In slightly altered Descartes’ words, “I drink, therefore I am.” To some, beer is a drink to subconsciously knock back pint after pint of, become inebriated, and end up with that particular aftermath breath that would knock one back a few steps.
To Bernd Kirsch, however, beer is a way of life – from brewery to belly. To the beer sommelier, too, drinking beer every day is how it should ideally be.
Interviewed back in 2013 by The Post, Kirsch was then one out of only 500 or so beer sommeliers in the world. Now, he believes the number has increased to about over a thousand.
It is a beer sommelier’s duty to “explain tastes of beer in layman’s terms and, like wine pairing, also to combine the right beer with the right food” which, he also believes, is why it is getting increasingly interesting to view beer from another, more meaningful, angle.
One of two brewmasters at Hops – a recently opened biergarten at Street 228 emulating the authenticity of a beer garden in his native Germany – Kirsch is disarmingly passionate about everything that beer encapsulates. He speaks at great length on how well-crafted beer can positively tweak a person not only within social circumstances but also from a physical aspect.
“Beer is very, very healthy,” he exclaims with conviction, quoting medieval German Benedictine abbess and visionary polymath Hildegard of Bingen, who said, “About health, it is only a question of doses.”
Justifying my disbelief at how one could drink beer everyday and not develop a pot belly, Kirsch says:
“The timing of drinking beer matters; if you eat a lot of fattening food every day and wash it down with beer, of course you will get a beer belly.”
“There is no other such drink besides milk, tea or coffee, which has such low sugar content like beer. With all its vitamins and minerals, and small content of alcohol, it is good for the heart and studies have shown that consuming 20 to 40 grams of alcohol a day can reduce your heart attack risk by 43 percent.”
That is the equivalent of half a litre to one litre of beer per day. To some, he admits, that sounds like borderline alcoholism. A healthy daily dosage of beer would ideally be three 0.33 litre glasses spread out over long hours, Kirsch explains.
It goes without saying that one should not drink and drive; nevertheless, he still emphasises that it is imperative to practise safe drinking at all times.
He moves on seamlessly to how his 35 years of being a brewmaster have helped him sculpt a taste for envisioning and pairing the right beer with its rightful food counterpart. It is not surprising that Kirsch, besides being a licensed hunter back in Germany, is also an avid cook.
“If you eat something really spicy,” he starts, “the tongue is injured.”
“The hops in beer possesses the ability to repair these micro cuts on your tongue very quickly. I would recommend drinking an IPA (Indian Pale Ale) because it has a high bitterness and level of hops that can help to quickly repair the tongue.”
As for lager, which at 4.8 to 5 percent alcohol content is at least 2.2 percent less than that of an IPA’s, it is a light beer best to drink with dishes of less complex – in other words, not very flavourful – tastes like fish and chips. Otherwise, one’s tongue can get blocked by the bitterness of an IPA or a stout.
Dessert best goes with stout, as the tongue has been bombarded with a taste tsunami from the main course and appetizer dishes, and needs a bitter balance to even it out.
Food aside, Kirsch has a vision of bringing a couple of German traditions to complete the biergarten.
As a young boy in the 1970s, he had followed his father to the pub every Sunday morning for Frühschoppen. It loosely translates to early – 10 or 11am kind of early – drinking; Früh meaning early and schoppen translating to a glass of something alcoholic.
Two Frühschoppens have thus far been successfully conducted at Hops, with Kirsch promoting it as a working title, BBL or Beer Before Lunch, to their regular clientele. However, he would like to establish it with its native name and make it an every weekend occurrence.
Following Frühschoppen, Kirsch also has plans in the pipeline to gather all the brew masters in Phnom Penh and have a Stammtisch with them. “Ganzberg, Cambodia, Himawari brewery, Munich brewery, all the small living-room breweries here – I want to gather with them and make a beer institution or a beer family,” he says.
A Stammtisch loosely translates to regular get-together, or a regular meeting.
“If we all become family, it will strengthen the whole beer market here,” he believes.
At the end of the day, Kirsch only wants to give beer a stage.
The amber drink is, after all, not only an art but also a multipurpose performer: The next time you feel dehydrated after doing some sports, down some wheat beer like Kirsh does after a strenuous off-road biking session, as the electrolytes in beer make it more isotonic than some sugar-loaded isotonic drinks out there.