King’s Row Cicerone James Willis Covers It: Hops to Heffeweizen

King's Row classes teach the ABC's of Beer

Friday, March 1, 2013 | 4:48 pm

James Willis, certified cicerone at King's Row Gastropub in Old Pasadena.

Still stuck on flavorless, mass-produced beer that tastes like water…only a little worse? Put down that CoorsMillerBuschInbev swill and do yourself a favor — head to Old Pasadena’s King’s Row Gastropub and learn about the incredible array of hand-crafted, flavorful beers the world has to offer.

James Willis, general manager of King’s Row Gastropub and certified cicerone (the beer equivalent of a wine sommelier), has been organizing tasting classes that have only gained in popularity. Past events had newbies and beer lovers alike tasting IPA’s and identifying their distinctive characteristics; next month, Pilsner and Heffeweizen blind tastings will be offered as we slip into the warmer summer months.

James’ most recent event was the Belgian Blind Flight Night, a tasting that dealt with different styles of both American and true Belgian beers.

For those who are just starting to venture out into the great wide wonderful world of beer, the landscape (and language) can be confusing. What is a Belgian Trippel? And is it really that different than an American Belgian-style Trippel? And what the heck does “mouth-feel” mean?

For James Willis, this event was all about the teaching.

“This is the culmination of what I like to do,” Willis said. “I don’t think you can do something professionally without teaching it. And if you are enthusiastic enough to bring it to people that want the education, that want the expertise and the knowledge that I’ve worked hard to get then, you’re doing something right.”

Boulevard's Tripple: one of the American ales featured.

Willis painstakingly selected four Belgian and four American Belgian-style beers for students to taste. Participants were supplied with tasting charts that included categories like “aroma” and “finish” and were asked to rank their favorites and to guess which were foreign or domestic. He discussed the methods used to taste beers and pointed out their different flavor components, ranging from bread and toast to floral, citrus, and even chocolate.

Because of his passion for the brew, Willis has even organized a collaboration beer festival with Congregation Alehouse, something he hopes will bring synergy to the beer market in Pasadena.

“I’ve noticed there’s a lot of competition that goes on and I don’t think that serves us. It does to a point- competition hones you and makes you do what you do better but I think team work can do the same thing…”

King’s Row, being a gastropub, also offers a large menu of interesting dishes.

“We were the first people [in Pasadena] to be focusing on gastronomically interesting food and a really killer beer list,” Willis pointed out.

Whether you’re in it to learn or just to dabble, the comfortable atmosphere, large and exclusive beer list, and awesome menu at King’s Row Gastropub are sure to please. Stop by soon — you’ll probably find me there!

King’s Row Gastropub is located on Colorado Blvd. in Old Town Pasadena between Fair Oaks and Raymond at 20 E. Colorado Blvd, Pasadena.  For more, call (626) 793-3010 or visit .

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