Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beer Sommelier?

Belgian BeersThere is an somewhat interesting article on Slate about the idea of classing up the serving of beer in restaurants and bars:
There may be agreement in the industry that great beer deserves top-notch service, but there’s not yet a consensus on what that means. In fact, there’s not even agreement on what to call a well-trained beer server. Engert’s job title is beer director, but he doesn’t mind being called a beer sommelier. (He has put some thought into this.) Some in the beer community find this term problematic, since "sommelier" is tied to the wine world and may imply a professional certification that doesn’t exist.

No one is working harder to coin a new title, and certification, than beer author and educator Ray Daniels. His ideal beer server is called a Cicerone (sis-uh-ROHN), a term he trademarked for the beer training program he started in 2007. The name comes from the word that can mean guide or mentor.

The program’s website states the claim that wine sommeliers might have known enough to choose a good beer for you a few decades ago, but now “the world of beer is just as diverse and complicated as wine. As a result, developing true expertise in beer takes years of focused study and requires constant attention to stay on top of new brands and special beers.” So Daniels set out to build a testing and certification program to create a standard level of knowledge and titles that would signify superior beer knowledge to consumers, similar to the way a Court of Master Sommeliers credential does for wine.

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.
I don't really have a problem with this, but the article doesn't talk at all about what I find to be the most important issue for the beer equivalent of a sommelier: pairing beer with food. I'm happy to have more knowledgeable and competent beer purveyors, but you can't consider yourself a "sommelier" unless you can see a tasting menu and come up with great beer pairings. I love beer a gajillion times more than wine, but the experience at a multicourse dinner in a fine restaurant where you are being offered wine pairings on the fly by a sommelier is beyond compare. That is what I want from my "Cicerone" or what-have-you... not the proper knowledge of what to do if the keg is too foamy.


  1. Have you read The Brewmaster's Table? I just got it for christmas, and it looks great.

  2. No, but I have "The Oxford Companion to Beer" on my wishlist... if I don't get it then I'll have to get "The Brewmaster's Table" out from the library and see which one I want to own. Garrett Oliver's efforts were definitely what I had in mind when I wrote this post.