Backing Beer: Australia's Cicerone Community

July 10, 2023, by Will Ziebell

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Backing Beer: Australia's Cicerone Community

“We’re like the last line of defence before the beer gets to someone. With the view that, if they have a bad experience, they might stop drinking beer and choose something else.”

Paul Daley has spent a long time advocating for beer and, in recent months, has helped build a community to further champion the drink he loves. The Australian Cicerone – Certified Professionals Community was launched earlier this year by a group of Advanced and Certified Cicerones with the aim of supporting and maintaining a high level of beer education.

The project had been in the works since April last year, which was around the time Paul had completed the written component of his Advanced Cicerone certification. He’s since received that full qualification, making him one of just two locally-based Advanced Cicerones – you can read about Matt Marinich's pathway to becoming the first here.

“The idea for it came as a way to try and support the people at the Certified Cicerone level in helping them maintain knowledge,” Paul says.

“Because once you get to that level, it's still up to you what you do with that knowledge and how you continue. Like with anything, unless you continue to use it, you lose it.”

The Cicerone Certification Program was developed by Ray Daniels in the US as a means to empower beer professionals through education and by recognising beer skills and knowledge. There are four levels: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, Advanced Cicerone and Master Cicerone. At time of writing, there are only around 20 of the last of these around the planet, including one Australian living in the UK. 

 

 

Paul approached Cassie O’Neill from Stomping Ground with the idea then started to develop it with Cassie and fellow Stomping Ground team member Lindsay Astarita. Alongside that three, a number of others across Australia are driving the venture: Matt Marinich, James Atkinson, Steven Blaine, Rhianna Lucas, Liam Pereira and Pia Poynton. 

After pitching the idea to Cicerone HQ earlier in the year and gaining approval, they officially launched the community in May. They began running virtual education sessions and got involved in proctoring for Certified Cicerone exams and off-flavour tasting.

Over time, Paul hopes to be able to let Australians sit the Advanced Cicerone exams locally to save them from needing to fly to America as both he and Matt did for the practical exam. He’d also love to see more people in the beer industry become Certified Beer Servers and believes more might if they work on a program that's a little less US-centric. 

“This is early days,” he says. “But we’d like to pitch a level one that’s more skewed to Australia and more relevant to Australia.”

He brings more than a decade of experience in the local beer industry to the project, after starting in sales at Bluetongue Brewery in 2010 before moving into spirits and then joining Lion, where he spent nine years. Many in the industry would know him from his time working as a craft beer ambassador; more recently, he’s become part of the team at BentSpoke as national field sales manager.

And, while education for its own sake can be a powerful thing, Paul also sees it as essential to building a more robust beer industry. 

“As the beer category and industry, we need to have demand side certifications that mean something tangible to grow advocacy," he says, "and to grow demand for beer.”

He points out that there are plenty of resources for brewers looking to make better beer, or expand their business, but believes the local beer industry has paid less attention to attracting new consumers. By contrast, he says both the wine and spirits industries invest heavily in training and advocates and, as a result, are better at showing drinkers why they should spend more on a premium product

“Everything is supply side,” Paul says. “We can supply all the beer we want in the world, but if there's no demand, we're just tipping it down the drain.

“Advocacy and education in terms of the demand side of the industry is so important.”

 

Stomping Ground's head of quality and sensory, Lindsay Astarita, hosting an off-flavours tasting for Crafty Cabal beer club members.

 

Successful advocacy requires significant investment in the people that make the industry run, particularly those closest to beer drinkers, and Paul says there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure business owners are willing to invest in staff training. But, given the current parlous state of the industry and the wider economic climate, he suggests such investment in education matters now more than ever.

“When the fire is burning and there’s growth, you look around and go, ‘Everything is working, why do we need to invest?’”

To build the industry over the long term, he sees a need to commit to the category, give people a great experience, and show just how multifaceted beer can be. He points to how few styles are consumed widely in Australia, with pale ales, mid-strength and full-strength lagers remaining the choice for most beer drinkers. There might be a greater diversity of beer styles in bottleshop fridges but there you find few that divert far from the norm in breweries' core ranges. 

“There are about a hundred other styles out there that we could be presented to a consumer,” Paul says. “In a lot of cases, we seem to have gone for that quick dollar or that quick return as opposed to going, ‘Let's be methodical about where we want to see the beer industry in five, ten and 20 years, and actually plan for that.”

Even if drinkers are currently less interested in craft beer or the wider beer category, Paul argues there’s much to be gained from remaining focused on beer, something America's bourbon industry did a decade ago as it was shedding customers, often to craft beer.

“What they did was they doubled down,” Paul says. “They knew what their plan was, and they said, ‘You know what, we back bourbon, we’re invested in this, and it’s a downturn but it’s going to pick up again.’

"And look at spirits now: they're absolutely flying through the roof, it's gone crazy."

As someone who started working in the beer industry more than a decade ago, Paul’s advocacy is driven by a desire to keep doing what he loves. If that sounds selfish, it's in the best possible way, and you'd imagine the people running the country's hundreds of breweries would be driven by something similar. 

“I want to be working in beer when I'm in my 50s and I want to see that the industry grows and flourishes throughout any downturn," he says.

“We can continue to back ourselves and believe that beer has a future, but we need some long-term plans to be able to do that.”


You can connect with The Australian Cicerone – Certified Professionals Community in a multitude of ways by following this link.

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