The Beer Sisters
"It is a wild world of beer, currently there are over 800 breweries in Canada, compared to just 300 only 10 years ago, and the new frontier of brewing is marked by creativity."
Yes. They’re real sisters. The Beer Sisters Tara and Crystal Luxmore are two of four in fact (they have two more on the bench if needed). The Beer Sisters and I sit down for a chat at a local brewery. I select a cloudy, citrusy Gose as did Tara. Crystal orders a Dry Hopped Sour with Guava. I remark about the cloudy appearance of my beer as it arrives and Tara explains the process of making Gose—a style of beer that originated in Germany. Gose is typically a dry, effervescent and low-alcohol beer that’s made with salt, coriander and lactobacillus, giving it an unusual character that most don’t expect from a beer. This is what the Beer Sisters do best. They know just about everything there is to know about beer, and they want to share that knowledge with industry people, with consumers, with brands who want to better understand beer’s place in the world.
The Luxmore family is from a sleepy town in Northern Ontario where the sisters had “great food” growing up, but, says Crystal, “We didn’t know why it was great.” They had not yet developed a language for describing the nuances of food and sensory experiences. Crystal and Tara had always talked about going into business together. The Beer Sisters’ business is a dream come true that is the culmination of their respective ambitions, experiences and their bond as sisters. Tara and Crystal even timed their pregnancies so their children would be born just two months apart. While on maternity leave they would “hang out breastfeeding and planning the business.” They successfully launched Beer Sisters in 2015, and studied hard to get their Cicerone Certifications. So far, their dream venture has been wildly successful.
But it was a big mountain to climb. When Crystal started writing about beer in 2010, she had no idea that you even needed to smell beer to experience its full flavour. She explains that there is a flavour vocabulary for beer dating back to Britain and Bavaria, but the beer lexicon has evolved, especially in the craft beer movement because beer has so many new ingredients and vibrant flavours. “No one is born with a good palate, everyone can get there,” says Crystal. “Great chefs have amazing sensory skills because they’ve been trained to smell and taste everything. Beer is food, and culinary flavours are always present in beer. Chefs can nose a beer and detect the flavours, no problem.” Referring to just a few of the smells one might get from beer, like dry cacao nibs or earthy wet leaves, a good nose comes from practicing, smelling everything around you and making those memories.
It is a wild world of beer, currently there are over 800 breweries in Canada, compared to just 300 only 10 years ago, and the new frontier of brewing is marked by creativity. Expeditions are led by chefs who bring to the culinary world newly attained flavour profiles. Crystal talks about the charcoal trend, mentioning charcoal cider. Raising the question, how do we deal with gimmicks? She responds to this with ease and confidence. “You want to have really good quality. It’s great to be experimental, we don’t look down on cocktail makers for putting whatever they want [in a cocktail], but sometimes we look down on the beer community. Why can’t beer be creative?” Fair enough.
Both Tara and Crystal explain that restaurateurs and bar operators need to prioritize understanding the beers they’re serving to keep up with consumer trends and stand out from other establishments, starting with the question, what kind of foods, beers and flavours do you usually like? Knowing basic flavour profiles and beer styles allows guests to know what they’re getting. Staff, owners, operators should be able to discuss beer styles and menu offerings knowledgeably. “If staff can’t describe it, you’ve lost the guest,” says Crystal.
Ask patrons what they like and serve them something that matches their taste preferences, there is so much flavour out there, and people are often surprised. Says Tara, “Tasting is mindful. You’re focused on ‘what do I taste? What do I smell?’ Always learning, keeps you in the moment.”
CICERONES IN THE HOUSE
The Beer Sisters are the Canadian faces of the US-based Cicerone Certification Program, which certifies people to become the beer world equivalent to a wine sommelier, all the way up to the master designation. They want owners and operators to invest in training at least one Certified Cicerone in-house to bolster your bottom line by educating your guests. One person in your restaurant as a Certified Cicerone can then educate everyone else.
The first level of the Cicerone Certification Program is designed for people on the front lines of beer—servers and the front of house talent. The training breaks beer down into basic beer families based on what they taste like, equipping servers with the confidence to recommend beers by flavour as well as practice the basics of great beer service.
Says Crystal, “We let people know the program exists and help breweries and restaurants out when they want to train their staff and help them through the program.” This, she says, is meant to foster community, and raise the standard of beer service and appreciation, a theme that carries through the levels of Cicerone Certification.
Tara: Fresh IIPA made by Hubbard’s Cave Brewery in Illinois. It’s hazy, juicy and fruity with low bitterness but big hop flavour, especially when it’s super fresh. Tara cracked open a bottle the day that she wrote her Certified Cicerone exam, so it’s nostalgic. Tasting isn’t only the flavours in your mouth, it’s about the moment and place, it’s a bigger sensory experience.
Crystal: Rodenbach Vintage Ale. A Belgian Flanders Red Ale, brewed for hundreds of years with complex yeast strains. It’s a wild one, marked by a nose of dark fruit, well-aged balsamic and racy-acidity. Every year the Master Brewer selects one unblended foeder (pronounced food-er) and bottles it as his vintage, it comes to the LCBO around Christmas time and she buys a couple of cases. Sour beers have been around since beer was conceptualized. Rodenbach is one of those legendary traditional beers.
BIGGEST PET PEEVE
Tara: When the bartender rests the beer glass on the tap as they pour, and the faucet goes into the beer. It overflows, and then they use a knife to scrape it off. The bartender is infecting the beer at two points: when you bring the faucet into the glass it can have bacteria in it; then you’re using a knife to scrape off the foam, also injecting bacteria into your beer. Even in great beer bars. It’s those small little details of service, those small things make a big difference.
Crystal: Not to mention the impact on their bottomline. Foam is beer! When foam condenses, one-third of it is beer. If you’re always scraping foam off because the temperature of your system isn’t right and you don’t know how to fix it, then you’re wasting product and throwing money away.
KOOLEST ITEMS THAT SHOULD BE ON YOUR WISH LIST
From the Brussels area where they make Lambic beers comes the Koelschip, an Old World device used for spontaneous fermentation. In Lambic breweries, brewers put hot, boiling wort (barley sugar water) into a koelschip (which looks like a giant baking tray) and has a large surface area. It sits overnight, cools with the natural climate and combines with the microflora, ambient yeast and bacteria in the air (which flows into the brewery via open slats in the wall)—creating a house culture. After that, it goes into barrels for one to three years. Let it go to town and blend. The beers are more about the art of blending than the art of brewing. Craft brewers have gone over to Belgium, loved this amazing beer style and learned the process. Only beers from the region can be called Lambic, but now Canadian craft brewers have the koelschip and are making “spontaneous ales” or “Lambic-style ales”!
Glassware Glassware is style-specific. It’s all about nosing and flavour, alcohol content and aroma. Having a selection of two to three sizes and shapes can help your bottom line and free you up to serve kegs with different price points. Some beer-centric bars are using wine glasses—this signals to the guest to expect a higher-end beverage in a smaller serving size which can allow you to tap more expensive or rare kegs and still make dollars.
Flight programs Some bars say it is too difficult to do flight programs, but the Beer Sisters say this mentality is just silly. “Logistics shouldn’t be dictating, busy doesn’t mean to do a bad job,” says Tara of ignoring the demand for flight programs. Tara talks about bars that take a salt-of-the-earth approach where they invite guests to “write their own flights.” To guests, Tara explains, these bars will say something like, “here’s a notepad, write down four selections on the pad by tap number,” and they pour it. Tara insists this is much easier than a server having to remember flights and it’s a big value-add for guests who want to have a memorable beer experience with you.
BE BETTER PURVEYORS OF BEER
Beer is like liquid bread, so treat it like food! Beer stales. Clean your draught lines like you would treat washing a salad bowl out. Restaurants should be cleaning their lines every two weeks. Check the free Draught Beer Quality Manual online for the proper time, temperature and methods you need to clean them. Some draught systems companies do well, some cut corners. If you see cruddy faucets or fruit flies around your taps, those are red flags. “Treat your draught lines like they are full of food every day,” says Crystal (there’s no excuse for dirty taps and lines). “If you change a beer on tap, swapping a sour beer for a lighter flavour like a pilsner, you might have to change the jumper line as there will be flavour infusion.”
Bottled beer and canned beer: make sure you are rotating stock. Especially today when IPAs are so interesting to consumers. Hop aromas are one of the first ingredients to age out of beer, you can notice a difference as early as six weeks after packaging. Some beer can age well, but the vast majority is best freshest, so be careful not to order too much. Make sure the oldest beer is the first one out. Don’t tap the newest keg.Train your staff to move beer. Educate your staff. There are amazing, enthusiastic bartender curators leading the way. The most successful restaurants train servers to be able to tell guests about the menus, food, wine, beer, desserts, coffee and tea, and be able to speak knowledgeably to guests. Servers make or break the bottom line. Glass rinser! You should have one on your tap set-up, and know how to use it! Dousing the glass with cold water helps control foaming and rinses any remaining sanitizer and dust. But, the thing people do wrong with this is taking used glasses and placing them on glass rinsers then refilling the pint. This transfers bacteria from the glass to the rinser, and then into every other clean glass you fill. It happens too often—at both high-end establishments and neighbourhood bars.Focus on quality, speed matters but not at the expense of quality.
INTERPROVINCIAL TRADE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)
Craft brewing has blown up so much, every city in North America seems to have a beer map and people are excited about local! It’s exciting to taste what’s happening OUTSIDE of your region too, but with interprovincial trade barriers in Canada, we can’t support Canada-wide the same way we can explore our provincial offerings.
Crystal’s dream for Canada150 was to have all the barriers to trade removed around alcohol, and she’s not afraid to say it until things change: “It’s our fundamental right as Canadians to walk into a store and choose beverages that are being made from coast to coast. It’s a shame and an embarrassment to tell people in the US that we have an easier time getting beer in from Belgium than we do between provinces. Trade barriers reinforce the notion that what’s made in my province is better than yours. It also leaves out artisanal makers and diminishes the freedom of restaurants to differentiate themselves with their beer selections.”