June 15, 2011 by Crafty Pint
As beer gradually regains respect around the world as something far more than just a social lubricant, there are increasing numbers of folks dedicating themselves to helping others understand it better – its history, its complexities, its suitability for many an occasion. Among them is Brian Fitzgerald, a man who has been involved in various aspects of the beer industry in WA for years and who has just become the first Australian to complete the Cicerone program. It’s a course run out of Chicago that’s designed to create “Beer Sommeliers” and which has to date only certified a little over 200 people.
With plans to open a brewery in his hometown of Denmark that will specialise in “complex and unique Belgian style ales” still some way from completion, Brian will be using what he has learned on the program at his Gourmet Beer Dinners. In the meantime, he took the time out to tell The Crafty Pint why he had applied for the Cicerone course and why he felt it was important to educate people about beer.
Why did you do the program? After receiving my diploma in Brewing Science in 2002 and migrating to Australia in 2003, it was always my goal to open a microbrewery. From my work with amateur groups from 2005-2007, my goal was to help them become better brewers. In 2008, as President of the WA Brewers Association, my goal there was to help the public become aware of the craft brewing movement. So my team got the website up and running again and published the first beer guide for WA. In addition, we began hosting beer dinners to help consumers understand what they should look for in craft beer.
Since anyone can host a beer dinner or claim to be a beer expert, I began looking at a more formal qualification. When hosting a beer tasting for the prestigious wine and food group, La ChaÃ®ne des RÃ´tisseurs, I heard that the Cicerone program existed to certify “Beer Sommeliers”. That started me thinking about pursuing the certification for myself to help consumers understand that beer is as serious as wine, especially when it comes to food matching capabilities.
What did it involve?
The Cicerone program has three levels: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, and Master Cicerone. Candidates must first pass the online test for the Certified Beer Server before registering to take the exam for Certified Cicerone. When I planned my travel to the US for the Craft Brewers Conference in March, I noticed that a Certified Cicerone exam would take place during the trip. I knew that this was my opportunity to sit for the four hour exam that would test my knowledge on Beer Ingredients and Process, Beer Styles and History, Beer Faults and Styles (tasting exam), Keeping and Serving Beer, and Beer and Food Pairing. However, I realised that I only had ten days to pass the online test and study for the Certification exam!
What was your background in beer prior to this?
Fortunately, I had been an amateur brewer for 20 years and already had my Diploma in Brewing Science that would help cover the Ingredients and Process part of the exam. My Certification as a BJCP judge would cover the Beer Styles, History, and the Faults part. And my knowledge of working as a bartender during university would help cover the Keeping and Serving Beer part. Beer and Food is something that I’ve only been studying and practising for the last five years, but Randy Mosher’s book Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink served as a perfect review for the exam.
What will you be using your new found qualification for?
I plan on hosting more Gourmet Beer Dinners as well as other consumer education events. Currently, and in the past, my focus has been on promoting Western Australia’s fantastic craft beer at some very fine restaurants. Soon I hope to be including my own commercially brewed beer in the lineup wherever it fits best with the food courses. I also would like to offer my services to bars or restaurants looking to expand their beer list selection.
With the growing number of beer enthusiasts, establishments should realise that too many times beer lovers are disappointed when only mainstream lagers are on offer. Consumers are interested in more beer choices and are looking for this in the way of innovative beer lists from the hospitality industry.
Why do you feel it is important to educate Australians about beer?
I started my career working for a wine merchant and had a nice collection of full-flavoured red wines long before I knew that beer had flavour. I thought “beer” was only to be consumed on hot days and that it should be yellow, fizzy, and tasteless. Now all Australians should know that there’s a huge world of flavour within their grasp. With around 100 styles of beer to choose from, it’s easy to find one that works for any occasion, food dish, or simply sipping by the fire on a cold winter night.
What are the most important lessons to impart to people about beer?
1) Taste everything! Do away with preconceived notions about colour, heaviness, bloating, bitterness, or whatever may be your first negative impression. Since I’m still active in the wine community, I frequently meet wine drinkers that say that they are not beer drinkers because the bubbles make them bloated. This is especially true of women drinkers but for some reason they love champagne, which has a much higher level of carbonation. Or they may say beer is too heavy, but wouldn’t shy away from a big red wine! Or perhaps they may say that they don’t like the bitterness. Well, not to worry, there are many beers that are malt or fruit-driven or have low bitterness. I can always find a beer for the non-beer drinker to love.
2) Taste beer with food. The characteristics of beer actually work better with most foods than wine does. The caramel and roasted nature of malt lends itself well to roasted meats or vegetables. The fruity, citrusy character of hops works well with seafood. And the carbonation helps cleanse the palate when eating rich foods like cheese or creamy dishes.
3) Attend a beer dinner, tasting, or educational event. It’s fun and a good place to begin to start enjoying beer with flavour. With all of the great craft breweries throughout the nation, you may just discover that special beer that will enlighten your soul.