Kirk Bodnar Beer consultant and cicerone

What started your passion for beer?

I actually went on an exchange trip to Germany when I was just out of high school back in the ’90s. I stayed with a family that was just really into food and culture. Since then I’ve gone back a number of times and Germany has a real serious beer culture and food culture as well. I would argue that being into the history of Europe and then travelling around it’d be difficult to not be at least sort of inundated with beer culture there it’s such a part of their main lifestyle. Then coming back to Canada and the regular yellow fizzy beer that was popular at the time didn’t cut it anymore for me. I wasn’t really planning on doing anything in terms of an actual beer industry career but my beer geekiness came out and started paying off a little bit.

Why did you decide to become a cicerone?

I wanted to get into some sort of certification program. I was always a beer geek; I got into home brewing and a lot of beer travelling. Cicerone was really the predominant certification program. If I was going to start consulting with various restaurants and stuff I wanted to at least say I had some sort of certification rather than just saying ‘I know a few things about beer.’ I’m not saying that I know everything about beer but it’s definitely a good program the Cicerone program.

Was it difficult?

It’s not easy. I’m a certified cicerone there’s one level higher than that the master cicerone. There are only eight or nine people in the world currently who hold that title. It’s not as hard as the sommelier guild. Have you seen the movie Somm ?

Somm ? No I haven’t

It follows the life of this group of people who are writing the master sommelier exam and it completely takes over their lives. They lose their relationships and it gets pretty intense. It’s not quite like that at least not the level I’m at but you definitely need to spend some time studying for it and be passionate about it and understand the various aspects of everything. I’m proud of the fact that I passed it for sure.

Would you ever get the master level?

I would be interested in it. I have two infant children right now one under a year and one under a month old so I wouldn’t be able to dedicate a lot of time to doing that at least not for a little while. But it’s something I plan on doing at some point for sure.

How do you balance your life with your kids and family versus your beer career?

At this point in my life my beer career is more like a glorified hobby. My real job is that of a junior high history teacher and I very much love that job as well. The beer thing is just a passion of mine that sort of takes up a lot of my thoughts and my time I suppose you could say and my travels. Right now it’s a little difficult I have a two-week-old daughter so it’s a little challenging to get away. Family definitely comes first for me. Luckily my beer career isn’t all encompassing at this point.

Did you start your beer thing or were you a teacher first?

I was a teacher first I’ve been teaching for about 14 years or so. I got into the restaurant and beer thing when I came back to Calgary in 2008.

What do you do as a beer consultant?

I started off working on the floor at Charcut as a beer sommelier essentially. Just walking the floor discussing beer and food with the guests at the restaurant. I don’t get out to work the floor very often anymore now with the places I work with I suggest beer that’s newer to the province. I have a close relationship with a lot of the agents and importers in town the craft beer and European brands. I try to keep up on my knowledge of what’s coming in. Alberta’s an interesting market because it’s a pretty open market here. Since we’re private here we’ve got well over 1000 more brands of beer than any other province in Canada. I also do staff training and general education.

Do you have a favourite or least favourite brew?

I think my least favourite would be collectively the yellow fizzy big industrial beers out there that make up 90 per cent of the beer that’s sold. As far as my favourite beer it’s very situational. If it’s summer out and I’m on a deck somewhere I’ll have something a little lighter. If it’s winter I like to have somewhat of a ‘winter warmer’ a bit higher alcohol and a bit more flavour something that’ll work with a rich dish. I don’t really have a serious favourite.

What about a favourite style?

My favourite style currently is a farmhouse ale style from Belgium called a saison. It’s got kind of a rustic little bit of spiciness to it. It’s still subtle and light generally but has a lot of complexity to it.

What makes a beer good or bad?

I think it has a lot to do with the character and integrity. At the end of the day any beer could serve its purpose. There’s nothing wrong with going to a hockey game and having whatever they have there it can still be part of the experience. I think beer has a lot to do with just enjoying yourself not in the stupid way of getting drunk or anything but it’s a social kind of beverage. At a basic level any beer can do that but for me it goes a bit deeper like the actual integrity of the brewery. People are putting a lot of effort and time into actually having a lot of character in their beer other than just taking away character and making it appeal to the mass public so they can sell a lot of beer. It’s more flavour first money and sales second for the really good brews.

What’s the most bizarre beer you’ve tried?

There are those coffee beans from South America somewhere that are actually eaten by a feral cat and then they basically poop them out. It’s a really expensive coffee something to do with their stomach enzymes that actually does something to the bean which makes it better so after they’re pooped out they’re gathered up and they make coffee from them. There’s a beer that’s made with those coffee beans. It was really good actually.

You mentioned earlier that you did home brewing. Do you still do that?

Oh yeah I home-brew now. There’s a pretty strong home brewing community in Calgary actually. Our local club is called the Cowtown Yeast Wranglers and I’m a member of that group. Lots of us are beer judges as well so in addition to the Cicerone program I’m a certified BJCP which is the Beer Judge Certification Program. So we judge home brew competitions. The big Calgary home brew competition was just three weeks ago or so I think there were 500 and some odd entries. So that’s a whole other layer to this whole beer culture the whole home brew world. A lot of craft brewers have come from that world as well it’s a real sort of hands-on interest in the intricate little details from the basic levels of home brewing up to commercial brewing.

So you don’t sell your beer?

I wouldn’t legally be able to but I definitely share it a lot.

What kind do you make?

I’ve made all different styles of beer. One of my friends who I’ve been brewing with is a barley and wheat farmer from Saskatchewan and he brings me these bags full of malt. So whatever he brings me is usually the style that I start making. He brought me a bunch of wheat recently so I’ve been making some Belgian-style wheat beers. I’ve made my house Indian Pale Ale which is a regular one that I do.

I know it’s not a big part of your life but are you worried about liver health and alcoholism since you work with beer?

No I don’t think so. I drank a lot more when I was younger when I didn’t care so much about the flavour as much as the effects. Nowadays a lot of people I know who are really into beer like fine wine or fine whiskey you don’t tend to drink a lot of it. I’m down to taste it and appreciate all the different flavours which is great. It’s a level of appreciation I enjoy being at but you’re constantly critiquing what’s going on in the beer so you’re enjoying it but you’re not able to pound a whole bunch at that level. I rarely have just a beer [on its own] especially now with the kids here.

Follow Kirk Bodnar on Twitter @beersnsuch