Tag Archives: cicerone

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why (Kind Of), 2/22/17

Here is a cool article about a very small brewery in Toledo, OH named Black Frog Brewery and the brewer who started it.  Go read it.  When you are done come on back, I’ve got some other stuff to say.

I received a Twitter reply from a person who reads my blog from Sweden the other day.  She says I’ve begun to repeat myself and should write new things differently than I have in the past.  If I didn’t already have that sense, I would have ignored the tweet.  What I must do is move past the philosophizing about the issues I see in craft beer and try to find solutions.

Major League Soccer spent the first six years of existence marketing itself to everyone but American soccer fans.  They did everything possible to attract families with kids and tweaked rules to make it more appealing to the average American sports fan.  All of that led to the league almost running itself into the ground and forced a contraction of 2 teams.

In my head, I often link MLS and craft beer together.  Their resurgences almost coincide.  Whereas MLS faced its existential crises early, craft beer is just now facing up to its own.  Three things have happened.  One, the natural enemy to craft beer, big beer, has evolved its strategy from disdain to treating craft beer as a respected enemy.  That means instead of just ignoring it waiting for it to go away, big beer is using its normal “aggressive” distribution tactics to stifle craft beer’s growth and then buying up competition to prop them up as their own versions of “craft” or “high end” beers.

Another thing that has happened is the number of breweries and the craft beer audience has expanded faster than anyone was ready for over the last 5 years.  That means the number of breweries has increased while the number of quality brewers hasn’t at the same time the number of novice craft beer drinkers has skyrocketed.  So, a lot of new drinkers are drinking mediocre at best beer and propping up new breweries.  The new drinkers aren’t learning what a good beer is and the breweries aren’t forced to do better.

Finally, this dramatic increase of breweries is happening at the same time the number of bars and available tap handles have started to shrink.  That means this fraternity of brewers that prided itself on its friendly competition is getting less friendly.  Though it is happening out of the sight of the public. For the most part.

In short, craft beer is having growing pains.  More accurately, it is a recent graduate out in the real world where his idealism and optimism is meeting the cynicism of capitalism.  How do you hold on to who you are and what you believe when everything coming at you attacks those things?  How does craft beer navigate in this new and changing world without compromising the thing that makes it special and different?

Demand more from ourselves as ambassadors and teachers

If we are going to take on the role of watchdogs for the industry, we should have the tools to do so.  Become a Cicerone or Beer Judge.  Make your staff do the same (if you have staff).  Then impart the knowledge you’ve gained to customers when it makes sense and without being a condescending jerk.  All these novice drinkers need to learn about beer somewhere.  It’s better that they learn it from us then out on these streets. Also, if you are going to sit down and taste beer with a new brewer trying to sell you beer, it helps to be able to talk to them in brewing terms when you give your feedback.  If you show, you know something about beer, they may take any criticism you give better.

Demand better from new brewers

Everyone in the industry needs to be honest with new brewers.  The collegiality and fraternity are great.  However, if one brewery is making bad beer it effects all the brewers in the area.   Everyone with the experience and gravitas should taste new brewers’ beers and be honest.  Have a dialogue with them to find out what their intent was with the recipe and whether they think they’ve successfully hit it.  Be respectful but be honest and make the new brewer be honest with himself.  Craft beer buyers for bars and restaurants should be equally honest.  When a brewery rep or owner comes in to bring you beers to taste, tell them the truth and don’t buy beers that aren’t good.  However, you too should give them constructive feedback on the beer.  Explain why you aren’t buying it; what flaws you taste.  The people within the industry must be the ones to take care of the industry.

Remember who the enemy is

It isn’t the brewery that just opened down the road from you.  It is the one whose headquarters are in Belgium or South Africa.  The collegiality and fraternity I sometimes mock in craft beer is part of the reason I love craft beer so much.  You are competing with other craft brewers, but they aren’t the ones trying to destroy you.  Understand that you may not always have a tap handle up in a good craft bar.  Just remember, it is better that you will be up later and that the tap handle replacing yours for the moment is another brewer you like and respect.  That is much better for all involved than if it was a faux craft brand out of a big beer company’s high-end portfolio.

Thoughts on becoming

I am in a study group for people planning to take the Cicerone exam this year.  It is being held by one of our distributors and most the people in the group work for the distributor.  Everyone in the group is a busy person. Either they are a rep or brand manager for the distributor or like me, they are a decision maker at a bar/restaurant.  This group and the test are major commitments.   They not only have jobs but families as well. So, for most of the people taking it, the goal is simply to pass the test to put the title on your resume.

That means during the class, the leader, who has passed the test, gets, “Will this be on the test?” when he gives out information.  I understand, these people are busy and they are trying to improve themselves professionally and make themselves stand out from the crowd at their company.  It never occurs to me to ask that question.  This isn’t a value judgment, but I’m just in the room for a different reason.

Some people find their thing when they are young.  How many times have we read a story about a successful doctor, scientist, lawyer, or teacher who says they always knew that is what they wanted to be.  From an early age, they pushed themselves to become the thing that they are and they love their life.

Then there are some people for who, becoming is the whole point of life.  It takes these people a while to find their thing.  Sometimes, however, when these people find their thing, they treasure it more than the ones who’ve always known.  The people who find their thing later in life value the thing because finding it is the point of their journey.  For them, finding their thing isn’t the end of the journey, but the next phase of it.

For me, the Cicerone exam isn’t an end.  It is a line of demarcation in a journey that will take me to whatever it is that I’m to become before I die.  I work in craft beer not because I expect to make lots of money from it or get famous because of it.  I work in craft beer because I find the whole thing interesting.  From beer itself, how it is brewed, and how subtle changes in just 4 ingredients can affect the look and taste of what we drink; to the laws that govern beer and alcohol in this country; all the way to how craft beer culture often reflects the best and worst of American culture at large.

Yes, I want to ace the Cicerone test.  I want to do it to learn as much as possible about beer and to continue my journey of becoming who I am.  Getting as high a score as possible will prove to myself that I have a good knowledge of beer and a base for the writing and work I want to continue in the industry.

Becoming A Cicerone 132 Days Left

One of my favorite questions I get behind the bar is, “What’s a saison?”  I can answer that question a little better now, even though the answer to that question is rather vague.

My first week of Cicerone study concentrated on Belgian style beers.  Belgian style beers are probably my favorite family of beers to drink.  Belgian style beer guidelines are sometimes vague.  See saisons.  That helps make them some of the most interesting and flavorful beers.  I have found every Belgian style beer I’ve drunk to be interesting.  It was a good week and I know a lot more than when I started.

This week will be the British family of beers.  These were the first beer styles I really got into.  The first craft beer I ever drank was an English style brown (Pete’s Wicked Ale) and I drank and enjoyed English style IPAs before I ever drank a west coast hop bomb.

I’ll have at least one more update this week.  Until later.

Becoming A Cicerone, 138 Days Left

Yesterday, I continued my journey through Belgian beers by with Trappist Ales:  Dubbel, Tripel, Golden Strong.  I like the way the outline groups similar beers from a style grouping.  It helps you associate beers together which makes it easier to learn.  Next up will be the pale Belgian ales and other Belgian style beers.

I will be joining a study group in the next few weeks.  That will help with the tasting/off flavor portion of the test.

These updates will vary in length and in frequency.  I can say at the very worst, they will appear weekly.  Most likely they will be mostly daily.  Until tomorrow.

Becoming a Cicerone, 139 Days left

So, I’m taking the Cicerone exam in May.  I am, as they say in poker, pot committed.  I plunked down the money for it, so I’m taking that exam barring some unforeseen event.

I began the process of studying yesterday.  The first thing I did was take the practice test to see what my deficiencies are.  It wasn’t as good as I had hoped, but not as bad as it could have been.  I need to go over the draught manual again and reread Tasting Beer mostly for the beer and food pairing, but that was kind of expected.

The main area I need to concentrate on are the styles and flavor/evaluation section. That is 25% of the test.  There are details about styles that I had forgotten that are important.  That is going to be my main area of study for the next 5 months.

This week I’m starting with Belgian family of beers easing my way in with Lambic, Gueuze, Fruit Lambic, Flanders Red Ale, and Oud Bruin.  It’s the details.  Going in, I knew these styles, but I didn’t know these styles.  It’s the subtle differences that make them all different and make it important when you get a question asking about a spontaneously fermented beer made with wheat.  That is a Lambic.

I know that now and know the difference between the different versions of Lambic and the difference between Lambics and the Flanders style sours.

For the next few days, I’ll be walking through the rest of the world of the Belgian beers. Next up Dubbel, Tripel, Belgian Dark Strong Ale.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 6/15/16

There was a bounty of good articles today.  Here are the five that I like best.

Beer Counselor, What’s Your Favorite?

During this wedding weekend, someone asked what my favorite beer is.

I can answer that question in two ways.  The first is as a critic.  When I taste a beer as a critic I am trying to see how the beer matches up with the BJCP/GABF/Cicerone guidelines.  I am tasting a beer and trying to break down its constituent parts and compare it to the style guidelines.  I’m not necessarily trying to tell you if you will like it, but if it is a well-constructed beer. People are sometimes surprised at the GABF winners list. They will see a beer local to them and wonder who did that win.  What you have to understand that a competition is trying to find beers that are perfect distillations of the style guidelines.  That is why in the last paragraph of my reviews I give my overall impression to help you know if you’ll like it or not.

My favorites list and my best lists are different.  There is overlap, but they are not the same.  Unless I’m doing a real tasting for publication or competition, I turn off my critic’s mind after the second sip.  At that point, I just want to enjoy the beer.

You need to remember the difference between favorite and best when you read a beer review.  If you are reading a review that breaks the beer down into its component parts, skip to the end to find the overall impression.  That’s where you will find out if you should drink it.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t read the rest of it, especially if you are trying to learn more about beer.  If, however, you are just trying to find something to drink at a bar you don’t need to worry about whether it has good head retention, you just need to know if someone else likes it and why.

Your favorite beer should be more that.  It should be more than how it hits certain checkboxes on a rating sheet.  It’s about where you are, who you are with, and how you feel.  Finding your favorite is about why we drink.

We drink because it makes us feel good.  We drink for social lubrication.  We drink to hang out with friends and loosen up with strangers. When you combine the best of those things you find your favorite beer.  Favorite is some kind of combination of who, what, when, and where that you can’t measure on a tasting form.

My two favorite beers involve sitting with good friends and drinking good beer.  First up, Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti.  It was with my best friend since high school in the old Great Divide tasting room in Denver.  It was my second time in town and my first trip to the GABF.  One of my favorite people, in one of my favorite cities, during my favorite time of year.

Number two on the list is, Oskar Blues Ten Fidy.  Again, I was with best friends in a cool spot, Oskar Blues in Brevard. I was drinking great beer in a great place with great friends.  Honestly, that is pretty much all I want out of my life.

Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.