Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,
Welcome to a regular feature of our blog, ‘Afternoon tea
with …. people of note’
Today, we’re taking afternoon tea with Mirella Amato, founder of Beerology™ and an extraordinary beer connoisseur.
Mirella is the pre-eminent authority on everything related to beer in Canada and one of the very few beer specialists in the world. That’s because she’s a Master Cicerone, a beer sommelier. Mirella is Canada’s only Master Cicerone, having qualified after rigorous written, oral and tasting exams. She is also the recipient of the 2012 Ontario Craft Brewers Centre of Excellence Industry Choice Award in Food & Beer Matching Development.
Mirella established her company Beerology™ as a channel for facilitated beer tastings and workshops, which she gives across the country, as well as a training channel for pub and restaurant servers. She also offers beer tastings to corporations as team building exercises or for employee recognition. And she consults with restaurants to create beer and food pairings and with breweries to develop new products. She founded the Toronto Chapter of the women-only international beer-appreciation society, Barleys Angels.
Beerology is also the name of Miralla’s hot-off-the-press book, which provides a written and visual exploration, understanding, and enjoyment of beer. Here you will find suggestions for a beer for every mood, food and occasion. She demystifies the choices, brewing styles and traditions associated with the universal pleasure of a pint. Beerology is published by Random House and is available from major bookstores as well as online from Amazon.
Today, Mirella favours of a pot of Earl Grey tea. Her Ladyship (that would be me!) is more than pleased to brew a pot of tea and take several cups with Mirella. Her Ladyship pours two cups (digitally!) of steaming, fragrant tea; Mirella’s preference today is for tea without milk and Her Ladyship always drinks her tea clear. We settle back and begin our conversation.
Where did you go to school?
I went to McGill University in Montreal and studied music – I was in the opera programme. I am fascinated by everything to do with music but I think I am most intrigued by the history of music and how music evolved over time.
Did you have a career on stage?
I sang on many stages with different orchestras and I was about to sign a major contract when I decided to leave opera – it was purely a geographic decision: I want to live in Toronto and a career as an opera singer meant living in Europe or New York.
What led you to become a beer expert?
I was changing careers and was exploring ways to combine my performance training with my passion for beer. I spoke with brewers to understand their needs and how to marry these needs with my skills. I found out very quickly the breweries needed a good and credible cheerleader for beer. That’s when I started to study everything I could about beer.
Who introduced you to beer?
At home, I was raised to enjoy a small sip from my mother or father’s glass at dinner, whether it was wine or beer. So I guess a few drops from dad’s beer glass did the trick! Later in life, I had the good fortune to have a great circle of friends who were into craft beers. I became smitten with freshly-brewed beers.
What are you involved with right now?
HOPERA – an evening of craft beer and opera that I’m hosting in Toronto on September 17 and 18. HOPERA presents opera singers in operatic arias, duos and trios. Each song will be accompanied by a sample of local craft beer. Pairings will be presented with details on the musical selection and the beer style as well as why they were chosen.
HOPERA promises to be a lovely and intimate affair. Reserve your seat now to avoid disappointment.
What advice would you give to someone trying to carve out a livelihood without a template?
Here’s what comes to mind: Mine your strengths as much as possible; find out everything you can about the field your interested in; keep your ear to the ground, chat up people and figure out where the demand is, AND GO FILL THE GAP.
At a high level, can you guide us through a beer tasting.
For those with experience in wine tasting, the technique is somewhat similar – you examine appearance, sense of smell to appreciate full flavour, let the beer move around in the mouth to discern flavour, carbonation and then you swallow the beer. This should leave you craving another sip of beer.
Her Ladyship would like to add that there is an excellent guide in Beerology.
What is the best lesson you’ve taken from a mistake?
So many lessons! I really enjoy learning and growing.
What is your go-to method to cheer yourself up?
What skill would you like to learn?
I want to learn the trick of opening a beer bottle with anything at hand!
What never fails to make you laugh?
I am a huge fan of local stand-up comics and I follow quite a few in Toronto.
What would you say is your main weakness?
I tend to see obstacles as surmountable challenges. In some cases, this can be a strength – I don’t think I would be where I am career-wise it weren’t for this trait. Having said this, it can lead to periods of (otherwise avoidable) intense frustration.
How do you make your life less stressful?
As a freelancer, I have the luxury to take an hour for lunch and cook from scratch, sit down, eat and enjoy lunch.
What is your favourite food?
Pasta in its many guises.
What is your favourite work of art?
It’s a contemporary piece by Damien Hirst, called Love Lost. It’s an awesome installation piece made of glass, painted steel, silicon, water, aquarium system, live fresh water fish, gravel, gynecologist’s chair, stainless steel table, computer keyboard and monitor, stool, mug, watch and pewter rings.
How do you celebrate big moments?
Sharing a drink with friends.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
I love swimming in lakes and when I think of my childhood, I try to recapture memories of swimming in the lake.
What is your best ever adventure?
I jumped out of a plane! I decided to celebrate my 30th birthday by sky diving. It was an incredible experience.
Who is your favourite author?
Michel Tremblay, the Quebec author and playwright.
What is your favourite season?
Late summer when it folds into early fall.
What is your workout philosophy?
I find working out boring, so I get a daily workout by cycling most places.
What is your favourite article of clothing?
I collect t- shirts so I would say my collection of locally-designed, artisanal t-shirts. A long time ago I decided I wasn’t going to wear logos on my clothes. I am very supportive of local artists and designers.
Which is your favourite Canadian city?
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
What are the principal aspects of your personality?
I am curious; I love to learn, I love to share and I’d say I’m a pretty smart cookie!
What do you appreciate most in your friends?
Their sense of sharing and their support.
What is your idea of happiness?
Sharing a delicious meal with people I care about and having great conversations. Also being close to a lake.
Who is your hero in real life?
I admire the late Bob Flanagan greatly. He was an American writer, poet, comedian, performance artist and musician who suffered from cystic fibrosis and found ways to turn his illness into art. I admire how his courage and creativity impacted so many people in a positive way. Bob Flanagan died in 1996 at the age of 43.
Where is your favourite place to unplug?
In the lake!
What do you bring on a long flight to make yourself comfortable?
Water, gum and I like keep my mind busy so I always have a book or podcast with me.
When you vacation, do you focus on luxury, adventure or relaxation?
What gives you satisfaction?
I have a lot of satisfaction in my work – I love introducing people to beer. I have been doing this for seven years and I am always thrilled when I move someone to the pleasures of craft beers. The feedback I receive is awesome! I’m not changing lives but the satisfaction is amazing and incredibly personal.
What is your favourite daily ritual?
My morning café latte.
What would like to do ten years from now?
I would like to own a cottage so I can jump in the lake!
What words do you live by?
Be true to myself.