Monday, May 29, 2006

What is the beer equivalent of a sommelier?

I’ve been asking this question for quite some time, and usually misspelling the French word whenever the topic arises:

som·me·lier n.
A restaurant employee who orders and maintains the wines sold in the restaurant and usually has extensive knowledge about wine and food pairings.

Alix Strauss of the New York Times breaks the story in this article: This Beer's for You. (Or Maybe This One.)

AVIRAM TURGEMAN, dressed in a dark pinstriped suit, was carefully navigating the busy restaurant, a white cloth draped over his left arm and a bottle cradled in the palm of his right hand, its stout neck resting against his arm.

Mr. Turgeman is the beer sommelier at Cafe D'Alsace, a French bistro that opened three months ago on Second Avenue and 88th Street. And he was all seriousness one recent evening as he explained the offerings to the couple seated at the lacquered mahogany table …

… "We don't aim towards pub people," he said. "We're about the beer geeks, people who want to try a new experience."

There may be a legitimate quibble over semantics, in the sense that “sommelier” seems to refer specifically to wine, not beer.

According to, the etymology of “sommelier” is more ambiguous:

French, from Old French, officer in charge of provisions, pack-animal driver, alteration of sommerier, from sommier, beast of burden, from Vulgar Latin.

Obviously, any French officer throughout recorded history who has found himself placed in charge of provisioning troops is stocking wine … hence, the probable development of “sommelier” in the present tense.

This is the part that I’m having a problem embracing:

… "We don't aim towards pub people," he said. "We're about the beer geeks, people who want to try a new experience."

Whether or not there is a word that accurately describes the function of ordering and recommending beer – a “beer sommelier” – how can it be so blithely divorced from the consciousness of “pub people?”

In my experience, that’s where the “geeks” came from in the first place.

Beer knowledge is important, and to disseminate it through the experience and wisdom of a “beer sommelier” is something worthy of praise, but to imbue it with pretentiousness is both unnecessary and potentially self-defeating.

It’s hard enough going out there every day and having to un-do the incessant dumbing down of beer perpetuated by a half-century of megabrewing theory and practice without mimicking the excesses of wine snobbery.


antzman said...

I wonder how you say "beer geek" in French? I'm sure it will sound sophisticated when spoken in French.

Candice said...

I am just debating the term now on BA.I am Todd Alstrom's wife Candice. Todd and I both equally dislike why terminology being placed on beer culture. I recently did a tour of New Belgium in Fort Collins Colorado. I had to give them shit over using the word terrior for the beer La Terrior. I said we were doing fine letting coffee, wine, and chocolate have the word. But to their defense they said people in Colorado call it the dog beer!!

I am cfahooligan in this thread here.

Rene said...

I was under the impressio a 'beer sommelier' was called a cicerone.

DR said...

Im at the meddlesome moth in dallas, a haven for beer enthusiasts. And they have a certified ciscerone named matt. So rene is right!