Beer sommelier Tom Newman to advise restaurants in Wales on fine dining
- 2 April 2012
- From the section South East Wales
The man tasked with promoting beer in Wales and abroad says his first challenge is to improve its image and change the drinking culture.
Tom Newman has just been appointed one of Wales' first beer sommeliers - and is one of just 12 in the UK - by international real ale organisation the Beer Academy.
Mr Newman, who runs his own brewery, had to train for two years to earn the accolade, and sat three exams on the history and culture of beer, its taste and composition, and how it can be used to complement food from all over the world.
In his first few weeks in the voluntary role of sommelier, Mr Newman has already worked with Michelin star chefs to advise them on incorporating beer recommendations into their menus, and has represented Welsh ales in a trade fair in Barcelona.
He believes, though, that the majority of his work needs to be done at home.
"To be honest with you, the quality and variety of beers in Wales is so incredible that they sell themselves - that's the easy part of the role," said Mr Newman, from Caerphilly.
"What might be trickier is trying to elevate beer to the kind of standing which wine currently enjoys, as an experience to be savoured and not just a vehicle to get smashed.
"You never hear of wine louts or whisky louts, even though millions of people enjoy those drinks, and that's the place where we need to get beer. To do that we not only need to promote good beer, but promote good pubs, good food, and good family experiences."
Mr Newman left school 20 years ago and became a cask-washer for a brewery in Wiltshire, but before he could work his way up the ranks, he quit to go to university to study water engineering.
However, 10 years later he realised that his passion did lie with beer after all, and so begged his father to let him open a micro-brewery in their Caerphilly garage.
His business expanded and he moved to new premises in Caerphilly's Pontygwindy Industrial Estate, where he exports throughout Europe, America and the Far-East.
But while Mr Newman believes that traditional Welsh-style beers can hold their own around the world, it is the globalisation of varieties which will help to make beer as successful as wine.
"Centuries ago, the variety of beer available in a given area depended on the type of clientele, and more particularly the local water source," he said.
"Because of the amount of heavy industry in Wales, and the soft water, we traditionally brewed light, refreshing ales, of about three or 3.5%, which could slake thirst after a day down a coal mine or in a slate quarry.
"But nowadays even someone brewing from their front room can filter water to make whatever beers they like, and so there's an incredible range of locally-brewed ales."
"This sheer variety makes beer at least as good an accompaniment to fine food as wine, and often much better."
But if you thought high-brew was all highbrow, then you were very much mistaken.
According to Mr Newman, sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.
"The last thing I'd want to do is make beer sound snooty and elitist. I think to a certain extent the wine industry has made that mistake, and it's put people off," he said.
"I'd like to introduce beer lovers to new varieties to help them get even more out of the experience, but that doesn't have to be posh.
"For example I can't think of any better food and beer combination than a curry and a pint of cold, crisp lager to cleanse the palate.
"All I would say is don't be afraid to try new things and ask questions. But whatever you enjoy, enjoy it in a responsible way so that everyone can have a good time."