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Beer tasting class to bring enthusiasts from tasting to fully experiencing beer

Ben Darcie, area renowned beer geek, talks about his journey from homebrewer to beer educator- and how he'll guide participants into that journey with him over the course of nine weeks.
Ben Darcie with some select Michigan brews

Ben Darcie with some select Michigan brews /Jackie Jurgens

Topics Covered

Week one, August 4: Getting to know beer ingredients – malt, hops, yeast, water

Week two, August 11: The brewing process

Week three, August 18: Lager/Pale Ale – the art of lagering/the American standard

Week four, September 8: IPA/DIPA – hops and brewing with them

Week five, September 16: Field trip to Brewery Vivant for Belgian ales – fermentation and Belgian yeast

Week six, September 22: Brown, porter, stout – designing a malt bill

Week seven, September 29: Michigan cider and mead

Week eight, October 6: Extreme beers – High gravity brewing, barrel aging, bottle aging

Week nine, October 13: Infection, mutation, off flavors 

Ben Darcie talking to members of the Grand Rapids Homebrewers club about off flavors in beer

Ben Darcie talking to members of the Grand Rapids Homebrewers club about off flavors in beer /Emilee Andrews

Grand Rapids Beer Tasting Class, the brainchild of Ben Darcie, is set to begin its fourth year teaching beer enthusiasts how to experience beer on a deeper level. Harmony Brewing will host the majority of the classes, which will be every Monday night at 7 p.m. starting August 4 and go through the second week of October.

“It’s a unique opportunity to get some face time with people who make the beer we all drink,” says Ben Darcie, creator of GRBTC, homebrewer, beer writer and brewery representative and sales manager for Brewery Vivant. 

Each week of classes focuses on different world beer styles. The first half of the class features a panel discussion with local well-known professional brewers and West Michigan homebrewers. The second half of the class includes a tasting of two different world class examples of the style discussed in the first half.

The atmosphere of the classes is very important to Darcie. Too often in beer education, he says, people feel like they’re being talked down to. Making a comfortable environment for learning is a top priority for him.

“The class is a comfortable and non-judgemental environment. This is so crucial. I want all of us to be on the same level. I create a very comfortable environment because so much of beer is individual preference,” he says.

The first GRBTC took place in the fall of 2010 at 25 Kitchen + Bar, now closed, and it was organized and funded by Darcie from his own pocket.

“I decided that since nobody was doing a beer course that I wanted to take, that I as a beer lover would design one," he says. 

Darcie’s passion for beer began when he was 19, but he has been a lifelong lover of flavor. He was a cook for 10 years, before he began delving into the world of beer brewing and education.

“I just love the experience of tasting,” he says. Bringing that understanding and experience to people who enjoy beer is a goal he has for the classes.

Other local beer tasting classes were a bit lackluster, Darcie says.

“Everybody wants to take this topic of beer tasting and [condense it to a single] one hour class that meets every two months. I thought ‘how are you supposed to teach people how to taste beer in one hour, every two months?’” he says.

Classes last for two and a half hours and are spread over the course of nine weeks, from August 4 to October 8. There are 40 seats available in every class, and the cost is $10 per person, per class. That fee buys the tasting, a free pint from Harmony Brewing and $3 pints for the rest of the evening. Beer drinkers are welcome to pick and choose which classes they want to attend.

“If you really like cider, you can go to week seven, which is Michigan cider and Michigan mead,” Darcie says.

Another important priority for Darcie is keeping the environment of the class comfortable and open for people who might have questions. The craft beer culture can sometimes seem a bit snobbish, he says, and it is important to him that classes are accessible.

“The point of this class is to get people to stop drinking beer," he says, "and start experiencing it.”

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