Beer writer, beer sommelier, educator and advocate for women in beer, it was no surprise that Annabel Smith AKA BeerBelle co-won our Educator of the Year award at Imbibe's Personality of the Year 2017. One of the first women in the UK to qualify as a beer sommelier, Smith is also the founder of Dea Latis, an organisation women representing beer-loving women.
With the shortlist for our Personality of the Year awards 2018 out of the bag, we caught up with Smith 10 months after her win.
How did it feel winning Educator of the Year 2017?
'It was a huge surprise, especially as I knew I was up against some really stiff competition in the industry, but I felt absolutely delighted that beer education is starting to be recognised and rewarded with accolades such as the Imbibe Awards. I have always loved changing people's perceptions about beer in a fun, engaging and inspiring manner and the award was testimony to how trainers and educators should be speaking about beer.'
'I have always loved changing people's perceptions about beer in a fun, engaging and inspiring manner'
What projects have you been working on this year?
'I've been working in tandem with Cask Marque to develop a beer training organisation which does for the beer industry what WSET has done for the wine and spirits industry. I have also worked closely with the There's a Beer for That national campaign to deliver beer tasting events to consumers and educating the off-trade about beer.
'A big passion of mine is writing about beer and I was shortlisted for a British Guild of Beer writers award in November. And of course, along with two partners, we have great steps to build Dea Latis into a credible, established organisation. We were awarded a research grant in 2017 to investigate women's relationships and attitudes towards beer in the UK. The results will form part of the first Dea Latis Women and Beer Report which will be released early 2018. This is all on top of keeping my own business, Beerbelle, ticking over!'
What made you want to start educating people about beer?
'I felt beer was a much maligned category, and seen as a bit of a poor relation to wines and spirits; there are so many misconceptions and myths surrounding beer, and I wanted a platform to correct and address these issues. I'm hugely interested in how beer styles emerged – what was going on in the world economically, politically, and socially when various beer styles were created. Most beers have a fascinating back story and a tale to tell, and once people have heard these stories, they are more amenable to trying a beer.
'In addition, I despaired at some of the incorrect practices publicans do with beer once it's in their hands, resulting in poor quality beer being served across bars. Brand owners take a huge amount of care into making sure they produce a quality product, but it can all go horribly wrong if the end handler damages it through lack of knowledge or training.'
'My mantra is – however much I know about my subject, I can always learn more: never stop educating yourself as well as others.'
What advice would you give for others in the trade looking to start educating?
'Obviously, know your subject inside out. But knowledge doesn't make you a good educator. You need to think about methodology – how to make your subject inspiring and interesting through visual, tactile and sensory experiences.
'You need to be able to coach and lead groups of people to particular outcomes. You need to adapt – quickly – to situations, attitudes and environments. You definitely need a sense of humour and be able to sprinkle your messages with personal experiences to make you relevant. And most of all you need to deliver the information in a fun and fresh way, as though this is all as equally exciting and inspiring for you as an educator as it is for learners.
'My mantra is: however much I know about my subject, I can always learn more: never stop educating yourself as well as others.'