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January 5, 2015 at 12:49pm

208 Garfield Beer Geek offers beer-tasting classes in January

208 Garfield in Parkland will host a series of beer-tasting classes using the Siebel Institute Basic Sensory Training Kit.

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New Year resolutions are a manifestation of looking back and seeing all the foolhardy, self-serving, reprehensible qualities that have so bedeviled you in the past, then resolving to do better in the upcoming year. But, within the first few weeks of January, approximately 100 million Americans walk the same path. It's a path filled with empty promises to quit smoking, lose weight and exercise more. Trying to quit smoking can be as tough as Parker Posey in Dazed and Confused. And even though you're totally BFF with Mother Earth these days, did you really need those jeans made from cotton grown by blind monks? Maybe make this the year you get a grip on your finances. Consider education as a resolution. Expand the horizons of your mind. Put your mind to the test, because with every new thing you learn, another door opens. This could be something as easy as reading a novel, or learning the science behind tasting beer.

If building skills to distinguish between beer flavors is your resolution, then Pacific Lutheran University Sous-chef Erick Swenson has your, er, tongue. His four-part, beer-tasting class launches Sunday at 208 Garfield restaurant, running consecutive Sundays through Feb. 1. Titled "Perfecting Your Inner Beer Geek," Swenson is the perfect geek to teach the class. When he's not creating cuisine at PLU's dining facilities or catering departments, Swenson runs the monthly beer nights at neighboring restaurant, 208 Garfield. The brain trust at 208 Garfield endearingly dubs Swenson their resident "beer geek," encouraging him to help with their beer selection. In return, Swenson oversees the food production at the PLU commissary kitchen that supplies 208. With 20 years in the culinary field, it's surprising 208 doesn't call Swenson their "food geek."

"I have embraced the label of ‘geek'," says Swenson. "I use it as an alternative to ‘snob.' A geek is someone who finds a passion for a subject and then plunges in deep to learn as much about that subject as they can. A geek is excited about what they have learned and wants to share it with as many people as possible. In addition to that, a geek is looking for things to love about their subject where a snob would be looking for things they don't like. ‘Have you tried this? It is amazing,' says the geek. ‘I would never drink that. It's a domestic,' says the snob. I think that geeks are more fun to talk to and we want our events to be a fun experience with the chance to learn something."

Swenson has also been a home brewer for 17 years.

"I started with Charlie Papazian's books, of course, and I read as much as I could get my hands on. I also got a lot of useful advice from Beer Essentials and Larry's Brewing Supplies. I really went off the deep end when I read Ray Daniels' book, Designing Great Beer. That is the best primer for beer styles and ingredients that I have found. I have not taken any courses from the Siebel Institute but I was impressed with their website when I was researching Cicerone training. When I pitched the idea of doing a Sensory training course the Siebel Institute's kit made the most sense.

The Siebel Institute in Chicago, created by John E. Siebel in the mid-1800s, has graduated many a professional brewer. The school's training kits contain 24 vials of pre-measured "standards" representing some of the most important flavors and aromatics found in beer. With the help of the kits, Swenson will lead participants through four flavor trainings: earthy/spicy/acidic Jan. 11; vanilla/grainy/bitter Jan. 18; identifying flaws in beer Jan. 25; Cicerone Certification Program training Feb. 1. To reserve a spot, click here.

"We will be exploring six sensory characteristics per session by tasting the sample, comparing it to a neutral sample and then talking about the differences we taste," says Swenson. "I will be giving a short talk on each one of the samples to guide the tasting but it will be largely interactive. It is important when training the palate that you are able to make personal associations in your mind. For example, Duchesse de Bourgogne reminds me of a really nice raspberry vinegar and that is now what I look for in Flanders Sour Red beers. The samples have been roughly broken up into the four sessions. The first and second sessions will be mostly flavors that are common to specific styles of beer, the third session will be flaws in beer and the fourth session will cover the characteristics that are tested in the Certified Cicerone test. 

Zeroing in on the various flavors in different beers will help you begin to isolate the styles that you like the most. Is it bitter? Earthy? Are there fruity flavors? Smoke? How about grassy, herbal flavors? The tasting series offers a guided tour through important flavors in both brewing and drinking beer, but it is not officially sanctioned by the Siebel Institute or by the Cicerone program.

Where does Swenson get his beer geek on?

"At 208, of course," he replies. "I also enjoy the selection at the ParkWay. I have been following Wingman brewery since they started. I love their P-51 Porter, and I really like what Odd Otter Brewing is doing in downtown Tacoma. Mamma Otter's Pancake Porter ... wow!"

As I said, all those good intentions will fall by the wayside some time before Groundhog Day. A far easier resolution to uphold would involve adding awesomeness into your life rather than denying yourself it, such as Swenson's beer tasting series. That's why I typically start the year by promising myself to drink better beer than the year before. I haven't failed yet. And I wish you similar success.

PERFECTING YOUR INNER BEER GEEK, 2 p.m., Jan. 11, 18, 25 and Feb. 1, 208 Garfield, 208 Garfield St. S., Tacoma, $10 a class, $36 for series, 253.538.5990

Filed under: New Beer Column, Parkland, Tacoma,
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Served, a blog by the Weekly Volcano, is the region’s feedbag of fresh chow daily, local restaurant news, New Beer Column, bar and restaurant openings and closings, breaking culinary news and breaking culinary ground - all brought to the table with a dollop of Internet frivolity on top.

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