Dallas-based Master Sommelier Melissa Monosoff has a lot of hobbies. She loves to travel, she loves to bike, and as her Master Sommelier designation suggests, she loves wine. But Monosoff also loves beer. In fact, as of last week, she’s a certified expert on the subject. In addition to her wine credentials, she is now a certified cicerone, a fancy way of saying that she possesses the knowledge and skills to guide those interested in beer culture, including its historic and artistic aspects. (Following a rigorous examination and blind tasting process, of course.)
We caught up with Monosoff to talk beer—and more specifically, her thoughts on Texas beer.
Texas Monthly: What do you love so much about beer?
Melissa Monosoff: Well, I’m from Philadelphia. A few years back, I spear headed the beverage program at a restaurant I was working at that included 200-plus beers in addition to twelve taps. I had to learn quick! It totally fascinated me. Especially because I soon learned that beer and food go so well together. There are flavor combinations that just do not work with wine. That “aha” moment had me instantly addicted to food and beer pairing. It didn’t hurt that I lived in Philly, one of the best beer cities in America.
TM: What do you think people misunderstand about beer?
MM: Everything. Many people believe all beer is something like Budweiser or Guinness. But the sheer breadth of different styles is astonishing. Beer does not have to be, and is absolutely not in a lower class to wine. It has a rightful place at the table just as wine does.
TM: Since you’ve moved to Texas, have you had a chance to taste through what Texas beers have to offer?
MM: I love tasting everything and anything (almost) when it comes to Texas beers. They have become some of my favorites. I admit I am a bit of a snob being from Philly, but Texas beers are excellent.
TM: What are some of the things that have impressed or surprised you about our beers?
MM: The diversity of style amongst the different brewers in Texas. I love the creativity and those who stay true to the classic styles with their interpretations. I’m amazed at the number of fantastic breweries popping up on the radar almost monthly. It keeps me on my toes.
TM: Do you have a few favorites?
MM: It’s hard to pick, but based on what’s in Texas, it’s a good thing I love classic German beer styles. Some of my favorites include: Peticolas “Golden Opportunity” Kolsch and Velvet Hammer;Real Ale Brewing Company Hans Pils and The Real Ale Brewing Co. Brewers Cut Series Altbier; and of course, the great Hefeweizens like Pedernales Brewing Company, Franconia Brewing Company, and Lakewood Brewing Company Rock Ryder.
TM: Are there any you’ve heard about that you’re interested in trying?
MM: I really want to dive more into Community Beer Company here in Dallas, Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling from San Antonio and there are a few new beers out from Jester King Brewery in Austin that I’d like to try.
TM: For those that are more curious about how to appreciate beer, do you have some tips for the best way to taste beer?
MM: Be open to trying all styles and colors to get a sense of what you like. There is an unbelievable range of styles from light to heavy, dark to light, bitter to sweet, citrusy and floral, to chocolaty and caramely. So many people think all beer tastes like the basic American lager like Budweiser, but it’s so far from that!
TM: Elements to look for?
MM: There are four elements of beer to be aware of that will help get you started on the language of beer. It will help you explain what you like or don’t like.
Ale v. lager
These are the two broad classifications that refer to how beers are fermented. Ales have yeasts that ferment from the top and at warmer temperatures. Lagers have yeasts that ferment from the bottom and at cooler temperatures. Each category has a broad spectrum of colors, flavors and intensity. Many people will pigeonhole ales and lagers into specific categories thinking all ales are light or heavy and lagers are strong or dark. That is one of the most common misconceptions about beer.
The germinated barley or other grains used to make beer. This is where the sugar comes from to later create the alcohol and the sweet grainy flavors of the beer. The grains are dried and depending on how hot the kiln is and how long the grains are in the oven—like a toaster dial—determines how dark grains will become. This determines the color of the beer. Lightly toasted grains result in light beer. Darkly toasted, almost burned grains yield dark beer.
The resinous oils and acids from this cone-shaped plant give a bitterness to the beer that works to balance the sweetness of the malt mentioned above. All beers have hops but whether you can taste them and weather they are part of the profile of the style of beer is another thing. There are many varieties of hops grown all over the world providing different aromas and flavors. European hop varieties tend to give beer more subtle earthy, spicy and herbal aromas whereas American hops varieties can be quite aromatic with floral, citrus, and pine character.
Yeasts make beer—the little critters eat all the sugar provided by the starches in the malt grains and produce the alcohol and C02 for the bubbles. Specific types of yeasts can also provide a good deal of aroma and flavor to beer. For example, in a German Hefeweizen or many Belgian Beers like the Tripel or Saison.
TM: Can you talk about the proliferation of IPAs in the American market. Is it just a trend? They are definitely not all one and the same. How do you to tell a good IPA from a bad one? Other than the tendency for them to be too hoppy?
MM: Good question. The whole idea of IPA is to be too hoppy, honestly. It’s like how American oak became so big for Chardonnay. For a long while oaky Chardonnays were “in,” but now the trend is to scale back on oak for that wine. In the same way, Americans love hops. They are here to stay, but to me the trend has crested. Many brewers are continuing their lines of super hoppy beers, but they’re also making slightly less hoppy versions or revamping their pale ale recipes. Don’t get me wrong I love a good IPA, but you will see me more often drinking American pale ale so that I can get the hops I’m jones-ing for without being clobbered over the head with a hop cone, which is about as enjoyable as being clobbered with a two-by-four.