It’s a job more often associated with fine wines at upmarket restaurants – but now a Norfolk brewery manager has become the county’s first accredited sommelier for beer.

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Bruce Ash, from Woodforde’s in Woodbastwick, near Salhouse, met the exacting standards of the Beer Academy to become one of only 29 beer sommeliers in the UK.

The year-long training course required Mr Ash to demonstrate his ability to assess different features such as aroma, clarity, mouthfeel and drinkability, as well as an understanding of ingredients and the origins of brewing styles.

It culminated in a tricky final examination of both his knowledge and his palette, including being asked to recognise faults in beers, estimate their alcohol percentages, and tell the difference between German and Belgian wheat beers.

Mr Ash said: “People seem very proud of their wine so I think it’s only right we should be proud of our beer as well.

“Becoming a beer sommelier is no easy task, but the course has improved my understanding of flavours, aromas and beer development which will enhance my role here at Woodforde’s.

“I have worked here for several years, so I know my real ales well, but this gave me a chance to broaden my horizons and learn more about lagers and dark beers.

“It was a good course to do, because it involved beer and food, so I was onto a winner in the first place.

“People are happy to drink wine with food, so why not drink beer?

“If any of the pubs that we deal with want to know what kind of beer to put with their food, they can come to me.”

A traditional sommelier, or wine steward, is a knowledgeable professional, normally working in fine restaurants, who specialises in procurement, storage, service and pairings of wine with food.

For his practical project, Mr Ash designed a perfectly-matched beer and food menu for the Black Boys hotel and restaurant in Aylsham.

“If you have decent quality food you can always match the right beer to it,” he said.

“With something like mussels in a wine and cream sauce, if you put it with a fairly strong dark porter you get the flavours coming through, and you get similar textures and mouthfeel.

“If you wanted to have more of a traditional steak and ale pie, I would say our Nelson’s Revenge would go very well with it, because they both have a strong rich flavour.”

Mr Ash’s sommelier course was run by the Beer Academy in London, an educational body that was founded by a small group of enthusiasts in 2003 to help people understand, appreciate and enjoy beer sensibly.

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