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Beer Knight spills Okanagan Fest-of-Ale tips

Beer Knight  Guy McClelland of McClelland Premium Imports will be pouring authentic European beers and spreading his knowledge on the beverages at Fest-of-Ale this weekend.  - Submitted Photo
Beer Knight Guy McClelland of McClelland Premium Imports will be pouring authentic European beers and spreading his knowledge on the beverages at Fest-of-Ale this weekend.
— image credit: Submitted Photo

He quite possibly has the coolest title of anyone that will be at the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale this weekend in Penticton.

Guy McClelland is a Beer Knight. A champion of Belgian beers for over 25 years, the president of McClelland Premium Imports, which will be at the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale this weekend, was knighted by the Confederation of Belgian Brewers Association in 2007 for his passion and efforts of promoting Belgian beer in Canada. He is one of only four Canadians to be honoured with in the knighthood and lives to spread the word on these beers.

“The processed nature of some of the big brewers, I couldn’t tell you how many ingredients are in it, so for myself, I don’t trust it,” said McClelland. “What is terra firma for me is going back to a place of origins and bringing something that has been around for a long time for a certain reason and remained commercially successful enough to still exist over a long period of time. It means it is probably something that is pretty good.”

And for McClelland, that means pouring beers from Belgium, Germany and Austria. At Fest-Of-Ale they will be pouring four European beers including the Erdinger Weissbier (the best selling wheat beer in the world), Stiegl Lager, Fruli Strawberry and Stiegl Radler. The latter are beers fermented with strawberries and one with half grapefruit juice.

“It’s kind of a new and strange thing to Canadians and North Americans, fruit in beer. It is a bit of a hot subsegment nowadays especially in Canada,” said McClelland.

While that may seem out of the comfort zone for many, McClelland said this is a tradition going back hundreds of years in Europe.

“It is not some new fad, or concotion or processed drink because there certainly are many of those in the market. This is something traditional,” he added.

What it does fall in line with is the trend of eating real food and knowing what ingredients are entering your body. Because of the Bavarian purity law that states beer should only be made of four ingredients (water, hops, malt and yeast), McClelland said what Canadians are tasting is something refreshing and not what first comes to mind when you think of beer.

“The Belgians believe in naturalness, pure ingredients, real food and beer being part of gastronomy which is kind of a foreign concept in North America unfortunately. Strawberry wheat beer is a beautiful, refreshing and a pure natural food. It actually has a lot of health benefits because it is low in calories, high in B vitamin complex and low glycemic,” he said.

The Stiegl Radler is a homemade tradition in Bavaria because breweries couldn’t go outside of the four ingredients. McClelland said it is normal for those going out on a bike ride to drink a Radler after.

“Being a good Bavarian your first choice of refreshment is beer no question. Breweries couldn’t commercially produce something like this because of the purity laws so mom would literally mix their favourite lager with their favourite fruit juice,” said McClelland.

While there have been many trends over the years in beer from low calorie, lime beer to last summer’s iced tea-beer mix, McClelland said he sees a bigger trend coming of sophistication. Much like how wine consumers have evolved in Canada.

“It is not about 27 Buds in front of the game anymore. It is about actually taking the time to smell the roses, enjoy food more, enjoy different beer and wine. Finding pairings for your beer and food. I believe beer is on a similar path as wine, so I think we are getting more sophisticated about beer taste and that naturally leads to curiosity about its origins.

“We are really excited to be presenting these awesome, authentic beers to Penticton beer consumers and I fully anticipate we will get a great reaction,” said McClelland.

As a Beer Knight, McClelland is passionate about beer education, debunking popular myths and introducing Canadians to original European craft beers. The first thing McClelland suggests is to always drink any type of beer from a glass. He said a naturally fermented beer contains about 2.5 volumes of carbons dioxide. So, as most Canadians do, drinking this right out of the bottle is equivalent to putting a bottle of water and two and half bottles of gas in your stomach.

“Pouring it correctly into a glass, meaning creating a head which is the way it is intended, you are releasing or exploding some of that gas out of the beer,” said McClelland.

This does two things, it gives the proper mouth feel in terms of bite and will be far less filling and bloating. He suggests that with an ale you should drink from a wide-open top glass that is wider at the top than the height of the glass. A lager glass should be much taller than wide.

McClelland said there are a lot of myths about beer in Canada.

“Beer gets a bad wrap,” he said. “There is the myth out there that beer is fattening and it really isn’t. unless you are drinking 27, eating cheeses and living a sedentary lifestyle.”

According to the beer knight, which is known as a beer belly is actually a “lifestyle belly” from eating the wrong foods, large portions of those or a sedentary lifestyle. McClelland said the reality is the alcohol level in a drink is where the fat calories are derived from. A glass of wine compared to a glass of Fruili will have three times the calories.

“One of my favourites is people who drink Smirnoff Ice because they think beer is fattening but a spirit based cooler which are typically seven per cent alcohol and jacked by adding the sugar is about the same calories as a Big Mac,” said McClelland.

Prior to forming McClelland Premium Imports, the beer knight was the senior marketing director for Stella Artois when it was launched in Canada in 1997.  McClelland also helped import and launch Keith’s India Pale Ale and Boddington’s. Besides the ultra-cool and impressive title of Beer Knight, McClelland also received a medal that entitles him to drink for free anywhere in Belgium.

Tips to enjoy the Okanagan Fest-Of-Ale from the Beer Knight:

- Start lighter and work your way up in taste. The more you drink,  the less you taste so start with delicate lighter tastes and work your way up to stronger tastes.

- Use the program talk to exhibitors to learn about the beers and their suggestions. Each exhibitor will have knowledgeable people who know about their beers.

- Take advantage of the opportunity to taste, try things you have never tried before.

For more info on the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale visit www.fest-of-ale.bc.ca.

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