The life of a Beer Czar: A Q&A with Jennifer Tamse
Jennifer Tamse, Beer Czar, began her beer career here in London, Ontario just as the craft beer scene started to explode. Her passion and knowledge shaped London’s first gastropub - where the very first Forest City Beer Festival was held! We were ecstatic to sit down with Jen and discuss her philosophy on ‘blended bread smoothies’ and why now is a great time to get into the beer biz.
FCBF: So you may have to explain your beer-tastic career a bit to me - you oversee beers available at Charcoal Group bars/restaurants (like Beertown Public House.) In a nutshell, what does your job entail?
Jennifer Tamse: Beer-tastic, indeed! I was initially hired on for my expertise in all things beer, though I also oversee Beverage Development in its glorious entirety for Beertown Public House and Sociable Kitchen and Tavern. I curate our beer, cocktail and wine lists, negotiate supplier agreements, spearhead beer and beverage education initiatives, assist with inventory management, collaborate on new brews, and liaise with our draught technicians on draught system design and installation for future builds. I also spearhead the programming alongside our creative team for many of our beer focused events/promos including quarterly beer dinners, monthly promos, tap takeovers and new product launches.
Needless to say, it’s a dynamic role that is constantly evolving to meet the needs of our stakeholders, team members, guests, and most importantly, the community at large. It is an exciting time to be a part of the beer scene in Ontario, and an absolute honor to help lead the beer revolution in spaces that live and breathe a “beer for the people” ethos.
FCBF: How does someone get into the beer career? How did you get started and what are the steps people should be taking if they're interested in a similar career?
JT: If you have an undying, and insatiable passion for beer, continue to live and breathe it. With over 220 operating breweries, brewpubs and contract brewers in the province (and rising), the diversity of offerings currently available is astounding – and so are the opportunities to be a part of that community.
So, take advantage of the endless stream of craft beer festivals in Ontario. Join a beer appreciation group like The SOBDL, RunTObeer or Fem-Ales. Improve your theoretical knowledge by studying for your Cicerone, BJCP or Prud’homme Beer Certification, and then turn that theoretical knowledge into practical know-how by joining a homebrew club such as the London Homebrewers Guild or Shortfinger. Most importantly, continue to visit the spaces that support the scene and stay connected with the people that make it possible.
I’ll keep my own story short and sweet as is it a relatively common narrative. I fell in love with beer at a young age. Suffice it to say, London has its own version of “beer pioneers” that helped ignite and fuel my passion for what I soon learned beer could be. It’s a blur from that point onward. I starting serving at a young age, and later helped open and eventually operate a gastro arts pub in London which had a short, albeit epic run (fun fact – we hosted the first ever Forest City Beer Fest).
I eventually left that to pursue my alternate passion (philosophy) at Western . . . and years later found myself back in the industry – all the while having born witness to the emergence of a craft beer revival brewing in Ontario. Case and point? There is no one set of necessary and sufficient conditions that one must satisfy in order to pursue a career in beer. Hell, I’m still learning! Choose your own path, as cliché as that may sound.
FCBF: Many people don't know that beer is a lot like wine. There is a wide variety of flavour notes, certain beers pair better with certain foods etc. What is some advice for people looking for the most rounded craft beer experience?
JT: While I would contend that beer is perhaps closer in kind to a blended bread smoothie than it is wine, it does offer an incredibly diverse range of aromatics and flavors such that it pairs really, really well with food. Gone are the days when asking for a beer a local pub would almost always result in an ice-cold glass of yellow fizz!
Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoy an American Adjunct Lager from time to time, but it is not an accurate snapshot of beer’s potentiality. Over the last fifteen years, beer has fought to redefine itself in the Canadian eye as a dynamic, yet refined beverage which seeks to continually challenge the status quo, and for the most part, has won. We have entered an era of unprecedented choice. If you remain determined to continually try something new, then your craft beer experiences will be, by definition, well-rounded.
If you want some more concrete advice, I’d also suggest buying tickets to your next local craft beer festival. Do your research and create a plan of attack by mapping out your list must-have beers and/or breweries before you attend. While this may seem like overkill, I swear by it – especially when attending larger festivals like Cask Days or SessionTo.
FCBF: Have you always been a beer drinker? (not always, like out of the womb, but always, as in your alcoholic drink of choice!)
JT: Beer has certainly been my go-to for a really long time. That is not to say that I don’t enjoy other fine beverages. I’m been known to enjoy a good bourbon every now and then, and have an unhealthy obsession with Japanese single malts.
I also have been fangirling over the emerging cideries in Ontario at the moment. Chris from West Avenue and Tariq from Revel Cider Co. are doing some really great stuff. We recently featured THE CATALYLST MK IV (a dry hopped cranberry cider with a wonderfully sour and acetic base) from West Avenue, which was out of this world. I’m excited to see what 2017 will bring for Ontario cideries in particular. It’s been a long time coming!
FCBF: Your job takes you on some cool brew-themed trips, where has your favourite been?
JT: Belgian Beer Weekend, held in the Grand Marché with the Knighthood of the Brewer’s Mash.
FCBF: What has been the greatest beer you have ever tasted and why?
JT: I shall start by saying it would be nearly impossible for me to list any one beer. The potential range of beers is so vast and the talent too great to pinpoint one beer to rule them all.
Conversations, smells, food, sounds, and even my own dispositional state inevitably come to bear on my final impression of any particular beer. With this in mind, I’m going to cheat and list my top ten “beer experiences” that immediately come to mind with the disclaimer that this list will likely change tomorrow. The lack of finality is, in part, why I love beer so much!
Jen T's Top 3
∙•••••••••Alchemists’ Heady Topper
∙•••••••••Hill Farmstead’s Dorothy
∙•••••••••Omnipollo’s Noa Pecan Mud Cake