Saturday, April 4, 2009

How I Got Here

Dignified? Hmmm, nice compliment, but I bet Mike must have forgotten about this. Anyway, about me...

I came to beer very (very!) late, being the offspring of old-world European Jewish parents who drank Cherry Advokaat, and more importantly, growing up in Australia, the land of “how many tinnies can a bloke skul”, enough to deter any self-respecting female from exploring beer. It was during the 60’s, and my teenage years in the early 70’s were fraught with the chants of “be sure to wear some flowers in your hair” as well as “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama” which meant that I was never much of a drinker, much preferring the other type of high. I was, and still am to some degree, what the Aussies call a “two pot screamer”.

So, there I was, in my mid 30’s, living in Chicago, still not much of a drinker (though long given up on that other high I mentioned earlier), single and unemployed, having vowed to never don scrubs, nor set foot in another hospital again (I went to college for nursing). Hmm, how to earn a living? “Methinks I’ll be a bartender” says I, who occasionally drank margaritas and rum & coke and who had ne’er really tasted a beer outside of Castlemaine XXXX or Bud Light. “It looks like fun”. So I got me a fine bartending job in a beer and shot bar in a Hispanic neighbourhood in Chicago, and I worked there for a couple of months until the owner suggested I wear a bikini during my shift. I did learn how to make a mean Tequila Sunrise and pour draft MGD, invaluable experience!

A friend was dating a bar owner who was looking for a bartender, and I was hired based upon my astounding ability to pour cheap draft beer and shots, and probably because I had a cute accent, a potential crowd-pleaser. Luckily for me, this bar (the now defunct Puffer’s in Bridgeport, Chicago), was one of the first bars around to pour craft beer, interesting imports and Belgian beer (it was 1995), and there lies my “key to the door”. I quickly discovered that selling good (and costly) beers generated bigger tips, plus I discovered I actually liked the different flavours! I remember my first hefeweizen on a hot afternoon after I’d just finished my shift; I had been pouring them all afternoon for customers. It was both a surprise and a treat. Not so pleasant was my first taste of pale ale, though. It was Whitbread, the real deal from England, on tap, and I thought it was horrible. But not for long! Chimay Red was the breakthrough, though; I loved it, and decided that this was the type of beer I was going to drink, and explore, from now on. I loved that job, and eventually left when I was offered a bartending job at Chicago’s famed Map Room, thanks to an introduction from my dear friend John Freyer. And the rest is history... I became the bar manager, beer buyer, draft system maintainer, cellarman (The Map Room was, I believe, the first bar in Chicago to have real ale), and in general the “I can’t get enough of all of this” beer sheila. I tried Stille Nacht, Schlenkerla rauchbier, Hanssen’s gueuze, Berliner weisse, schwarzbier, IPA, marzen, pilsner and Guinness and loved them all. I even traded my Christmas bonus one year for the chance to go to Siebel Institute to do a week-long draft skills workshop. I befriended many a homebrewer, although I had never actually brewed, started attending Chicago Beer Society functions and other beery events around the city, and spent much time devoted to the pursuit, and study of great beers, both local and imported.

In 2001 I was offered a sales position with B.United International, importers of some of the finest beers, cask conditioned ale, ciders, meads and sakes available anywhere. After a short stint bartending at Goose Island Clybourn (all the best people have worked there), and selling Three Floyds beers (nobody would ever believe these days how many doors were “slammed in my face” back then) I started working for the venerable Matthias Neidhart. My knowledge (and sales skills) soared, and I spent a little over 4 happy years working for Matthias, selling the portfolio in a bunch of Midwestern states and simultaneously exploring many of the USA’s best beer bars.
In 2003, at the National Homebrewers Conference in Chicago, I gave a “beer and cheese pairing” seminar to about 150 people. (My seminar immediately followed one given by Garrett Oliver. The same 150 people had just been hypnotized both by Garrett’s majestic presence, and his knowledge and presentation skills. It was a hard act to follow. Oh- but I had food!). More importantly though, it was at this conference that I met my husband Mike, and I moved to Michigan shortly after and we were wed. I stayed on with B. United for one more year, and left to take on my current position as Beer Department Manager at Merchant’s Fine Wine, Dearborn MI. It’s a fine store; and the beer department is huge. It’s 10 minutes from my house (invaluable!!), I have weekends off, and I spend my work days buying beer, selling beer, stocking beer, stacking beer, pricing beer, rearranging beer, organizing beer, talking about beer, researching beer, sending e-mails about beer, and keeping people happy.

The Cicerone Certification came about because it’s just what I do every day. It’s the accumulation of 14 years experience combined with my delight in actually drinking beer, and my love of cooking which is something I’ve always been passionate about, well before I became passionate about beer. (I once spent three days making and decorating one chocolate/hazelnut cake. Now I spend three days making a cassoulet. Nothing has changed. Except now I drink beer while I cook.) The real joy comes in sharing all of this with my husband, our friends and family, and all the beer and food lovers out there. L’Chaim!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Didn't know that much about you! I did know about B United (I think that's how we met???) and the Map Room! Anyway nice blog and still waiting for that Aventinus tap handle (Bet you thought I forgot!) Nice to call you and Mike friends! David Cords