Q&A with Mary Guiver, Global Principal Category Merchant for Beer at Whole Foods Market

by The Tasting Alliance Team  |  10.17.2023

Dive into the world of beer judging with a true industry luminary. Mary Guiver, a distinguished figure with over 18 years of retail expertise, 14 of which have been dedicated to adult beverages, is set to lead the way as a head judge at our 2nd Annual Tasting Alliance Beer Competition, scheduled for December 2-4. As the Global Principal Category Merchant for Beer at Whole Foods, Mary oversees assortment planning, retail indexing, and long-term vision for all Continental Whole Foods Market locations. In this exclusive Q&A, we’ll uncover Mary’s beer preferences, her approach to tastings, and her insights into the exciting future of the beer industry. Join us for a journey through the world of beer, guided by a true aficionado.

What do you love most about the judging process and what excites you most about being selected as a Tasting Alliance judge?

Mary: What I love most about the judging process is the remarkable sensory journey. It’s a truly distinctive experience. I also find it incredibly rewarding to engage with a diverse panel of judges, each with their own unique palates and preferences. This allows for meaningful discussions about the attributes, quality, and current trends in the world of beer. I am constantly learning and gaining valuable insights from my fellow experts in the field. The Tasting Alliance offers an opportunity for a new approach to beer competitions, with a variety of experts with a different lens for critiquing. Coming from a retail background, my objective is more approachability and general consumer preferences which may differ for other judges. This contest is taking a more contemporary approach to judging: more of a representation across a variety of beer lovers.

What excites you the most about the beer industry? Can you recall the moment or beer that sparked your passion?

Mary: I’m really excited about the dialogue happening right now in the beer world: the industry is at an inflection point right now, and it’s full of energy and a call for change. Across consumers and brewers alike there is an increasing awareness around how beer shows up in the various communities and demographics across the country, who is spearheading the growth, and why.  Growing up in the Bar Area I was around some legendary craft brands and got a bit spoiled out of the gate. I started to really “learn” about beer when I encountered Rodenbach Grand Cru which changed my whole understanding of what a beer could be. I was hooked after that, and I remain as hungry as ever to continue to learn as much as I can.

What’s your favorite style of beer?

Mary: I’m the “occasion shopper” we all talk about – it depends on what I’m doing and what I’m eating. My “favorite” varies often. If I have to pick just one, I’m a sucker for Flemish Red Ales and Czech-Style Pilsners.

If you were to travel to any country to drink beer, which would it be, and why?

I want to literally visit every single country and try their beer! Truly. If I had to select one right now, today, I would probably choose Japan. From the little I know, there is an impressive craft scene there both from legacy producers and up-and-comers with fascinating flavor profiles and a flare for innovative recipes. Hopefully, I can get there soon. Oh, and Italy, I’m madly in love with Italian-style pilsners right now and I don’t think they get enough credit as the larger euro-style lagers we know in the US.

How has your palate evolved over the years and are there specific flavors or aromas that you find particularly intriguing or challenging to assess?

My palate has definitely changed. I shy away from beers that I feel are a bit “out of balance” whether that’s from hop character, barrel-aging, brett, etc. I’ve grown to really appreciate master blenders of older styles of beer (Flemish ales and lambics are a great example), as well as clean, beautifully executed lagers and pilsners. With those lighter styles, there’s a sense that you can’t hide as many flaws, and I’d argue that’s true, which is why when they are beautifully made, it’s a mastery of the style. I’m also excited about the globalized view of hops: New Zealand hops are making a big splash in recent years, so that’s a fun one I’m looking forward to following.

What is your favorite or most unique beer & food pairing? 

Hot take – I think beer pairs better with cheese than many wines do. Some of my favorite beer + cheese pairings out there were part of a formative experience many years ago – those pairings stick with you forever. Since winter is approaching, I’d advocate that everyone try pairing their favorite winter ale with a fresh Chevre goat cheese on a buttery crostini or a Roquefort blue cheese with a hearty stout—those are two of my favorite pairings. Have fun with it! Buy a few different styles of cheese, and a few styles of beer, and see how they complement each other (or don’t!).

In your opinion, what recent trends or innovations in the beer industry are the most exciting or game-changing, and how do you see them shaping the future of the industry?

This is early days and there is a long way to go, but I’m so thrilled about the growth of brands owned and brewed by BIPOC producers and women. Historically, beer has not been the most inclusive industry as seen across the greater Beverage Alcohol space, but now there is more energy around making sure that beer really is meant for everyone. There is an extra drive that we can all play a part in the industry and remove barriers. If beer can embrace this change fully it will truly be a game-changer and a doorway to the future.

Seize the extraordinary opportunity to have your exceptional brews evaluated by the best in the industry during the upcoming 2023 Tasting Alliance Beer Competition. Don’t pass up the chance to have your brand spotlighted and glean invaluable insights from experts in the industry. Submit your entries now and let your brand shine among the stars of brewing excellence!