Once upon a time, beer in British Columbia was simple. You just walked into a beer parlour, ordered “a beer”, and one was given to you without any further questions. That was our era of beer monoculture, when standard mass-market lager was all you could get. In today’s world, import and craft beer have expanded our horizon to embrace more than 140 styles of ales and lagers (according to the American Brewers Association); and the list is growing.
All of a sudden, beer service has become a lot more complex, to the point where even a sommelier is challenged to maintain a sufficient level of mastery over both wine and beer. To address this growing need, Craft Beer Institute of Chicago President, Ray Daniels, created the Cicerone Certification Program in 2007. The word, Cicerone, comes from Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE), a Roman consul, orator and writer, after whom museum guides were named. Therefore, a Certified Cicerone refers to “a person with demonstrated expertise in beer who can guide consumers to enjoyable and high-quality experiences with great beer.”
The Cicerone program offers three levels of certification: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone and Master Cicerone. To receive these credentials, candidates must demonstrate sufficient knowledge in five areas:
- beer styles and culture
- brewing ingredients and processes
- beer tasting and flavours
- beer storage, sales and service
- beer and food pairing
To date, only four people have attained the level of Master Cicerone, while there are over 10,000 Certified Beer Servers – mostly in the United States, but also in each Canadian province. Of the more than 400 Certified Cicerones, six of the 10 Canadian certificate holders are Vancouverites. They are Chester Carey (Serious Beer), Lundy Dale (CAMRA BC/Barley’s Angels Pink Pints), Don Farion (BierCraft Restaurants), Adam Henderson (Raincity Brands), Chad McCarthy, and Mark Simpson (Artisan Food and Beverage Group).
Vancouver’s Cicerones are steadily influencing the development of the city’s beer culture in multiple areas. Carey, Canada’s first Cicerone, trains the hospitality industry via the Serious Beer course at Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. Dale is a both a consumer advocate and works in retail at Value On Liquor Store. Simpson is currently the brewmaster at Dockside Restaurant & Brewing Company. McCarthy is a BJCP-certified beer judge, as is Henderson, who also owns a beer import agency. Farion is Owner/Director of Operations of the beer-forward BierCraft Restaurants. Except for Simpson and Dale, all are active homebrewers.
Since the inaugural Vancouver Craft Beer Week in May 2010, the number of establishments giving beer greater consideration has noticeably increased. As restauranteurs and their clientele are becoming more educated in the diversity now available, seeing five lagers and a Guinness appended to the non-wine beverage menu will become more of a rarity. Greater care employed in selecting ales or lagers to pair with one’s menu, ensures patrons will appreciate more choices for a pleasurable dining experience.
Beer and food pairing is also a hot trend. A leading example has been the monthly Battle of the Belgians dinners BierCraft Bistro has been hosting since December. Each feature a selection of brands from a particular beer style matched with a menu custom-designed by Farion and Chef Stephen Chadband. During the dinner, Farion introduces diners to each dish, while beer experts profile the paired beer.
Today’s At My Wit’s End dinner is the last in the Biercraft series, which highlights Witbier – a light, crisp wheat beer with a citrusy sweetness that makes for an ideal summer thirst quencher. Cicerone, Adam Henderson, will also be on hand to talk about the beers selected from his portfolio. If you are interested in experiencing a Cicerone-designed beer dinner, call Biercraft Bistro at (604) 874-6900 to confirm if there are any seats still available. A new Biercraft dinner series will debut in October.
~ RG, photography by Brian K. Smith