Aspen Times Weekly: The beauty & the beer
“Beer is the great equalizer,” declares Danielle Becker, manager of Nest at Viceroy Snowmass. “Not everyone enjoys wine or wants to drink spirits, but everyone will sit down and have a beer with you. It’s the ‘Cheers’ thing – beer is something pretty much everyone can go into a bar and enjoy.”
Yet, at the same time, beer can be just complex as wine or spirits. And this might be what Becker loves the most.
“Beer has been around for centuries, and it’s finally getting the respect it deserves,” says Becker, who hopes to attain her Master Cicerone designation this year (see “The Making of a Master,” this page.). “Those water-beers are no longer the standard; craft beers are raising the bar.”
At Nest — and breweries, taverns and even fine-dining restaurants across the country — raising the bar means bellying up to the bar for beer tastings and beer pairing dinners. In fact, a recent dinner at Nest featured a selection of Boulder Beers paired with the creative cuisine of Viceroy Snowmass chef Will Nolan.
And we’re not talking hot dogs and Budweisers here.
The five-course dinner included offerings such as an appetizer of Buffalo Gold and Hazed and Infused beer served with charbroiled oysters, cheese and pork belly coquette and smoked tomato relish, followed by a main dish featuring Mojo Risin’ double IPA alongside Char Siu pork with kimchee, fried avocado and yuzu vinaigrette.
“When you can hold in your hand a beer from an amazing Abbey and pair it with a fine dish, that’s just incredible. It proves it’s not just about the wine,” says Becker, whose long career in the food and beverage industry landed her in the Roaring Fork Valley some four years ago, where she’s now firmly established in her role as beer master at the Viceroy (while raising a 9-year-old and twins, aged 5).
In fact, Becker sees a world where beer — and those who are educated in how to brew, taste, serve and enjoy it — is as highly regarded as wine or spirits.
“The brewery movement is here; people are embracing it,” she says. “That’s the cool thing…beer can be really delicious — and diverse — and people are beginning to learn that.”
Take Nest’s recent Boulder Beer pairing dinner. In just a couple of hours, six styles of beer were served and sampled. They ranged from the well-known Buffalo Gold to the seasonal Never Summer Ale to the rich dessert beer Shake Chocolate Porter (see Gunner’s Libations, page 16). The evening also included an education in beer and beer making, with a variety of hops, barley and other essentials on the table for diners to investigate.
“We’ve definitely seen a change in the craft beer market,” Boulder Beers’ Laura McLane told the assembled guests. “What we have for you tonight is some traditional beers and a few new ones — all paired perfectly with chef Will’s dishes.”
Indeed it was like a winemaker’s dinner. But, like beer itself, a bit more casual. A bit more fun.
“Speaking personally, I love that my passion for beer can also be my career,” says Becker. “The beer crowd is a fun crowd, so how could I not love what I do?”
Moving forward, what Becker does — and what Viceroy Snowmass will do for beer lovers everywhere — will include a variety of beer-centric events, from pairing dinners to beer training courses to entire weekends dedicated to the suds.
“Viceroy has always had a great mixology program, but now whatever your angle, you can find it,” says Becker. “I’m just glad that my hobby is something worth sharing, something others want to enjoy with me.”
THE MAKING OF A MASTER
Everyone knows — and admires — the sommelier. That master of wine who knows exactly which wine to pour with each course; that person who knows just what you’re seeking when you say, “crisp” or “dry,” “fruity” or “earthy.”
But what about beer? Who knows which beer to pair with, say, confit of prime ribeye cap, lobster poutine and debris gravy? The Master Cicerone, that’s who. (And the answer, by the way, is Boulder Beer’s Never Summer winter ale.)
So what is a Master Cicerone?
According to the Craft Beer Institute, Cicerone is an English word referring to “one who conducts visitors and sightseers to museums and explains matters of archaeological, antiquarian, historic or artistic interest.” A Certified (one level below a Master) or Master Cicerone is a person who “possesses the knowledge and skills to guide those interested in beer culture, including its historic and artistic aspects. These titles now designate a person with demonstrated expertise in beer who can guide consumers to enjoyable and high-quality experiences with great beer.”
A Master Cicerone is, in a nutshell, what Danielle Becker sees herself as in just a few short months.
“I’ve been in the food and beverage business so long that I have thought about becoming a sommelier or going further with spirits,” says Becker, manager of Nest at Viceroy Snowmass, who has hopes of achieving her Master Cicerone designation by year’s end. “But once I found out about the Cicerone program, I knew that was for me; I love beer,” she says. “And it’s a challenge; there are more than 70 different styles of beer and you have to know everything about them all, do blind tastings and so forth. It’s not easy.”
Indeed. According to cicerone.org, there are currently only six Master Cicerones in the United States. Becker hopes to be lucky No. 7. “I am excited about the future,” she says.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.