Last Monday night, I had the privilege of attending the Sydney launch of the Beer Academy in Australia.
Following a successful Brisbane launch earlier this year, the Beer Academy Australia is moving onto launches in Newcastle and Adelaide, with a focus on bringing beer education to the Australian masses. I, along with several other members of the beer media community settled into the Lord Nelson brasserie for a small introductory course to the Beer Academy’s philosophy and methods.
The Beer Academy was established in the UK in 2003 as a way of educating and training professionals in the world of brewing and beer. Run in the UK under the auspices of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, Australia is lucky enough to have been chosen to be the first overseas arm of the academy which attracts some of the most successful and knowledgeable beer minds to tutor and accredit people in the beer industry. Mike Spencer and Mel Miles of Brewtique, one of the Australian brewing industry’s leading consultancies, are the faces and experience leading the Academy’s drive into Oz.
The Academy runs a wide and varied set of beer courses. They range from beer introductions to people less familiar with the range and styles of beer, right up to the grand daddy of them all: the beer sommelier course, a prestigious and industry-recognised accreditation in the UK which – if required Down Under – will involve flying master brewers out to act as official examiners. Also in their portfolio is the ability to throw together bespoke beer-training courses as social functions and team-bonding exercises for corporate clients.
Sydney’s ambassador for the Beer Academy is veteran brewer Neal Cameron, originally hailing from the Mother Country and now heading up brewing operations at the Australian Brewery in Rouse Hill. Neal says that the Beer Academy is not about lecturing people in the world of beer, but about encouraging discussion.
“It’s not just about listening,” he says. “But talking as well, being able to converse about beer.”
The introductory tasting put on in conjunction with the Lord Nelson spoke volumes about the potential of beer education. While most of us at the table were familiar enough with the range of flavours and sensations produced by different beer styles, the tasting seemed to me a very apt overview of Australian craft beer.
The beers presented – including Bridge Road’s Chevalier Saison and Holgate’s Temptress Chocolate Porter – were not only wide-ranging in flavour but also highly accessible and boasting a fairly wide distribution around the country, meaning people will either have seen them around or will be able to get more if they want to. To people just wanting a short and sweet learning experience the selection would have provided an excellent preamble and a number of key talking points.
At the same time, the hurdle for the Beer Academy is the same hurdle facing the craft beer scene in general: how to combat beer’s brand image as a simple, throwback party beverage and open up minds to the possibility of beer exploration. The marketing needs to be simple, clever and transparent, as most people still see ‘tasting’ as the exclusive realm of pretentious beer or wine snobs. With that in mind, Beer Academy’s approach seems to be targeted correctly, with the focus on beer as a social beverage, and the education provided in small and simple doses rather than throwing people straight into the deep pool of double IPAs and imperial stouts.
The hardest task will most certainly be spreading the word initially. Once that’s been achieved, I remain confident the wonderful world of beer will be able to sell itself.