Beer and cheese? Those aren’t two things you would normally think of pairing together. However, we learned during a recent class at The Beer School in Philadelphia, that they really do go together!
The Beer School is part of The Wine School of Philadelphia, which is one of only two such schools in the country. Located in Center City Philadelphia at 109 S. 22nd Street, not only is the school a top-notch institution for both serious and not-so-serious wine drinkers, but it is located in a beautiful building as well.
According to SOMM (an independent board that reviews professional certifications in the wine trade), the sommelier certification course at The Wine School of Philadelphia is rated as the top school on the East Coast and the #2 school in the country. The #1 school with a rating of 94%, is the Napa Valley Wine Academy. In fact, to quote their website (www.somm.us), in describing the program at The Wine School, they say that “This is the future of wine education”.
HISTORY OF THE SCHOOL
The Start of an Idea
The Wine School was founded by Keith Wallace in 2001. Wallace graduated from UC Davis’ world-renowned enology program in 1999, and was soon after hired as an assistant winemaker in Napa Valley. Like most people in the winemaking business, Wallace had dreams of owning his own winery one day.
However, life had another plan for Wallace. Shortly after landing his first job in the business, Wallace was diagnosed with focal epilepsy that was brought on after a serious car accident. After trying to move forward with his career as a winemaker, he soon realized that his epilepsy was not something he could overcome in the business.
So, Wallace turned his focus to consulting at wineries. The travel required for consulting was also hard for him to handle with his epilepsy, so he decided to move back to the East Coast to be closer to family.
While Wallace continued to consult, he also started taking some odd jobs at wineries in the Philadelphia area. One of the winemakers he worked for asked Wallace to teach a class for his staff and the public. The class was such a success, that he was asked again and again to teach. It was then that Wallace realized his calling was wine education. He enrolled in classes in New York. Wallace considered applying for a teaching position in New York, but wanted to do more than just train future waiters and sommeliers. Wallace wanted to build something that gave people the opportunity to have a university-level wine diploma.
The First Wine School
The first version of the Wine School was held in a space that a coffee shop in Manayunk (just a few miles outside downtown Philadelphia) offered to rent out to Wallace. He started offering wine classes, and word soon got around town about the school. Classes quickly started selling out, and by 2002, Wallace had outgrown his space in the coffee shop. Wallace then moved to a wine cellar in a local steakhouse, but in short order he outgrew that space as well.
The First Permanent Location
In 2005, Wallace opened up his first permanent location for the school in the Fairmount area of Philadelphia. The area was a bit rough, but was going through a period of transition. It was at this point that Wallace introduced his Core Wine Program.
By 2009, the neighborhood was booming and so was The Wine School. The school had grown to a staff of six, and classes were selling out weeks in advance. This was also the point when the Philly Beer School began. Some of the school’s staff and students were beer geeks in their spare time, and they decided to start a beer education program to compliment the wine courses.
The Move to Rittenhouse Square
In 2013, The Wine School moved to its first location on 22nd Street. The building was an old mansion, that had ironically been the home of Wine Spectator’s publishing house back in the 1970s. In December of 2015, the school had to unexpectedly relocate a few blocks away. After 6 months of renovation, the current location was opened.
The new location is absolutely beautiful, and contains the first known cork gabion. The gabion on the right holds corks from classes at the school’s previous locations. The one on the left will hold corks from classes at the current location. The current location also holds a fermentation lab downstairs, as well as a new media system that is used during classes.
The unique thing about The Wine School, is that it offers an educational opportunity for everyone. For those that are serious about wine and looking to start a career in the industry, there are college-level programs available. If you just love to drink wine and are looking to learn a little more, the regularly scheduled stand-alone wine classes are for you. And, if you are into beer or other types of alcohol, there are classes and programs for you as well.
The Core Wine Education Courses
For those serious about getting a wine education and working in the industry, you can enroll in The Wine School’s Core Wine Education Courses. There are two courses – Foundation and Intermediate – that are each a semester long. They can be taken together or sequentially.
Completion of these courses is the basis for earning a sommelier certification.
For those students looking to go even further, The Wine School offers several advanced courses. Those courses are also a semester long. After completing four advanced courses, students receive the Advanced Wine Diploma.
Wine Tasting Classes
For those of us who aren’t quite as serious about our wine education, The Wine School offers over 200 classes per year for all different levels of wine drinkers. They group their classes into three categories – Learn About Wine, Wine Essentials, and Luxury Wine Classes.
I’ve taken several wine classes at the school, and they are always educational and a lot of fun. But, classes sell out fast! A quick look at their current wine class calendar (which goes into May of 2018) shows that most classes are already sold out!
In addition to the wine classes, the school offers several other types of classes. The Beer School offers both beer tasting classes, as well as full courses on beer brewing.
There are also classes with food involved. There is everything from cheese pairing classes, to the popular Sommelier Smackdown class, to actual cooking classes. During the cooking classes, the executive chef prepares three new recipes. During the class, the chef will demonstrate the food preparation, while a master-level sommelier pours wine from the wine list they have developed to pair with the food.
ATTENDING OUR BEER AND CHEESE PAIRING CLASS
I have attended several wine classes at the school, but when I saw a beer and cheese pairing class available, I decided to try it and bought tickets as a birthday present to my husband.
Tip #1: As I mentioned above, classes sell out quickly, so you need to plan ahead if you are interested in taking a class. I would suggest subscribing to their e-mail newsletter (which you can do on their website) to hear about new classes as soon as they are announced. In addition, if there is a class you see that you want to take and it’s sold out, call the school to see if they’ve had any cancellations. There were two people that didn’t show up for the class we took, so people do cancel at the last minute.
This was our first time attending a class at the new location. I like the new location a lot! It seems much more cozy and warm – a result I think of the beautiful furniture. Each class only holds 20 people, so it maintains that intimate feeling as well.
Tip #2: Parking in the area can be a challenge. We were able to find a spot on the street a block or two away. If you park on the street, be sure to download the Meter Up app on your phone. You can pay for your street parking directly on your phone instead of going to a kiosk and paying. In addition, the app allows you to add time to your meter directly from your phone as well. That way, if you are out and about, you can just extend your parking with a click of your phone rather than walking back to your car.
Tip #3: The doors open 15 minutes prior to class starting. If you get there early, there is a very small entryway where you can wait to stay out of the elements, which we really appreciated on this particular night.
How the Classes Work
When you enter the classroom, just go ahead and pick your seat. There are two sets of bench seats in the front of the room on each side. Each of those tables seats four. In the center of the room is a large higher table with individual seats. That table seats 10 total – five on each side. Finally, there is a small table all the way in the back that seats two.
At each setting is a form to fill out. In addition to some basic information, the form asks you to write down two questions that you’d like to have answered during the class.
Tip #4: There are bathroom facilities as well as a coat rack downstairs. If you are facing the front of the room, the stairway is on the left side towards the front. Be careful going down the stairs, as the ceiling on the stairway is a little low.
I was very pleased to see that Keith Wallace was teaching our class. Once the starting time for the class came, he collected our forms and took attendance. He walks you through how the class is going to work, and your off!
Tip #5: If you are expecting some pretentious wine class, you won’t get it here! Wallace is self-admittedly a bit “vile” (I believe that was the word he used to describe himself), so don’t be surprised if you hear an expletive or two. That’s one of the things I love about taking classes here. They are laid back and Wallace doesn’t make you feel like you have to know anything about what you are eating or drinking.
When people think of food pairings (particularly cheese), they think of pairing it with wine, which is what I think of too. So, I was very interested to see how you could pair cheese with beer. Wallace did a great job of explaining the origins of cheese and beer. He talked about how both cheese and beer were some of the first things that humans started making thousands and thousands of years ago.
As we worked our way through the pairings, Wallace explained the cheese making process. As we progressed through the cheeses in the pairings, each of them were made in a different way.
Pairing 1 – Chevre and Port City Brewing “Optimal” Wit (Virginia): The first cheese we tasted was a chevre cheese, which is basically goat cheese. It was very creamy, so we were instructed to spread it on a cracker for tasting. Our beer was a wit beer, which had a very earthy taste. As Wallace explained, these two pair well together because they both are higher in acid than most other cheeses and beer. Both have a “grassiness” to them, so they compliment each other well. I am not a big fan of wheat beers, so this wasn’t one of my favorite beers on its own. However, when paired with the goat cheese, it cut down the “wheat” taste of the beer and was much more enjoyable.
Pairing 2 – Camembert and Ommeegang “Hennepin” Saison (New York): This was known as the “funky” pairing. If you’ve never had camembert, it’s a pretty funky tasting cheese. It’s very similar to a brie, with a hard rind on the outside and a creamy center. Wallace explained that this cheese was the first foray into eating white mold, or penicillium. The wild yeast in the beer is what makes this a really good pairing with the cheese. The “funkiness” in both of them play off each other. Wallace suggested that we taste the beer with both the rind of the cheese and the creamy center. Both gave off very different tastes and paired differently with the beer.
Pairing 3 – Lagorai and Duvel Strong Pale Ale (Belgium): Lagorai is what most of us would call Swiss cheese. In fact, when you sliced the cheese, you could see very tiny holes in it. As Wallace explained, the holes in the Swiss cheese that most of us are all used to are exaggerated. The holes in the cheese are due to air that is in the cheese during the processing. In fact, that’s one of the reasons this pairing works so well. The beer was very highly carbonated. Wallace suggested this style of beer pairs well with almost anything, so it’s a good beer to serve at home and pair with almost any meal.
Pairing 4 – Comte and Great Lakes “Edmond Fitzgerald” Porter (Ohio): This was my favorite pairing of the night. I’m a big fan of dark beers – porters and stouts – in general, and this beer is one of my favorites. Comte cheese is also known as gruyere. This cheese was amazing! There are only two breeds of cow that are used to make this cheese, and they are never fed – they just graze. The cheese is very decadent. The beer is highly toasted which leads to the coffee and chocolate flavors. When you combine cheese, chocolate and coffee – three of my favorite flavors – you know it’s going to be good. Even my husband – who is not a dark beer fan – loved this pairing.
Pairing 5 – Farmhouse Cheddar and Elysian “Space Dust” IPA: This was my least favorite pairing of the night. The cheese we had was a four-year-old cheddar. As Wallace explained, “cheddaring” is a process used to make the cheese. The sharp cheddar that we see in stores means that it is more acidic. I’m not a big fan of IPA’s, so I knew I was going to struggle a bit with this pairing. The beer has a high pH, which is why it goes well with the cheese. Wallace said that IPA’s are the most difficult type of beer to pair with anything, but they always pair well with cheddar, which is why you should order that burger at the bar with cheddar cheese while you are drinking your IPA!
Pairing 6 – Grana Padano and Golden Pheasant Lager (Slovakia): The last pairing of the night had the best cheese! This cheese was similar in style to a parmigiana cheese (and not the kind that comes in the green container). It’s a very hard cheese, which means all of the moisture it taken out during the cheese making process. It crumbles when you cut into it. Wallace explained that this cheese contains tyrosine. Tyrosine is an amino acid that is in things we love and can’t really explain why we love them. The beer was non-descript, which was exactly why it was paired with this cheese. The cheese itself is so amazing, you want a beer that is going to just sit back and let the cheese be the star of the show. And it was quite a star!
So, that’s a summary of our beer and cheese pairing class. I hope you learned something that will help you make your own beer and cheese pairings at home. I also hope you are inspired to take your own beer or wine class. If you live in the Philadelphia area, I highly recommend checking out The Wine School of Philadelphia. It’s a great asset to have in this area!
Have questions about The Wine School? Want to learn more about taking a class there? Do you have a favorite beer and cheese pairing? Comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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