The world of food and drink never ceases to amaze me. Where else would you find entire careers that revolve solely around the intense study of certain alcoholic beverages? I’m speaking of sommeliers, of course.
Sommeliers are employed in the world of gourmet food, and they know everything there is to know about wine, from how and where a particular grape varietal is grown to whether it pairs better with the chicken or the beef. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating in a fine dining restaurant and ordering wine, you probably spoken with a sommelier. It is his or her job to be able to pair a wine to your meal of choice, personal wine likes and dislikes, and even within your price range. Becoming a wine sommelier involves studying everything you possibly can know about wine and taking a few very difficult tests.
Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered a beer sommelier program in the U.S.! That’s right, there is finally a career path for that one friend who always brings along the most esoteric ales and limited edition lambics to your parties. How cool is that?
A company by the name of Cicerone has started offering beer sommelier classes and certificate testing in the U.S. There are three different levels you can attain, the highest honor being master beer sommelier, a title only one person has earned to date. To become a beer sommelier, or a Certified Cicerone, you have to pass one multiple choice online exam, one written 3 hour exam, and a two hour tasting and demonstration component. And if you don’t score at least 80% or higher, better luck next time.
After reading this Serious Eats post, I learned that NYC’s 1st Beer Sommelier, Samuel Merritt, had to spend two hours on “blind tasting, off-flavor flaw recognition, and demonstration of the technical aspects of draught beer.” Wow. Clearly this is no “pick the Keystone Light out from the premium beers” sort of test. This test requires you to stay sober, for one, and recall a lot of really random information, like why certain beers go bad and what that “bad” beer tastes like.
At last count, there were more than 30 beer sommeliers working in restaurants around the country. To me, it makes sense. Artisan beer seems to be on rise…a year ago when I lived in Chicago, there were at least two artisan breweries located in my neighborhood, and Two Brothers Brewing Company are another big Chicago area artisan brewery. The local bar down the street from me in Oakland serves a rotating list of artisan beers denoted by number based on when they were first served at the bar, and numbers go into the 1000s. Where else would I be able to try to cranberry mead made by local brewers that specialize in fruit?
I think it is time to invent a Hard Cider and Alcoholic Ginger Beer Sommelier. I would be SO on that boat. What about you? Do you think it would be fun to be a beer sommelier? Have you ever used a beer sommelier and enjoyed the experience? What sort of alcoholic drink might you enjoy studying?