Beer Sommeliers: Why Beer Deserves the Same Kind of Expertise as Wine

Wine, beer, and other potent potables.
Dec. 21 2011 1:38 PM

Beer Me, Sommelier

Why beer deserves the same kind of expertise as wine.

(Continued from Page 1)

The industry has responded positively. A growing number of brewers, bartenders, and servers have signed up and tested to earn the ascending titles of Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, and Master Cicerone.

There are thousands qualified at the lowest level, who must pass a detailed multiple-choice test of beer styles, service, storage, and science. (Try to answer some sample test questions here.) Then they’re eligible to try the test for Certified Cicerone designation. Here the exam includes tougher short-answer and essay questions, and naturally, taste tests. There are 300 Certified Cicerones and counting. Less than half of those who take that exam pass. Those who make it can attempt the toughest test, and so far only three people have ever passed the Master Cicerone exam. (The elite three are Rich Higgins, brewmaster at San Francisco’s Social Kitchen & Brewery, Dave Kahle, a Chicago beer consultant and judge, and Andrew Van Til, who works for a Michigan beer distributor. You can find Cicerones in your area online.)

The capitalized names make it all sound awfully precious and formal, but Daniels says that’s not what he’s going for. “The intent of this program is to improve the quality of beer available to consumers in every respect, without changing the accessibility of it,” he explains. “We want Cicerones to be guides, not gods.” The Cicerone program is well respected by many beer professionals, but has a weakness in its singular focus on beer. This approach is enough for beer establishments, but a server working in a restaurant with good beer and wine should be knowledgeable enough to offer smart selections from both.

Advertisement

This is especially important for expanding the audience for excellent beer. If a server is to steer a beer skeptic away from wine to a surprising new experience, that server needs a strong grasp of wine to make the case. I remain grateful to the Roman waiter who pointed my wife and me away from the wine list toward a special bottle from Italy’s excellent brewer Baladin. The beer was a far better match than wine for our spicy dishes, raising the dinner from good to fantastic.

There are new signs all the time of beer’s increasing quality and culinary esteem. With the recent publication of the weighty Oxford Companion to Beer, it finally gets the same encyclopedic treatment Oxford has long afforded wine. A restaurant festooned with Michelin stars now looks outmoded if it doesn’t have substantial beer selections on its wine list. And even average bars and restaurants without a craft beer focus will typically offer at least a couple interesting beers. But all this is of little use to drinkers if the beer isn’t carefully stored, chosen, and served.

Like great wine, great beer deserves well-trained people who can build a strong collection of barrels and bottles, and know how pair them well. Many restaurants and bars have a long way to go, but the example of people like Engert and Daniels points the way to an auspicious future. A well-chosen and expertly-paired beer can be a revelation, so it’s time for more establishments to get their people in the revealing business.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Yes, Black Families Tend to Spank More. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for Black Kids.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 16 2014 5:47 PM Tale of Two Fergusons We knew blacks and whites saw Michael Brown’s killing differently. A new poll shows the gulf that divides them is greater than anyone guessed.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 5:07 PM One Comedy Group Has the Perfect Idea for Ken Burns’ Next Project
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.