“Happy New Beer”! – Janée’s 2016 Year in Beer Recap

It’s time to say goodbye to 2016! (Bye, Felicia!) 

But first, let’s take a look back at the beer stats, “beercations”, festivals, new brewery visits and more that make up my 2016 review of my year in beer.

Let’s start with the number of new breweries I’ve visited this year! This year… drumroll please… 

I visited 56 new breweries this year! This is 1 more than last year, which is really impressive, considering that any brewery I’ve set foot in before doesn’t count for this list. In 2016, I averaged more than 1 new brewery visit per week.

Here’s the list!:

1. Ponysaurus, Durham, NC -1/9

2. Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Portland, OR- 2/3

3. The Commons Brewery, Portland, OR- 2/3

The Commons Brewery

4. Basecamp Brewing, Portland, OR – 2/3

5. Hair of the Dog, Portland, OR – 2/3

6. Pelican Brewing, Tillamook, OR – 2/4

7. de Garde, Tillamook, OR – 2/4

8. Block 15 (Downtown Pub Brewery), Corvallis, OR – 2 /4

9. Block 15 (Production Brewery), Corvallis, OR – 2/4

10. Ninkasi, Eugene, OR – 2/4

11. Fieldwork, Berkeley, CA – 2/6

12. Barrelhouse Brewing, Paso Robles, CA – 2/6

13. Firestone Walker, Paso Robles, CA – 2/7

14.Firestone Walker Barrelworks, Buellton, CA – 2/7

Firestone Walker Barrelworks

15. Phantom Carriage, Carson, CA – 2/7

16. Smog City, Torrance, CA – 2/7

17. Karl Strauss, Costa Mesa, CA – 2/8

18. Bagby Beer Company, Oceanside, CA – 2/9

Bagby Beer Company

19. Modern Times, San Diego, CA – 2/9

20. Toolbox, Vista, CA – 2/9 

21. Council, San Diego, CA – 2/9

22. Bhramari Brewhouse, Asheville, NC – 3/27

Bhramari Brewhouse

23. Hi-Wire Brewing Big Top, Asheville, NC – 3/27

24. Free Range Brewing, Charlotte, NC – 4/14

25. Legion Brewing, Charlotte, NC – 4/21

26. Switchback Brewing, Burlington, VT – 5/19

27. Burlington Beer Co., Burlington, VT – 5/19

28. Hill Farmstead, Greensboro Bend, VT – 5/19

29. Prohibition Pig, Waterbury, VT – 5/19

Prohibition Pig

30. Liquid Riot Bottling Company, Portland, ME – 5/20

31. Allagash, Portland, ME – 5/21

32. Maine Beer Company, Freeport, ME – 5/21

33. Sunday River Brewing, Bethel, ME – 5/21

34. New Belgium Brewing,  Asheville, NC – 6/25

New Belgium Asheville

35. Zebulon Artisan Ales, Asheville, NC – 6/25

36. Joymongers, Greensboro, NC – 6/26

37. Bond Brothers, Cary, NC – 7/3

38. Neuse River Brewing, Raleigh, NC – 7/3

39. Brown Truck Brewery, High Point, NC – 7/10

40. The Veil, Richmond, VA – 7/12

41. Brew Gentlemen, Braddock, PA – 8/14

42. Horse and Dragon Brewing, Fort Collins, CO – 10/4

43. Vail Brewing, Vail, CO – 10/5

44. Casey Brewing, Glenwood Springs, CO – 10/5

45. Avery Brewing (new location), Boulder, CO – 10/5

Avery

46. Crooked Stave Barrel Cellar, Denver, CO – 10/6

47. Lowdown Brewery and Kitchen, Denver, CO – 10/6

48. Black Project, Denver, CO – 10/7

49. Weldwerks Brewing, Greeley, CO – 10/7

Weldwerks

50. Wiley Roots Brewing, Greeley, CO – 10/7

51. De Steeg Brewing, Denver, CO – 10/7

52. Westbrook Brewing, Mt. Pleasant, SC – 11/5

53. Durty Bull, Durham, NC – 11/17

54. Dovetail Brewery, Chicago, IL – 11/19

55. Goose Island Production Facility (W. Fulton), Chicago, IL – 11/20

56. Goose Island Barrel Warehouse (N. Sacramento), Chicago, IL – 11/20

This all brings my grand total of breweries visited to 217. Not bad, considering that I didn’t even start keeping track until 2014! (Anything before that, even if it’s somewhere I know I went, doesn’t count. Because rules.)

And here are some stats from this year, courtesy of Untappd! Looking at this is always fun every year. (Note that I’ve really scaled back on religious Untappd check-ins. Sometimes, it’s just more fun to drink without that worry.)

Total Beers in 2016: 1,363 (70 less than last year. Again, keep in mind that I scaled back my Untappd check-ins.)

Total Unique (new to me) Beers in 2016: 957 (61 less than last year)

New Beer Ratio: 70% of the beers I consumed were ones I had never tried before (only down 1% from last year).

Average Beers Per Day: 4 (The same as last year. Again, I go to lots of bottle shares! Lots of these are smaller pours. But thanks for your concern!)

My Top Venue: Aside from my house, it’s once again… Haw River Farmhouse Ales!

My Most Consumed Beer for 2016: I have no clue how I pulled this off, but it was Pliny the Elder. Damn! *high fives self* (It was Major Arcana from Haw River last year. Lucky me again!)

And obviously, you know we went on some beercations this year. Aside from “beercations”, we live in a really great state for beer, so it’s easy to just take a day trip or an overnight trip to badass places like Asheville, NC, where we hit up the second annual Funkatorium Invitational Festival at Wicked Weed.

Here are the beercations!:

Oregon/California:

We hit up Oregon and California in February. We go out to Cali every year to pick up beer from The Bruery’s Reserve Society and The Rare Barrel’s Ambassadors of Sour programs. This year we added Oregon to the trip and made a week of it! De Garde was more that we ever imagined, and Toolbox was the new favorite by a landslide in California.

Vermont/Maine:

In May, it was Vermont and Maine. We can thank Sam and Julie for getting married in Maine for us going on this trip! Hill Farmstead was definitely the favorite brewery stop of this trip. 

Colorado:

In October, we went to Colorado for our first experience with GABF! (No, Gram. This isn’t a drug.) The Great American Beer Festival is a must for a beer geek. 

The events surrounding GABF were even more fun. Give me a Denver Rare any day. And the people we met? You can’t really top Garrett Oliver, Ray Daniels, Lauren Salazar and Patrick Rue. That in itself made for a stellar trip. I completely geeked out. 

My hands down favorite brewery of the trip (and of all my 2016 brewery visits) was Weldwerks! And our favorite beer was without a doubt their Barrel Aged Mexican Achromatic! (I can’t confirm or deny if I may have cracked our one and only bottle to ring in the new year last night.)

Chicago:

And in November, our friends, Misti and Charles, won the Prop lottery and invited us to be their guests in Chicago for the release at Goose Island. 

I almost missed the trip after my discovery on my 3rd wedding anniversary a couple days before our flight that I have horrific acid reflux. Thankfully, I recovered just hours before I needed to leave! And I may or may not have been enjoying some amazing deep dish pizza a couple hours after we landed. (Take that, acid reflux! NOTHING comes between me and Chicago deep dish!)

And that ended a crazy 2016 for us.

It’s also worth mentioning that in April, I found out that the brewery I work for was being sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev. That was a tough pill to swallow, and I don’t think anyone who knew me expected that to be easy for me. 

Our COO had approached me after the announcement, which I greatly respected and appreciated. He lightheartedly asked me what the next blog post was going to look like. And he encouraged me to share my story.

It wasn’t the year at work that I expected it to be, but everything happens for a reason. 

So, what’s in store for 2017, you ask?

For starters, I’ve decided to hold off a bit on taking my Advanced Cicerone exam. I love being a Certified Cicerone, and one day, I know I’ll join the ranks of the Advanced Cicerones. But for the time being, I want to focus on a few other things before I tackle the at least 8-12 months of studying I feel I’ll need to pass. 

Also, I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be putting a lot more time and effort into my blog in 2017! Beer and marketing are giant passions of mine, but my love for marketing truly grew from my love of writing. I entered college many moons ago with the intended major of journalism, but changed it, not wanting to be a news writer making pennies and being influenced by the media’s agendas. 

My blog has always been an avenue to what makes me most happy in life, and it’s time to venture further down that road. Maybe we can call that the “forgotten road” of 2016. It’s time to take it. 

And speaking of taking steps to make myself happier in life, I’ve saved the best announcement for last…

(No. Get that having a baby shit out of your head. And sadly, if you were thinking “puppy!”, you’d be mistaken, too. For now.)

Ben and I have begun working on our own brewery! Ben SLAYS some homebrew. And we’re incredibly fortunate to have such a supportive network of friends/fellow beer geeks who already have had amazing things to say about Ben’s beer. We’ve wanted this for a very long time. 

Together, I truly think we can do anything. (This isn’t a mushy head in the clouds sentiment. This is a Walking Dead Rick and Daryl kicking all the asses statement.)

Ben has a great entrepreneurial spirit and is an inspired brewer, and is just a really damn smart guy. (Don’t tell him I said that.) This guy works his ass off, and when he puts his mind to something, it’s as good as done.

And I’m passionate and driven, and definitely have a fun and challenging road ahead to build our brand and sell the shit out of some beer. If I can make a multi-billion dollar corporation (love you, Sheetz!) millions of dollars improving efficiencies, making fun beverages, and engaging consumers in my old job, then I can return to badassery with my own business.

So, 2017, I’m ready for you! Happy New Year!

And if you want to see how 2015 treated me, check out my blog post from last year’s “Year in Beer” here!

A Beer Museum Is Brewing

Beer education is incredibly important to me. There’s a great big world of beer information out there, and it can be a daunting task for people to experiment with flavors or learn about styles.

But beyond flavors and styles, beer has a story. Beer isn’t just a beverage. The story and history of beer is an extremely powerful one.

Did you know that women were the first brewers?

Did you know that hops weren’t originally a part of beer? It wasn’t until around 1600 that they became a prevalent ingredient in beer. (Can you even imagine a world without IPAs?)

Did you know that the Ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids were paid in beer?

Some breweries are lucky enough to have a resident beer geek to share some of their knowledge about beer and its history, but for the most part, you’ll have to pick up a book to learn yourself.

Or do you…?

I bring you, Brew: The Museum of Beer.

brew_logo_v002

Yep. A museum about beer.

And what would a beer museum be without beer on tap? Yeah, they have that covered, too.

So where is this museum?

It actually doesn’t exist yet.

But have no fear. Pittsburgh beer geek, Joe McAllister is working to make the museum a reality in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. McAllister founded the Autism Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and co-founded the Advisory Board on Autism and Related Disorders. He’s no stranger to taking on big projects, and as a beer geek, saw a need for a beer museum that told the story of beer instead of just the story of one brewery.

This 50,000 square foot museum is set to be the first of its kind, and is slated to open in 2018. The museum will focus on the history of beer, include interactive exhibits, and it will have its own brewery and 300 seat gastropub.

Crowdfunding efforts began a few months ago and have earned close to $30,000 so far on Indiegogo. The first goal for this campaign is to raise $50,000. The Indiegogo campaign ends December 19, but funds will continue to be accepted after that date, and the campaign will receive all funds raised, even if it doesn’t reach its goal.

As a lover of beer and beer education, a Certified Cicerone, and a lover of Pittsburgh, this news couldn’t excite me more. I hope you’ll join me in donating a few bucks to help this vision become reality. The link to donate is here!

Cheers, friends!

 

GABF Beercation 2016 – Day 1 – Fort Collins

Well, friends, it’s FINALLY happened. After two years of purchasing tickets and not being able to attend the one and only Great American Beer Festival, the year has finally come that I’m able to go!

Ben and our friend, Steve, from the amazing Haw River Farmhouse Ales, and myself flew from NC into Denver yesterday and drove out to Fort Collins to kick off our beercation! And our day was AWESOME. 

Here’s how it went down!

I was getting a little hangry on the hour drive from Denver to Fort Collins, so we hit up my friend, Sam, who we planned to meet later and who’s lived here for a few years now, for some lunch suggestions. 

We landed on grabbing some sandwiches because he said there was a really good beer selection at this particular spot – Choice City Butcher and Deli. I thought to myself, “I’ll just have a nice little sandwich so I have plenty of room for beer after.”

Ha.

No.

These sandwiches were giant and amazing. Here’s what was left of my Italian sandwich that I quite literally destroyed. 

I guess the little side of mashed potatoes that the woman at the deli recommended didn’t help me to not feel full either, but they were totally worth the added 10 minutes extra it took for my food coma to wear off.

And the New Belgium Blackberry Love:Oscar was perfection as my first beer of the day.

With full bellies, we trekked on to Funkwerks (my second time there!) to crush some amazing beers. We sat outside on that gorgeous day. It was probably around 60-65 degrees out, which was super refreshing compared to the 80 degree weather we left in NC. 

Sam and his awesome new wife, Julie, came to meet us. (Our last beercation was to fo to their wedding in Maine in May.) Beer is ALWAYS better with friends and old stories.

It had been two and a half years since I had been to Funkwerks. Their house yeast has evolved incredibly since then with a discernable farmey funk to it. We shared a few flights and a bottle of their 2015 Oud Bruin. Paisley was probably my favorite beer there, and I’m regretting having not grabbed a bottle.

From there, we went to Horse and Dragon Brewing, which was all of a 30 second car ride away. We got a few flights there, and I was pleasantly surprised with everything. They had a great range of styles.

Sam and Julie left after that, and we headed to make what we thought would be a brief pit stop at New Belgium Brewing before we went to check in to our Airbnb. 

We had been talking earlier about how Lauren Salazar of New Belgium, without question the most badass woman in the industry, and one of the most respected people in the industry, apparently was a fan of a Haw River beer.

We sit down at the bar and order a few beers, and just a minute or two later, in walks none other than Lauren fucking Salazar. Steve grabbed some Haw River bottles from the car to give to her, and we all began chatting. 

As if that wasn’t enough to be the highlight of the trip, she asked us if we wanted to come back to the foeders and have a beer with her. 

We and a few cool guys from Austin Beerworks joined her and tasted some Whiskey Fat Back and laughed about the names she’s given to some of the numbered foeders. They’re completely out of chronological order in the first half of the room, and Lauren joked that there’s one number they can never find, so she calls it “Stepchild”. She then apologized to my red-headed husband (red headed stepchild), and we all shared a good laugh about that. 

Other fun foeder names included Old Dirty Bastard and Darth Vader.
I’m still in awe that we got to drink beer and chat with her. She was so gracious. 

After we left New Belgium, we pinched ourselves, realized this was real life, and threw our stuff in our stunning Airbnb before grabbing dinner at The Colorado Room. 

You can almost never go wrong with poutine with a fried egg on top. 

At this point, I was starting to hit the wall, but out old asses decided to move on to one more spot before calling it a night.

We went to The Mayor of Old Town as our last stop for the night. They have 100 beers on tap and were rated one of the top 15 beer bars in America by craftbeer.com. 

Pliny was on tap and that was the perfect beer to finish my night off with!
Here’s to hoping day 2 is even better than day 1!

Happy New Beer! – Janee’s 2015 “Year In Beer”


			

Saxapahaw, NC

One of my favorite stories starts here.

It’s about time I talk about one of my favorite places in North Carolina, which will lead us to my hands down FAVORITE brewery, in North Carolina.

You KNOW that I’m a storyteller. The struggle for me to keep it short is real! Here is part one of two.

When Ben and I were preparing to move to North Carolina, finding a nearby brewery was obviously a priority. We were looking at homes in Burlington (between Greensboro and Durham), where we would be working. Priorities = finding local brewery > finding and purchasing a home. With the help of the good old Internet, we found something that piqued our interest.

A new brewery was set to be opening shortly after we moved to NC – Haw River Farmhouse Ales.

Being a marketing geek, I default to judging a brand by its cover. Their website excited me! Something told me this would be a good spot for us. (Check it out here! Haw River Farmhouse Ales)  

 
The brewery had just completed a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, but was in the process of wrapping up one outside of Kickstarter called “Barnraisers”. I figured, “Why not?”, signed up for it and contributed.

We moved from PA to NC in June of last year, and a couple weeks later, decided we would scope this new brewery out, even though it wasn’t open yet. We typed Saxapahaw, NC into our GPS, and our lives were never the same…

Seriously.

Saxapahaw, as you may have guessed by the sound of it, is no thriving metropolis. It boasts a population of less than 1,700 people. But this place just has something special.

It happened to be a Saturday when we came into Saxapahaw to check things out. We drove about 20 minutes from our house into what seemed like the middle of nowhere. We rounded a bend in the road and saw the sides of the road covered in parked cars that stretched for as far as you could see. We had happened upon the weekly “Saturdays in Saxapahaw” festival.

Knowing the brewery was near, we parked our car in a ways away alongside the road and just started walking to where everyone seemed to be. You could hear a cover band in the distance playing some folk music.

We took a path to a hillside where a tiny wooden stage with an ampitheatre-like back wall sat on the edge. People covered the lawn and sat with food and coolers. We sat down for a few minutes to check it out. A family came up to sit near us with a bunch of food in Sheetz bags, and Ben and I (both working for Sheetz at that time) instantly felt a little more at home.  

 We got up to explore the area below the stage where vendors and food trucks were set up. This place just oozes “local”. There was a stand of farm fresh fruit and vegetables, a stand with local jellies and jams, a couple with local crafts and baked goods, and also a super crafty handmade soda stand that caught my eye, having been a crafter of fun beverages myself in my last job.  

 We walked over to the soda stand to grab a drink, and were happily surprised to see that the sodas were crafted by Haw River Farmhouse Ales. If we couldn’t try the beer yet, I’d certainly settle for another artesian beverage!

I told the people working at the stand that I had just moved from Pennsylvania, and that I was a “Barnraiser” and looking forward to trying the beer. It was Ben and Dawnya, the owners of the brewery. I think I had gotten a soda with jalapeno in it, and another with lavender. Both were excellent! I couldn’t wait to see what they could do to a beer!

We left the festival area and crossed the road to a beautiful little area seated on the Haw River. We scoped out the spot where the brewery was. It was unmarked, as it charmingly remains today, seated at the base of a beautiful, large building that is a flawless merging of raw, rustic style with a touch of modern industrial appeal. It seemed like the building just belonged perfectly there. I can’t describe it any other way.  

 We discovered a rustic ballroom, The Haw River Ballroom, right beside the brewery. We agreed that, had we not gotten married and had our reception at a brewery in California, this would have been the place for it! It has so much character and charm! It’s also a local concert venue.

To the right of the ballroom in the same building are these gorgeous lofts with glass facings and an integrated industrial feel. We were sad that we had just purchased a home. (We felt a little better after seeing the price tags, though that view is worth it!)  

 Directly above the brewery on the next level was a sign for The Eddy Pub. At this point, Ben and I were hungry. (And we’re ALWAYS thirsty.) So we decided to give it a shot.  

 Holy shit… This place was Heaven. I think I actually told Ben that I was pretty certain that this is the food they’ll serve in Heaven.  

 The menu is fresh and inspired. Almost everything on the menu is locally sourced. And they have a balcony patio dining area where I’ve seen some of the prettiest sun sets of my life over the river. Everything about this place is just incredible.  

 All of Saxapahaw just almost has this magic about it. It’s a cohesive, soft, unassuming, but absolutely breathtaking place.

We left dinner and decided to walk down the other side of the big building to check out the other storefronts. At the very end is the Saxapahaw General Store. This is another incredible find. They have aisles of all sorts of local things. Local coffee, chocolates, nut butters, gourmet breakfast bars, candles, honey, fruits, vegetables. You name it.
(And they have a kitchen here where they produce dishes that are a very close second to The Eddy Pub’s!)  

 
  
Before we left Saxapahaw, forever changed, we strolled down by the river. A very small ampitheatre with stadium concrete benches is tucked in there in front of the ballroom, beside the river.

On our next visit, we discovered a little coffee shop (Cup 22) tucked in a level above the brewey. They gave me a free slice of pie with my coffee. (These Saxapahaw people kick ass!)

And pretty recently, a butcher shop, Left Bank Butchery, opened up in that same long building at the corner where the storefronts start. Like all other things Saxapahaw, their offerings are out of this world fantastic.

Saxapahaw was the first place in NC to make me feel like this state was my home. I couldn’t wait to return, and I eagerly awaited my first taste of my local brewery’s beer.  

 Stay tuned for part two of the story to see how Haw River Farmhouse Ales became pretty much my favorite thing on Earth!

Janee Farrar… Certified Cicerone®!

Merry Christmas to me! My goal for this year was to become a Certified Cicerone®, and I found out last night that I’ve joined the ranks!

It had been about 5 and a half weeks since I had taken the test (around the same time frame when I found out my results last time!), so I had been checking my phone for the email alllllllll day, thinking it had to be coming. The results come out of the Cicerone Program offices in Chicago, so they have an extra hour on this eastern time girl.

Last time, I got my email a little after 5 pm.

(The OCD in me was obsessively calculating!)

Five o’clock had come and gone, and it was time for me to get things in order for a work event at a restaurant with a cask tapping that started at 6.

I was at the restaurant and decided to glance at my email before I got things started. I guess my inbox hadn’t refreshed for a bit, despite my incessant checking, because several new emails popped up. I knew I was looking for an email from Chris Pisney. And there it was…

“Oh, fuck”, I uttered to myself.

I needed a second to prepare myself before I opened it. I decided right away to screenshot my inbox and send the picture to Ben before I calmed myself down and opened it.

When I added the image to the text, I spotted out of the corner of my eye an email 2 spots above tthe email from Chris Pisney…

An email with Certified Cicerone® logos!!!!!

I still hadn’t even cracked open my email! But this meant that I passed!

So I called allllll the people! I knew some others (distributor reps./friends) who had taken the test with me, and called them to tell them to check their inboxes! I know myself and at least 2 others (Hey, Bri!) passed!

I really couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present. I’m a Certified Cicerone®! Mission accomplished.
Now… what next?!

One Should Always Be Drunk (How I Got A Job In Craft Beer)

“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters… But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.”

Passionate people, no matter what their passion, are some of my favorite people in this world.

At one point when I was younger, my passion was singing. I always had a voice, growing up. I had a beautiful voice. It was actually incredible… For a point in time, I actually thought about applying to Juilliard. (Nine percent of applicants actually got in! And I KNEW that I could if I applied myself.)

For a long time, I told myself that not pursuing that path in life was my being practical. But the truth is, if I had wanted it badly enough, I could have had it.

It never bothered me that I just quit singing (although I occasionally honor the wedding singer request as a favor to close friends and family). And I’ve never once looked back and thought, “What if I had pursued that?” Not once.

My thing was out there somewhere. I just hadn’t found it.

I loved to write. Maybe that was it?

I went to college intending to obtain a degree in Journalism.  I had an amazing college advisor who led me to get a degree in Communications instead. I’m so happy I went that route. I focused on Marketing. And I knew exactly who I wanted to work for… Sheetz – A family-owned company that was born right in my hometown.

I loved everything about their marketing campaigns, the incredibly fun and not too serious culture I perceived them having, and the continuity of creativity that I felt bled from everything that company did. My goal was to work in their Marketing department, almost from the moment I chose to get a degree in Communications.

I started in a store and worked my ass off. And I got that chance. I’m incredibly thankful that our Director of Marketing took a chance on me and finally gave me a job in their Marketing department! I was asked to interview for that position, and still I remember leaving the interview feeling certain I had failed.

I got the job.

Truly, nothing could have made me happier.

I found my home, and I found this crazy family of geeks (and I used that term with the greatest respect!) that I fit into.

I was the “Food and Beverage Field Project Technician” in my first role in the Marketing department. This was fitting. I was a bit of a foodie. And let’s not even get started on the “beverage” part! I was a lover of good beer.

If drinking in college could have earned me a degree, I would have my doctorate.

I didn’t start my illustrious drinking career loving good beer. But I was fortunate enough to have a few good friends to knock the Miller Lite out of my hands and to introduce me to something special. (Josh Beemiller and Sam Gillis… I hold you two mainly responsible, whether you know it or not.)

My love for beer grew and grew. Slowly at first. And then, it became this insatiable thing…

It was no longer about the getting drunk of college years. It was about being drunk with this insatiable thirst to learn more and more.

At work one day, I was chatting with one of my bosses about blogs. I never understood why someone would want to start a blog. It seemed like too open and personal of a thing for me to want to share with strangers. Blogs seemed like a lot of work with no real benefit. But… I did love to write… And I loved beer…

I suddenly was excited. I wanted to share this love I had for beer with others. I actually thought my husband wouldn’t be a huge fan of my sharing of our personal lives with the world. So I thought I would wait for the right time to approach him about it.

But I didn’t have to wait. That following weekend, Ben and I were at this awesome beer bar. We chatted with other beer geeks for hours there. When we were leaving, Ben and I were discussing how awesome it was to talk to those other people who loved beer just as much as we did. Ben told me I should start a beer blog.

And I did.

Starting this blog helped me learn and grow. It instilled this passion in me to want to share what I learn with others. Before I sat down to write my first blog post, I considered all things “marketing”. Who is my audience? What do I want to accomplish? How do I establish my brand? I love to write, but I kind of have the mouth of a sailor. Will that translate as passionate honesty and sincerity in my blog, or will I come off sounding like an asshole?

Fuck it; I’ll just be me.

It was the realest thing I’ve done. I know my father isn’t a fan of the language I occasionally use on my posts. But I hope that one day he’ll see that it’s not me trying to shock people… This is what I LOVE. I can articulate that love without swearing. But in the most passionate moments of your life, what kind of language do you use?

This is how I feel about beer.

I found it, finally. I found the thing in life that I love.

It sounds fucked up to people, I know. It’s just beer. Alcohol.

I know that not everyone understands how I can love a thing so much.

Beer. Beer, of all things.

I used to be a little harder and a little more defensive. But now, I don’t feel the need to explain.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love beer. It’s this incredible thing that we as humans get to formulate. It’s the most versatile beverage that exists. It can be whatever we want it to be. Beer tells a story. You can shut me in a room with a great beer, and I’ll relish the opportunity to peel away its layers and hear its story.

I want to share these stories with as many people as I can.

A few weeks ago, I had a choice to make. It’s the toughest choice I’ve made in my life, to date.

“A ship is safe at harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.” I saw this on Twitter while trying to make my decision. It’s a quote I’ve always liked. Oddly enough, some insightful drunk chick penned it in Sharpie on the stall door in the bathroom of one of my all-time favorite craft beer bars…

I wasn’t built to be anchored at shore, even if that place is safe and comfortable.

I was offered a craft beer job.

A craft beer job!!! And in marketing! For a brewery I already thought very highly of!

After a lot of consideration, and literal tears in my beers looking for the right answer, I found it.

Beer is my thing. And that was my answer.

I accepted a position with Devils Backbone Brewing as their North Carolina Craft Adventure Coordinator!

Leaving a company and family I love so much is incredibly difficult. I was given incredible opportunities there that I will forever be grateful for. Those people will always be my family. And I’m grateful for all of their encouragement and support.

I encourage you all to find the thing in your life that makes you happy. And do that. If you do what you love for a job, you’ll never work a day in your life. And you’ll be as rich as you need to be. Find that thing that makes you inexplicably happy. And go for it.

The Certified Cicerone Test

A few days after taking the Certified Cicerone test, I still have no clue what just happened to me! They said they’ve recently been getting test results out around 4-6 weeks after the test. So I’m starting this horrible waiting game!

I went from feeling confident while filling out the first 5-6 pages of the test, to feeling like I knew nothing filling out the next few pages that I left speckled with blanks to return to, to feeling great after taking the tasting portion. When I left the exam, I was feeling that it could go either way. I got home and immediately pulled out my note cards to verify that I had answered certain questions correctly. Another roller coaster of feeling good and bad. And it slowly turned to bad. I put away my notecards, not wanting to discover that I had answered anything else wrong.

I couldn’t concentrate.

That night, pretty certain that my husband was asleep, I said, “Ben? Are you awake?”

I heard a sleepy, “Yeah.”

I followed it up with a, “What was the answer to this one?!”

I had only gotten half of it correct.

I awoke the next morning not feeling much better.

I started to feel that I had answered one of the essays incorrectly, but I didn’t even want to look up the style guidelines for the answer. Several hours later, my OCD got the best of me, and I looked. I felt great!

For at least the past 24 hours, I’ve remained confidently certain that I had A SHOT at passing. So I’m going to do my best to stick with that!

As most of you know, I’ve been studying for this test for quite some time now. I’m far more knowledgeable now than I was even at this point last year. There’s so much to learn. And the more I learn, the more I know I’ll never stop.

I knew I wanted to take the test this year. Three months ago, my husband texted me telling me an exam date had just popped up in our area. I was like a kid on Christmas. That was what I needed to hear. I immediately created a spreadsheet to log my hours of studying each day, and I immediately started making notecards and started reading my beer books with a renewed purpose.

I knew that I wanted to write about my experience to try to help others interested in taking the test as best I could. The obsessive tracking of hours started to get to me after several weeks, especially when I spent an entire day without studying. Eventually, I threw away the spreadsheet and just focused on trying my best without killing myself. (Just kidding. I didn’t throw it away. I’m OCD. Remember? The point is that I discontinued logging hours and tormenting myself when I missed an entire day or days of studying.)

Ben had intended to take the test, too.

About a month before the test, I started to have doubts that I would be ready. I went home to tell Ben, and he beat me to the punch. I told him I felt the same way, and he argued, saying, “No. You’re ready.” So I buried myself further in notecards, books, and obviously, beers.

Ben and I registered for the test. The days passed quickly. And there we were. Sitting in front of the local distributor where the test was being administered. A guy in the car beside us was speeding through notecards. Ben and I wondered how many people would be taking the test with us. We made a pretty fair bet that there wouldn’t be any other married couples in there!

There were about 20 of us. All of them in the industry except for Ben and me. Most of them were taking the test for the second or third time. And there was only one other woman.

So let’s talk about what a Cicerone actually is!

There are 3 levels in the Cicerone Program. The first is a Certified Beer Server. The second is the Certified Cicerone. And the third is the Master Cicerone. In the proper use of these terms, Certified Beer Servers cannot call themselves “Cicerones”. This is reserved for the Certified Cicerones and Master Cicerones. They’re typically to be referred to as a “Certified Beer Server in the Cicerone Program”.

People in the beer industry know what a Cicerone is. And a lot of geeky beer geeks know, too. But it’s something I often find myself explaining to the rest of the world. To inquiring minds, I explain it in its basic sense as a Sommelier, but for the beer world. The Cicerone program has become the industry standard in certification programs. It’s basically a certification that you have extensive knowledge of all that is beer. I’ll sometimes describe it as a type of “beer expert”, but I think that phrase is best reserved for Master Cicerones. And I think the minute you think of yourself as an expert, you’ve done a disservice to yourself. There’s so much to learn!

Master Cicerones are expected to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all that is beer. There are only 9 Master Cicerones in the world! I hope that one day I would be ambitious enough to take that on. But I definitely don’t have a plan to accomplish that at the moment! First things first! I have to pass the Certified Cicerone test!

There are currently only 1,788 Certified Cicerones in the world. (I’m hoping that number grows by at least 2 in the next few weeks as they grade Ben’s and my exams!)

For the Certified Beer Server exam, it’s just a timed test you take online. The other 2 tests are taken on site at a beer venue in locations all across the world, with the majority being offered in the U.S. The Cicerone Program usually offers a handful of tests each month in one specific location on each date. Some people will actually fly to a location just to take the test. (I would have if there wasn’t one offered that was just half an hour away. The tests are often offered in cities or states that are big in the beer world. The Cicerone offices in Chicago host tests very often.)

Around 200 people become Certified Cicerones each year. One in three people at each exam fail the test, making this harder to pass than the bar exam! And those statistics may have changed some since an outside party last published them.

It’s a little pricey to take, but certainly affordable if you’re passionate about beer. If the test was cheap to take, I’m sure there would be far more attempts and far more failures. I feel the price is very reasonable in comparison.

The test is broken down into 2 main portions: a written portion and a tasting portion. (There is also a small portion of the test where you’re asked to demonstrate a capability, most often related to beer service or describing cleaning a piece of the draft system, and this is video recorded and grouped with the written portion.)

If you pass one portion, you don’t have to retake it, and you just pay a smaller amount to retake the portion you didn’t pass.

The written portion is 3 hours long and is comprised mainly of fill-in-the-blank questions. There is no word bank. There’s no way to really guess your way through it. You truly have to have a great understanding of all things beer. There were several small matching portions with word banks from which to choose, but you can’t count on those few parts to be your saving grace.

An old version of the Cicerone test is posted on the cicerone.org website and is available to registered users. It shows one of these word bank questions to be about matching beer glasses with the appropriate styles of beer. Take that for what it’s worth.

I had planned to divulge as much information as possible after the test to help people who were considering taking the test. However… before the test, you sign a waiver that says you won’t divulge any explicitly detailed information about the exam. Doing so can be cause to be stripped of your certification.

With that being said, I just can’t answer all of the questions people have. But I can definitely break the test down a little bit and point out some important things to know. I also very highly recommend that anyone interested in taking the Certified Cicerone test purchase a study guide from thebeerscholar.com. Chris Cohen, who wrote that particular study guide, did so independently of the Cicerone Program. Both Ben and I found it to be very helpful. It also comes with notecards that aid in pounding the info into your head! I carried those with me all the time.

Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer is a MUST read. I read it for the first time a while back and felt that it was a good bit over my head. But you retain some of that knowledge. And as you study more, you find yourself going back to Tasting Beer to reference things. It’s really the most conclusive reference material for all things beer – from history, to ingredients, to brewing processes, to styles, glassware, etc. After reading other books and Chris Cohen’s study guide, I reread this book. And it alllllllllllll made sense. It was no longer over my head. Instead, it was this awesomely cohesive gelatin that formed fragments of knowledge together. I absolutely recommend this as a reread right before the test as well, even if you skip parts you’re more familiar with.

The Complete Beer Course by Joshua Bernstein is a little more approachable than Tasting Beer. I picked it up after having read Tasting Beer feeling little overwhelmed. Bernstein has a really approachable take on everything. And parts of his book were particularly helpful to me! There are some good nuggets in there.

Included in the written portion of the test (which is 20 pages long, FYI) are 3 long essay questions. These questions are worth substantially more, and doing well on them is important. I feel very confident about my answers for all three of them! That may be my saving grace!

These are graded subjectively. I know I missed naming a particular yeast in one essay. And it kills me, because I had a dream about that yeast’s note card the week before the test! I have it permanently stored in my head, and for some reason, I just didn’t even think to write it. (If you’re dreaming about yeast note cards, I say you should automatically pass the test. Just my opinion.)

I know I missed a few opportunities for all of the points on the essays here or there for reasons I won’t go into, as it may be easy to figure out what the essay question was, but I feel really good about my answers in general!

There were around 150 questions plus the essays. It took me all 3 hours for this part of the test, though Ben actually finished first, with maybe 45 minutes to spare.

There is always a section on the test about food and beer pairings. In this section, we were asked to pair a beer with a very specific dish. Ben and I were discussing the pairing after the test and he asked me what I had paired with it. We both not only chose a saison, but chose the exact same beer, Brewery Ommegang Hennepin, to pair with the dish. Good choice! (If you struggle with food and beer pairings, or just love learning more about food and beer, Garret Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table is a beautiful read! I didn’t read the whole thing yet. But it’s truly a beautiful book!)

I also feel good about the tasting portion of the test. You have to get a 70% or higher to pass the tasting portion. There are 12 questions. The tasting portion is broken down into 3 parts, and you have 45 minutes, which is more than enough time to complete this portion. There are 3 sets of 4 beers.

The first set involves off-flavors. You were given a control beer, and then asked to determine which beer in the group of 4 matched the control. Then you had to choose the off-flavors in the other 3 beers from a list.

The next set presents 4 different beers for which you have to choose the correct style. There will be 2 styles listed that are pretty closely related, and you must choose one.

The last set also involves off-flavors. But these 4 beers are presented to you along with the name of the beer style and brand, and you are asked to determine if the beer is fit to serve. If the answer is no, you have to name what is wrong with the beer and what caused the problem. This last set is worth half of the tasting grade, as it involves more detail and multiple parts in the answer.

The tasting portion was administered last and in a group setting. Each person had their own table with their beers and test paper in front of them. Obviously, discussion was not allowed. (It’s noteworthy that we did get bottled water and were offered saltines for the tasting if we wanted them.) At the end of the test, the proctor told us the answers to the tasting portion, even down to naming the exact beer that was used in the style delineation.

Again, I was kicking myself! I could remember my choices for the middle set of 4 and the last set of 4, but I couldn’t remember the exact order I placed the first 4 in. I got the naming of the styles section all correct and missed 1 of the 4 in the last set, which I’m still beating myself up over. I doubted what I thought I initially tasted, but I stuck with the whole “go with your first reaction” thing. If I had just answered that correctly, I would know right now that I had passed the tasting portion.

From the first set of 4 beers, I know that I got the second beer correct and the fourth beer wrong. I named the correct things for the other 2 beers, but didn’t remember if I had reversed them. So it’s killing me to not know.

Ben and I had 2 off-flavor tasting kits (we purchased one through the Cicerone Program). These helped IMMENSLEY. It’s one thing to think you know what creamed corn (DMS) would taste like in a beer; it’s another to actually be able to pull that taste from a beer. Plus, that off-flavor can also taste like cooked vegetables or green beans to some people. It tastes more like green beans to me! So if I was blindly searching for creamed corn, I would have been out of luck!

In our own off-flavor tastings, we discovered what flavors were difficult for each of us to pull out. I had the most problems with detecting acetaldehyde, and Ben struggled with diacetyl. (Geeks!) In our first off-flavor tasting, I only got half of the flavors correct. In the second, I nailed them all. So I highly recommend any prospective test-takers purchase an off-flavor kit. These are pretty pricey. But all that time you spent preparing for the test is extremely valuable, too! And you’re also forking over a chunk of change to take the test. So just splurge and order an off-flavor kit.

I could show someone what diacetyl and acetic acid taste like in a beer for free if they wished! These two flavors combined equal a draft line infection. Yum! The very first beer Ben and I had after our exam (at a local place to remain unnamed) was poured by some definite offenders of not cleaning their draft lines! That beer was extremely different from what it should have tasted like. And it makes me sad to know that some people will judge that brewery and their beer based on that flavor caused by the negligence of a bar.

The test requires the previously stated 70% or higher score on the tasting portion, and a score of 80% overall.

Being that it was my goal for this year to become a Certified Cicerone, I’m going to do everything I can to ensure I accomplish that. I took the test on June 15th. The only other test scheduled through the beginning of next year within a day’s drive back and forth of my home is on August 31st in Virginia. So… I took a break from studying for a few days, and I’m back at it again! If I fail a portion of or all of this test, I want to be prepared to take it again! I’ll keep you posted!