German farmers as long ago as 1750 were making sauerkraut…
Wes Klassen plays drums in a band; it’s something he’s done for a good part of his life.
“Since I was 13 years old, I’ve been playing,” says Klassen who has a Yamaha Beech Custom drum-set. “I took lessons for three years. Music has been my thing.”
So has wine. And beer. And cider.
There is a playful connection between Boy George’s influential 1980s British band Culture Club and what Klassen, as a sommelier, calls “Cultured Club” events at The Berlin. It’s where Klassen sets the rhythm for the entire beverage program at the restaurant, now in its 16th or so month of operation in the centre of downtown Kitchener near the intersection of King and Queen streets.
“Cultured Club” is a whimsical name for the wine, beer and cider dinner events that Klassen started as a way to get staff participating and learning more about processes and ingredients in the area. “It has now evolved into wanting to do that for our customers with these events. It’s like-minded individuals connecting, building relationships and learning together. As well as having fun.”
As for his wine selections for the restaurant, Klassen has the list changing frequently — like the food on the menu — and it is usually private-order, consignment wines. “We work with smaller, boutique agencies and try to be aware of what is around us in this area,” he says. His goal for beer at The Berlin is similar and tries to complement what the kitchen is doing with the food.
“Whatever we offer, I want to over-deliver and for the value to be there,” Klassen says. “I want people to come in and not have to break the bank for an amazing bottle of wine.” That is not an easy task and requires of Klassen time to research and a palate to test and evaluate. He was formerly at Langdon Hall, Wildcraft, Janet Lynn’s Bistro and La Costa Restaurant and holds a diploma from the International Sommelier Guild. Kitchener-born, Klassen grew up in Waterloo Region and knows it well; he spent a year in central America and then went right into the industry. “It’s been 17 years,” he adds.
Guests can test any bottle of wine before purchasing, he says. “I try to focus on specific producers to spotlight — say Pearl Morisette Estate Winery — and ones that have a similar mindset to what we do here at The Berlin.”
Food producers — perhaps even a cold-press canola oil producer such as Pristine Gourmet — distillers, vintners and brewers are part of the plans. “We’re making Berlin beers too,” he says. “We approach brewers in order to do something different. We went to Wellington Brewery and it gave our staff a chance to learn and make beer. It’s about understanding the process as a team. We also work with community gardens and other suppliers that we have for the adjuncts in our beer.”
They recently made a Niagara sour cherry porter with local yeasts in conjunction with Escarpment Labs, based in Guelph, Ont. With Wellington, they’ve bottled beer with The Berlin logo; it’s available at the Wellington bottle shop and at the restaurant. They are also making a kettle-soured beer with ramps and a sour peach Berliner weiss with Kitchener brewer TWB: Together We’re Bitter.
The dinner events that are now a frequent part of the events schedule at the restaurant are only loosely termed so. “It’s unique. They aren’t long and drawn-out and have a more natural feel. You aren’t locked in your seat,” Klassen says. The night focusses on eating, sipping, chatting and visiting with other guests and producers so you can learn about the food and how the wine was paired with it. There’s a camaraderie that has developed. A beer dinner of canapes and a welcome beverage with four courses and beer selections is $65 per person, for example.
The April 20 Cultured Club event will feature an evening with Hamilton-based West Avenue Cider. “This is everything that the general cider market is not,” he stresses. “It’s classic cider, barrel-fermented, bottle-conditioned and English style. One of the apple growers will be here too, and the apples will be in some of the food.”
2027 Cellars, a small boutique winery operated by Kevin Panagapka will be at The Berlin on April 27. Otherwise, Klassen says that he’s working on an event that will integrate with the annual Terroir Symposium.
In a sense then, you might say that Klassen’s events march to the beat of a different drummer at The Berlin. “I don’t believe there’s anyone doing what we are doing, and we want to share that with the community — especially for wine, beer and cider lovers,” he says, adding that he wants people to enjoy and understand the food and wine experience as the region’s industry grows along with the support of the community who feeds it.
“I believe strongly in our industry,” he says, “and I want everyone to rise together. The restaurants are all doing different things, so let’s work together to make the food culture great here and make the region stronger.”
Visit The Berlin website for more events information.