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Katie Wiles

How chocolate boosts beer knowledge: a tasting with guru Christine Cryne

Added: Friday, December 8th 2017

Christine

By Katie Wiles, www.wilesaboutbeer.com

Christine Cryne is an iconic name in beer circles as a former member of CAMRA's ruling nationhal executive and a pioneer of the campaign's beer tasting programme. She was the first woman to run the Great British Beer Festivaland shows no signs of slowing down. She has launched her own beer training courses that range from the  beer drinker to brewing and pub staff.

I arranged to meet Christine at one of her recommended locals, the Wenlock Arms in North London. A traditional 19th century alehouse with a huge range of well-kept cask ale and incredibly welcoming bar staff, it was obvious from the moment I walked through the door why Christine chose this pub for our meeting.

I found Christine at the bar, furiously scribbling down the names of each of the beers on draught while balancing several bags of chocolate on her notepad. “I’ve come prepared,” she tells me, with a wide grin on her face. “It’s not every day that I get to have a lunch of chocolate and beer!”

I’m almost surprised by this statement, given Christine’s incredibly impressive “Beer CV”. I use quotation marks here because Christine has mastered what few of us beer nerds have – which is having a career and hobbies outside of the beer world. From working on a sensory tasting panel at Unilever to her current chairmanship of Care Dimensions, Christine tells me she’s always felt it is important to “have a life outside of beer.”

I’m still scratching my head at how Christine has managed this while working her way up the ranks of CAMRA and becoming a Beer Tutor and Master Trainer. When I ask how it all began, she tells me that like many of us she fell in love with beer at university. “It was my first sips of Brakspear Bitter and Boddingtons Bitter that started it all” she says. But then again, perhaps it runs in her blood – she tells me her father was a home brewer and her grandmother an avid beer drinker as well.

Bar

Since those first few sips, Christine became involved in CAMRA and started utilising her experience from the food industry to take on the world of beer tastings and pairings. She became a Master Trainer and an accredited European Beer Consumer Union beer judge and now regularly judges at competitions for Wetherspoons, SIBA and CAMRA. Christine tells me that above all she loves the thrill of “seeing the penny drop” when people start to appreciate the beer they are drinking.

When I ask her what it has been like to be a pioneer woman in a male-dominated industry she says that it’s better than before. “I still find that if I sign off an e-mail as ‘Chris’, nine times out of 10 the recipient will assume that I’m a man”, she tells me. “But things are definitely improving. There are certainly more women attending beer festivals and drinking beer.

"I think we have to be careful about how craft beer is perceived by women. At the moment, ‘good beer’ is considered to be quite geeky and niche, which actually puts up a lot of barriers to women who may be worried about making a fool of themselves when ordering a drink. We have to ensure that women feel empowered to order a good beer at the bar with confidence.”

tasting

I’m eager to see what it’s like to drink beer with a Master Beer Trainer, so we decide to break open the Oddfellow’s Chocolate, a favourite for Christine’s pairings. “It’s best to pair chocolate with a beer that is over 4% ABV,” Christine explains. “You want to make sure that the chocolate either amplifies the flavours or tones them down -- you can try the same type of beer with two different chocolates and bring out completely different tastes.”

We start with Dark Star’s Revelation, a big, hoppy 5.7% ABV beer that boasts both spicy and citrus flavours. First we paired it with some of Oddfellow’s Lemongrass White Chocolate, which helped to amplify the citrus flavours and lemongrass aftertaste.

We tried the same white chocolate with another Dark Star beer, this time a 4.7% ABV American Pale Ale which had a completely different effect – rather than strong citrus flavour the chocolate actually toned down the hops, turning it into something much sweeter and smoother than before. I was pretty amazed to get such different tastes from each beer from the same type of chocolate.

Next we moved on to the darker beers, the more traditional choice when it comes to beer and chocolate pairings. First we sampled Mighty Oak’s Oscar Wild – a 3.7% ABV which won the Champion Beer of Britain award in 2011. While slightly under Christine’s 4% ABV threshold, the mild worked well because it was quite dark and thin, with a smoky and fruity taste. We tried it with Oddfellow’s Morrello Cherry Dark Chocolate which brought out some lovely depth to the beer, nicely amplifying the fruity notes.

Finally we tried Five Point’s Railway Porter, a classic London porter with chocolate and coffee aromas and hints of caramels. Paired with Oddfellow’s Americano chocolate it tasted like the best cup of coffee I’ve had in a long time.

While I’ve always been a big fan of dark beers with chocolate it was fantastic to be guided through some untraditional pairings by a beer expert. Christine leaves me with some great parting advice. “Try lots of beer -- make sure to think about what you’re drinking as you sip. Listen to others, so that your ideas don’t get isolated and think outside of the box! Beer is an incredibly complex drink and there are no set ‘rules’ for pairings – don’t be afraid to make a mistake.”

Me and Christine

You don’t need to tell me twice. If you’re interested in hearing from the Master Trainer herself, Christine runs several workshops for the trade and for the public and you can sign up for courses at: http://cryneinyourbeer.sitelio.me/

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