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Meeting Simonmattia Riva

Recently I had the opportunity to meet one of the most famous beer sommeliers in the world. When I saw him for the first time I really didn’t know anything about him, but the one thing that caught my attention was that he was the friendliest person in a room of almost 20 people. I first met him at the European Beer Star Competition but it was before the beer sommelier world championship 2017 when I had the opportunity to talk with him longer. We drank some beers in the Augustiner Keller in Munich while I interviewed him and for me, it is such a pleasure to share this interview with all of you.

1. When did your passion for beer start?

It started a long time ago, in the middle of the 90’s, when I was just 17 years old. I grew up in a typical Italian family and wine was the daily drink, besides water of course. Beer was just a refreshing drink that my father or my grandfather drank seldomly in summer. And, of course, those beers were just international lagers in a can or a bottle. So, when I started drinking beer with my friends – of course in some „secret meetings“ because we were too young to drink alcohol and our parents would have gotten worried if they saw us drinking beer – I thought that „beer“ was just Lager or Pils. One night, however, a Chimay Grand Reserve fell into my hands. And this was the revelation: this dark liquid, with a thick and impressive foam and essence of chocolate, dates and dried figs was awesome and astonishing. I thought: “If this is what beer can be like, I want to know more about it.” Of course, in those days there were not many special beers in Italy and the Italian craft breweries didn’t start till 1996. At the beginning there were just local businesses, so my passion was fed with some Belgian, German or English beers tasted in some pubs with good beer lists or some special groceries selling imported beers.

Now we’re lucky: with the worldwide craft beer movement, Internet and the chance to talk to people with the same passion. It is easier to taste different good beers and to learn very quickly, if you want to.

2. Why did you decide to become a beer sommelier?

Because I wanted to switch my passion into a job: a few years ago I was not happy anymore about my job and so I decided to attend the Doemens Academy. I was happy and lucky because one year after graduating as a beer sommelier I had the opportunity to work as a manager of a small craft beer pub named Beer Garage in my town, Bergamo, and shortly after I unexpectedly won the beer sommelier World Championship.

3. Where did you study for being a beer sommelier?

I started to study by myself many years ago: I wanted to learn as much as possible about beer. But 20 years ago there were no books in Italian, no Amazon to buy books in English, no beer lessons, nothing… I just tried to taste different beers and took some notes to remember their characteristics and countries of origin.

When I went out with my friends, I was the nerd who asked the waitresses for the beer menu, while the other boys asked just for „a beer“ or at least „a blonde, a red or a dark one“. In the early 2000s I found the first Michael Jackson beer books translated to Italian and the first lessons and tastings with Franco Re and Lorenzo „Kuaska“ Dabove. So I could finally meet other beer lovers and organize the incomplete and messy information that I collected for years. After a while I attended the Unionbirrai and MoBi tasting beer lessons and joined La Compagnia del Luppolo, a group of beer lovers from my town, one of the first groups of beer enthusiasts in Italy.

The Doemens Akademy was the last and the most important step. Now I’m attending the Master of Beer programme and the most important thing is that I can continue studying everyday.

4. What do you think is the most important thing for being a beer sommelier?

A wild passion for beers and the consequent motivation to learn all that you can about them. You don’t have to be a „natural supertaster“: more or less 90% of all human beings have the same sensorial potential, so training and motivation are much more important than natural gifts. I also repeat that you always have to keep your feet on the ground and be conscious that you have to keep learning and studying every day. I get angry when I see younger colleagues thinking and saying: „now I’m a big expert“, „I can recognize all beer styles in a blind tasting, I’m sure about it“, „If I can take part in the beer sommelier World Championship, I can easily win it“ and so on…

5. What does beer mean to you?

Beer is one of the most important parts of my life: I love its history, its variety and beer people (brewers, publicans, tasters, judges) are the nicest people who I met in my professional life. I love to celebrate the most important moments of my life with beer and to make people conscious about its complexity and potential.

6. You are the first Italian who won the beer sommeliers world championship. How many beer sommelier were in this competition? Did you always think that you could win? And how does it feel to be the first one?

It was, of course, an astonishing emotion to be (and I’m still…) not only the first Italian but also the first non-German speaking world champion.

We were 53 beer sommeliers in Saõ Paulo in 2015 and, being my first time in the world championship, I didn’t think that I would have any chance at all to win.

I started to believe in it after the results from the tasting exams (beer blind tasting, off flavour tasting and multiple choice test) came out and I was one of the three finalists: it was already a big success to be in the final, so I calmed down. The last test was a public presentation of a beer, something that I had already done many times for my job. I started to think: “Perhaps I have a chance to win!”

7. What can you recommend to the people who are thinking about becoming a beer sommelier? What can they do after becoming one?

If you love beer and you want to know all about it and if you like to present beers to other people you have a good reason to become a beer sommelier. However, the graduation is just a first step, you have to study, taste and discuss beers every day to keep yourself „on air“ in a world that changes every day. It’s a neverending travel, you can never stop and say: „I’m satisfied with what I know, now I’m the boss.“ Every day, every beer and everyone can teach you something.

Thanks Simonmattia for your time and for being such a nice person. It was a wonderful time for sure.

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