We Got Schooled at Rhinegeist’s Brewcademy

This year’s ongoing beer tasting and education series focuses on beers of the world

Jul 26, 2018 at 4:42 pm
click to enlarge Learn about beer here - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
Learn about beer here

I’m not one for school — I have a recurring nightmare that I’m back in college, haven’t attended a class all semester and am about to fail. So going back to “school” at Rhinegeist’s Brewcademy seemed daunting, but getting to sample six four-ounce beers from different breweries around the world and learn something new mitigated my fear. And, honestly, people might be more apt to learn if there’s booze involved.

Rhinegeist hosts Brewcademy sessions for about 100 thirsty students a few times a year in its annex. The first one, held this past March, covered English ales. The July 12 session focused on Belgian beers, and the next one will be held in September. For $45, students receive two pencils — one has “Now I know my A-Beer-Cs” written on it — a “Class of 2018” pocket-size notebook, a cool iron-on Brewcademy patch (looks great on a T-shirt) and those six beer samples.

I went to the July 12 class and, like a good student, I took notes. For two hours, Rhinegeist’s Director of Education (yes, that’s a real job) Chris Shields discussed the science and art behind brewing, tasting and appreciating Belgian beers, from dubbels to lambics. “I did teach high school for one year, so watch it,” Shields joked.

Sure, you could Wikipedia info on Belgian beers, but you’d miss out on the interactive learning opportunity — which is tasting the beers. Using a PowerPoint presentation, Shields whirled through the history and types of Belgian beers. “Beer should reach all parts of a tongue during tasting,” he said.

The first beer we tried was a Belgian witbier, which means “white” in Flemish. Shields explained the beer is traditionally brewed with coriander and orange peel, and it almost went extinct in the 1950s. Rhinegeist offered their witbier Spike to try, which isn’t brewed with coriander but is infused with sweet orange peel.

The session spread out the beer tastings, so students weren't drinking them all at once. We learned about saison or “season” beers. Shields said these beers were brewed on farmhouses in the winter so neighbors could share them in the summer. The saison example we tried was Tank 7 farmhouse ale, from Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Co., named after a beer tank in the brewery.

Shields stated interesting facts, like during World War II there were 3,200 breweries in Belgium but in 2011 only 123 remained. Beer lover Michael Jackson (not the singer) rediscovered Belgian beers in the 1960s and helped relaunch interest in them through his writing. I learned how diverse Belgian beers are — they just aren’t hoppy and peppery. We tasted a Flanders red ale from Rodenbach Grand Cru, an aged red wine-like ale from West Flanders, blended with young and aged beers. It was my favorite of the six.

We also drank another Rhinegeist beer, this time Brittlebrain, a Belgian-style golden ale brewed in collaboration with the Cincinnati Museum Center. With one more beer to go, everyone was filled with enough liquid courage to ask questions. It’s worth noting that six samples of beers, with different ABV percentages, can easily get you buzzed.

We drank the last beer, the dessert-y Rochefort 10, a 11.3 percent Trappist beer, and supposedly one of best beers in world. (I disagree.) I liked learning about Trappist beers. They are produced in the walls of monasteries so the monks can give back to the communities, and only 11 of these breweries exist in the world, including one in the U.S. — Spencer Brewery in Massachusetts. 

So much info is thrown at you during two hours that at times it’s difficult to wrap your head around. But the sessions are a good gateway into learning more about beer styles. Shields said all the time he hears people saying, “I don’t like Belgian beers,” and I’ll admit I fall into that camp. However, Rhinegeist Brewcademy gave me a new appreciation for the Belgians, especially because I now know the fascinating history behind them and why I should give them a more of a chance.

For the next Brewcademy, stayed tuned to rhinegeist.com  or their Facebook facebook.com/rhinegeist.