Julia Herz hadn’t really planned on spending her life in beer, but she’s thrilled it worked out that way.
Herz is the craft beer program director for the Boulder-based Brewers Association, which puts on the annual Great American Beer Festival. She’s a veteran beer judge, co-author of the organization’s free CraftBeer.com “Beer & Food Course,” and a Certified Cicerone. (A cicerone is to beer as a sommelier is to wine.) More critically, she’s a life-long home brewer.
The idea of a serious beer and food pairing book had been percolating for many years, but it took a natural disaster to start Herz writing.
“When we were displaced after the Lyons flood and living in an apartment, I decided to take it on. It gave me something to focus on,” she says. Three years later, she released Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros (Voyageur Press) co-written by Gwen Conley, director of brewery production and quality assurance at California’s Lost Abbey brewing.
With no hoopla, this insightful volume also makes it obvious how strong a presence women now have in craft brewing.
We meet to talk at Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery in Boulder for a beer pairing. In my case, a smoked chicken quesadilla with guacamole goes especially well with a Java Porter. A good match for her salad with a vinaigrette dressing is a lighter Kolsch. “If it was blue cheese dressing you might want to go with an American IPA,” Herz says. “Others might pick a malty ale with some sweetness to balance the sharpness and salt of the cheese.
“Some food-beer matches are home runs and others are train wrecks. With a home run pairing, 1 + 1 = 5. The combination makes each other better.”
Q: Do you remember your first sip of beer?
A: My first taste of beer? It was probably one of my dad’s. He liked to drink Canadian beers, especially Labatt’s. My brother had a beer can collection so [when] we would go out to eat, my parents would have a beer and he would get the cans.
Q: What was your original career?
A: I had studied journalism and got an internship at CNN. I worked my way up to associate producer. It was a good job, but I realized it wasn’t for me.
Q: How did you end up in beer in Boulder?
A: I quit CNN and a girlfriend and I travelled around the country for about a year. We camped on National Forest land and came into town to visit brewpubs. When they got here we volunteered at the Great American Beer Festival at Currigan Hall. Eventually I moved back here.
Q: Don’t personal taste quirks rule which ale we match with a filet mignon?
A: Because perception is personal, beer and food pairing is very personal. How can you have exactly the same taste experience as me? You can start to narrow down what works for your palate. Our book is a practical guide to pairing food with beer, how ingredients interplay and some of the science behind taste.
Q: Why do hops matter so much?
A: It’s all about balance and complexity. It’s like when you make sautéed fish with butter and lemon. The lemon juice provides acid to balance the richness of the butter, and it brightens and sharpens the flavor.
Q: Have things changed for women in brewing?
A: That mentality that ‘beer is a man’s beverage’ is fading. About 32 percent of craft beer is bought by women versus only 20 percent of mass market domestic beers. Beer making is changing. About 21 percent of the leadership positions at craft brewing companies are now women. Beer has no gender.
Q: You’re a Certified Cicerone?
A: It’s being a sommelier for beer. There are three levels of expertise. So far I’ve only been able to pass two out three parts of the advanced exam. It’s hard, but next time I’ll get it.
Q: Are chefs starting to take beer seriously now?
A: Slowly. There is not one major culinary school in the United States that has a beer education program at the same level as they do for wine. It’s very outdated. I think wine will be surpassed eventually by beer because of its complexity and the many styles.
Q: How do your kids feel about beer?
A: We are settled back in Lyons. Cooper is 10 and goes to school in Lyons and Morgan, who is 13, in Boulder. My kids mainly feel like I’m away too much talking about beer, but they are growing up with a healthy awareness of beer as part of life and eating together.
Local Food News
Get to the Boulder County Farmers’ Market this week for overwintered spinach — literally leaves left out in the fields and snow. It’s remarkably mild and sweet tasting and makes most store-bought “baby” spinach taste harsh by comparison. Buy it all and make oyster Rockefeller and spinach pie because spring spinach is coming soon. … Blackbelly Butcher is open next door to Hosea Rosenberg’s Blackbelly Market as Boulder County’s only independent whole-animal butcher shop. Nate Singer cuts local beef (including 45 day-aged ribeye), lamb and pork, and creates wonderful salumi, charcuterie (like rilettes, confit, pate) and sausages. Plus: bone broth by the quart.
Lessons from Mom
This is your last chance to share the best thing you learned about cooking from your mother. That is, unless you learned nothing from Mom (besides how to induce guilt). Keep it short and e-mail it asap to: Nibbles@boulderweekly.com. I’ll share them in my Mother’s Day column and on Radio Nibbles. I’ll even keep it anonymous.
Taste of the Week
It’s always a joy to revisit the best dim sum — the Chinese broccoli, the steamed shumai, BBQ pork buns, turnip cake, custard tarts, chicken feet and more — dished from rolling stainless steel carts at Super Star Asian Cuisine, 2200 W. Alameda Ave., Denver.
Words to Chew On
“A modest garden contains, for those who know how to look and to wait, more instruction than a library.”
— Henri Frederic Amiel