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Sunday, 07 December 2014 22:00

Q&A: Angela Steil, Gravity Taphouse Grille

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Angela Steil, beer director and cicerone, Gravity Taphouse Grille Angela Steil, beer director and cicerone, Gravity Taphouse Grille PHOTO: NICK MANES

After leaving a career as a model in New York City to become the youngest certified cicerone in the country, 21-year-old Angela Steil gets to talk about craft beer all day long. She’s now the in-house cicerone at the newly-opened Gravity Taphouse on the East Beltline Avenue in Grand Rapids, operated by Redwater Restaurant Group LLC. In that role, Steil’s job is to help customers navigate the restaurant’s extensive craft beer selections. She spoke with MiBiz about her role of taking Beer City USA patrons on an educational journey through craft beer.

Employing a cicerone is a new thing for restaurants, since most work for distributors. How did you wind up at Gravity after the company approached you?

Very rarely have I heard of a cicerone being inside of a restaurant and working like a wine sommelier. It is all geared toward getting (beer) to the same status that wine has – not with the same pretension, but with the same amount of respect. Anytime I saw gigs like that, they barely paid anything – about $20,000 per year – but when Gravity came along, I was pitching this idea. They kind of already had it in mind and they really thought this is going to work.

How did Gravity present the idea to you of having an in-house cicerone?

Apparently they had already had this inkling. All I knew is that they had heard about me via a MittenBrew.com article and the editor of MittenBrew was talking about me at an event at one of their other restaurants called Cork. They invited me out to lunch and I was already being courted by several people at the time. I went to meet them and was just blown away because everything I spelled out that I wanted to accomplish as a career … they said yes to.

What does the fairly new concept of a restaurant having an in-house cicerone say about the overall state of craft beer right now?

It says that we are a very excited craft beer culture. I came to Grand Rapids very specifically to propel the quality and education spectrum of the craft beer scene here because I knew that we were ready for it, based on being Beer City USA. Technically, are we the best in the country? No. We are in what I call the infantile or toddler phase. But we have a very enthusiastic beer culture – one of the most enthusiastic ones I’ve ever seen. That’s incredibly inspiring, and how could you not want to be a part of that? I came here to help be a catalyst for that change and to make sure we are propelling the scene in a positive and education-focused direction.

How do you view your job as a cicerone?

‘Cicerone’ is the Latin root for ‘cicero’ and it really means a ‘tour guide.’ So you’re guiding people through the palate experience. It’s like a beer steward of sorts. What I love about that idea and why I want to do it so much is it’s not about selling, it’s simply about suggesting. I love talking beer so much and I’m so enthralled with the actual styles and the history. I love working with people so much. It just seemed like the perfect gig for me. Not only can I create a brand new menu concept, but I can go and educate others. If (people want to ask questions), I’m here for that information.

What does a typical day look like for you?

We are still trying to figure that out. But generally, what it seems to be is that during the first portion of my day (usually around 2 p.m.), I would sit down and maybe meet with some sales reps and hear about what kinds of beers they are selling and create some contacts that way. There will be a lot of setting up beer events and beer educational events. That’s my next step. Then in the evening, (I’m) going on the floor and acting as a cicerone during the peak dinner hours. Servers and bartenders will let me know if customers have requested my services. I’d go over and ask them several questions to get to a flight or specific beer that would pair well with their food or just for sitting there.

What will some of the education and events you mentioned entail?

Starting in 2015, there will be a large push on my end for education. We can’t just have a venue with me suggesting beers. I’m sick of just the Beer 101 classes. I want to get very specific. I want to have a glassware class just talking specifically about beer glassware and maybe have a local glassmaker come in. It won’t just be me talking at these events. I want other people to come in. I have a hop farmer in Wisconsin that I think would be interesting to have come in. There would be different levels of classes, from very basic all the way to advanced-level classes.


Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes.

 

Read 3096 times Last modified on Sunday, 07 December 2014 23:06

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