general British bars and pubs have got a way to go in helping drinkers appreciate British beer, but we are now on a massive groundswell of movement.