Beer is Canada’s most popular adult beverage, and with 40 percent of the country’s breweries located in Ontario, there is a surplus of options for local craft brew. Mirella Amato is a Master Cicerone™ and a sensory evaluation specialist from Ontario. She has spent the last 10 years dedicated to the advancement of local beer and the art of beer appreciation through her company, Beerology.

Mediaplanet: Mirella, you’ve been in the craft brewing industry since 2007. How has the industry evolved in the past 10 years?

Mirella Amato: Amazingly, I must say!  The craft beers in Ontario have always been great, as far as I can remember; what has changed is the number of breweries and the variety of brews available. When I founded Beerology in 2008, craft beer was just starting to gain attention outside of the narrow — but incredibly enthusiastic and supportive — circle of fans that had followed it since the 80s. The foodie movement in Ontario was in full bloom and, having embraced local food and local wines, was turning its attention to beer. The interest in local craft brews has since grown dramatically, opening the door for the current craft beer explosion.

MP: What does craft beer mean to you?

MA: Craft beer, to me, means variety. The craft beer movement was born in the 80s as a reaction to the beer landscape at the time, which was quite flat. The vast majority of the beers available in Canada at that time — with the exception of a few imports — were golden lagers in the 4–5 percent alcohol range.

Those beers have their time and place, but as a Master Cicerone™, I need a wide palette of flavours and styles to work with. Clearly, I can’t recommend the same type of beer to serve with a beef  Wellington as I would with a kale salad!

MP: How, in your opinion, do craft breweries add to local culinary experiences?

MA: There are two ways in which breweries contribute to the local culinary experience. Firstly, beer is fantastic with food. I’m so happy to see beer find its place in gastropubs and restaurants. I was reading recently that Canadian chefs have identified craft beer as the top trend in the restaurant industry for the third year in a row, which is wonderful. Secondly, many craft breweries are still small and local. Whenever I visit a new town or city, I make sure to look up and visit local brewpubs. I’ve also learned to do this at the very beginning of my stay, because not only are they a great place to discover new brews, they’re also a social hub. I’ve often found myself sharing a pint with locals at the bar, and getting the inside scoop on local festivals and places to visit in the area.

MP: You started your company, Beerology, to promote your own local Ontario brews. How does Ontario’s agricultural landscape lend its hand to creating unique craft beer?

MA: What’s interesting with beer, when compared to wine, is that there isn’t as strong a link to provenance. The character of a wine is tightly linked to geography and terroir. Making beer, however, is closer to cooking. Brewers can source various ingredients from all over the planet and blend them in any way they please. What’s interesting to see is that many craft brewers are looking for ways to introduce local flavours into their brews, for example by using locally grown pumpkins in the fall brew, or making a special beer with foraged berries or indigenous plants. An increasing number of brewers are also partnering with wineries and distilleries in order to age beers in previously used barrels, to great result.