Sylvia Kopp: craft beer and culture in Berlin
Titties & Beer*. Sylvia Kopp’s got both of those. It’s just a fact. If that took you aback, well, Sylvia is used to that. With 15 years under her belt as a beer sommelier – yes like the wine experts – you can imagine how many times she’s flabbergasted the male-domniated industry with her accomplishments and passion for the frothy beverage. Sylvia teaches sensory evaluation and the study of styles and serves as a long-term judge at international beer competitions such as the World Beer Cup in the U.S., European Beer Star in Munich and at the Brussels Beer Challenge.
As if all that was not enough experience to prove her expertise (check your bias), in 2013 she founded the Berlin Beer Academy, which she ran until 2016. From 2015-2018 she served as the American Craft Beer Ambassador for Europe for the Brewers Association. Last year she began working with BarthHaas, the world-leading distributor for hops, where she teaches at their Hops Academy. She also wrote a whole book called “Barley & Hops: The Craft Beer Book”. Phew! In short, Sylvia is a beer writer, speaker and teacher on the globally changing beer culture.
But why beer? For Sylvia, the answer is threefold. First and foremost, sheer interest and inspiration; beer is a cultural product. Sylvia points out that it is not a drink that can happen by accident (such as juice or wine), it takes a maker, their skills and creative process to brew. Exploring the brewing process beginning with the brewers creative impulse is something Sylvia has always found fascinating – especially when it results in something delicious. Second, she is intrigued by change. As Sylvia began exploring the craft beer movement in the United States in her early years, she knew instinctively that the beer world was experiencing a revolution – from few mass producers to many small and medium producers. At the time, Germany was fast asleep in terms of craft beer, but Sylvia knew change was coming even while Germany snoozed. The third element has always been taste. To this day she loves practicing her sensory skills to evaluate beer. Sensory evaluation is the perfect tool and according to her “the missing link so that I can contribute my part to the beer world.”
Sharing what she’s been working on in Berlin, Sylvia mentions wanting to publish more of her fictional work (and our title is a hint of what that could look like). But she really lights up when she starts talking about farmhouse breweries, which she oversimplifies to mean “place-related breweries that use mainly ingredients from their own farming or foraging.” She cites Jester King in the US, Kemker Brukultuur in Germany and Nevel in the Netherlands for reference. She goes on to say…
“Not only are these brewers very sustainable, they also produce incredibly unique beers, beers that have a taste of place, terroir if you like“.
When asked how the covid-19 pandemic affected her, Sylvia says that while events and article assignments slowed down drastically (and with those her income), she’s had more time, which has been more than welcome. In contrast, at the BarthHaas Hops Academy everything went fast and their team proved quite resilient. They went online within a few months and are now running a full program of “Hopinars” (a play on webinar and hops) – even the flagship Hop Flavorist Course, which involves innumerable tasting samples, is slated to go online as this article goes to publication.
“While some in Germany may be claiming that craft beer is dead, Sylvia proclaims “long live craft beer”.
With so many craft brewers producing flavor-forward delicacies, thus upgrading the entire category, craft beer’s integration into the mainstream is complete. The only question is what will future innovations be like? According to Sylvia, as markets and trends during and after the pandemic become less and less predictable, it is important to take creative approaches.
Her message to brewers now is the soul of craft beer: Don’t look for trends. Look for what’s inside of you and find what brings you joy; what you are interested in creating. Be creative, be bold, be innovative. “To some, it might feel like craft beer is dead, since the initial emotionally-charged polarity has vanished, but the truth is that craft beer has changed the beer world forever. And it will stick around.”