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…


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?!

Attempt Number Two

Most of you know I just made my second attempt at becoming a Certified Cicerone! I wanted to give you a brief update on how I feel things went!

Also, if you’d like a better breakdown of how the test works, you can check out my previous post after my first attempt here. The Certified Cicerone Test

While I’d love to share EVERY question asked on the test that I can remember, especially the essays and video portion, I can’t. We sign a waiver before we take the test stating that we won’t share specific details. 

We’ll start with the tasting portion because we get the answers at the end of the test for that. The first 8 beers are cut and dry, black and white. There’s no chance for partial credit on these questions. Four beers with off flavors in a control beer and four style determination questions. I aced those. 

The last four questions didn’t go as well. You can get some partial credit, because these involve explanations. I got one fully correct. These last four questions are weighted more heavily as far as scoring goes. So my counting on an improved score is probably out the window. This was a hard tasting. Others who were taking the test for a second time agreed. 

I know I can do better on this portion of the test. Unfortunately, I just made some mistakes. Some common “off flavors” are actually appropriate to a certain extent in particular beer styles. I knew what I was tasting on the first beer in that set could be appropriate, but I overthought it and added something to it. I just overanalyzed it.
The good news is that my old score was passing, and they’ll use whichever score was best. The night before the test, during my practice tasting, I easily picked up a flavor I typically struggle with. And I got that off flavor right on the test, too. I struggled last night with a flavor that’s typically VERY easy for me to pick up, and I failed to pick that up on the test the other day in one of the last questions. At least my nose is consistent!

Onto the written! I knew a lot more of the content, and confidently answered most of the questions. Probably 95% of these are fill in the blanks with no word bank. I left probably 7 blank that I thought I’d return to later to just guess on, because I was drawing blanks. When I returned to them at the very end, I knew the answer to every one!

I know I did well on the short essay question. It’s largely objective and this one involved a beer and food pairing with a complex dish. I think I got anywhere from an 85%-100% on that. I spun off of a classic pairing, and I’m confident. I got to pair something with my favorite beer style, which was fun!

And I nailed the video portion! I had the exact same question I had screwed up on big time before.

And most importantly for how much it impacts the written score, I NAILED all 3 essays!

I missed a style ABV range by 1% and I missed the highest SRM range by 2 degrees I think. My top ABV was too high, but my starting ABV was right on. The quantitative aspect of that essay was the only part I know I didn’t get fully correct. But I hit the ranges with the exact starting quantity for all of them, and came very close on the ranges. They break down how that essay is graded in chunks. I think quantitative measures was worth 20% of that question. And I’ll bet I get awarded a 12% for those answers.

That gives me a 92% on that essay and a 100% on the other two. (This is realistic optimism speaking here.)

I need to get an 80% or higher to have passed the written portion (and to become a Certified Cicerone!). 

I thinkkkkkkk I did it…

It usually takes about 6 weeks to get the results. That means that I should find out the week of Christmas! (Or HOPEFULLY before.) Gah!!!!! Waiting is the worst. Fingers crossed, friends!

This girl is ready to trade in her Certified Beer Server pin for a new, sparkly Certified Cicerone one!

And now… we wait!

In The Beer Business & The Importance of Telling My Story

With a blog title like “WeBeerlongTogether”, you had to have known that it was only a matter of time before I joined forces with beer in my career path, officially giving beer authority of most of my waking hours. (And we all know I dream about beer, too, so there’s really no escape.) It’s been  4 months now.  And I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.

After training, It was ten incredibly long weeks of 70-hour work weeks, living in hotels while myself and six others rolled out our beer to brand new territories covering the whole state of North Carolina as well as Eastern Tennessee.

I was fucking exhausted. I was literally waking up in the morning, selling beer all day, running to an event, and then sometimes another event right after it. And then I would get back to my hotel or my house, sleep, and repeat. But you know what? I didn’t have a single bad day at work. (Well, except for when I found out I failed my Certified Cicerone test…)

Rolling out beer to an entire state and a half and meeting a zillion new people a day who you have to build relationships with and constantly impress was incredibly exhausting. But it was even more incredibly rewarding.

I found myself smiling and being excited all the time. Seriously. I loved getting a hard sell. I loved getting an easy sell because people were honestly remarkably receptive to Devils Backbone coming into NC.  I loved learning from the distributors. I loved pushing a few of them to learn about us, too. Hell, I was still learning about us! (As I still am!) And I really enjoyed changing people’s minds when we gave samples of our beer to bar patrons.

These are my people. And this is where I belong. Devils Backbone has me drinkin’ the Kool-Aid.

I remember not long after starting this new job, a beer geek friend from back home asked me if he could still expect unbiased blog posts from me now that I was in the industry. I gave him my definite and resounding “Yes!”

I’ll give you all the long version, which is a resounding “yes” as well. (And you should know by now that even my short versions of things aren’t exactly brief. So, buckle up! It’s story time.)

I remember very clearly, during my last week in eighth grade (That’s right! It’s THAT kind of long Janee story!), our school guidance counselor (We’ll call her “Mrs. K.”) came to meet with our small class of 10  one last time. She had a survey for us all to fill out, and I suppose she wanted to impart her “guidance” on us one last time before we left our small school to head into the real world of high school. 

We had completed our surveys and were going over our answers out loud. The final question was read. “True or false? You can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it.”

We all answered in unison, “True.”

“Wrong,” said Mrs. K. “Just because you want to grow up to be a doctor doesn’t mean that you’re smart enough to be one.”

Some of us started to argue, and Mrs. K. said, “Well what if you’re in a wheelchair, and you want to be a football player?” 

And just like that, our time with our beloved, chain smoking, absent-minded guidance counselor was up. I’m sure she continued on to lead, counsel, and inspire many…

I think we were all pissed. I knew she was wrong. I believe that with all of my heart and more importantly, my head, still today. If you want something badly enough, you’ll make it happen.

I would love to have Mrs. K. know that my husband’s friend lost both of his legs and, after that, decided he wanted to ride a bicycle across the United States. And he did. I really hope she’s not continuing to tell kids that the answer to that question is still false.

My takeaway from the story here is to be your own unstoppable person and to have your own voice. You can do anything you want to do if you want it badly enough and work hard enough to get it.

With that being said, what do we have if we don’t have a voice?

You will always hear my story. This my story with beer. That includes the good and the bad. That includes the Certified Cicerone test failure. And hopefully, it will include the Certified Cicerone test success soon! 

I take the test again on November 10th! (ONE WEEK AWAY!!!) That means I’ll likely find out right before Christmas if I passed. So pray to the beer gods that this time will be a success!

Back to the point of transparency, when I interviewed for my job, my post on Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercial from this year came up. “You’ll be working side by side with people who distribute this beer. Budweiser essentially puts food on their table. Do you forsee that being an issue?”

I’ve had the incredible pleasure of working with a lot of people from a lot of different distributors. Devils Backbone works with Bud houses and with MillerCoors houses. These people are great people. Some of them won’t touch a Bud. Most of them will. And for some, that’s all that they drink.  

I’ve openly chatted with a few of these people about that blog post, in hopes to be transparent, to gain trust and hopefully, respect in the long run. It made me sad to hear that the few I talked to about the Budweiser ad were really hurt by the ad.

I walked into a restaurant with a distributor rep. named David from one of our Bud houses the other month to talk to the restaurant’s new beer buyer. After we introduced Devils Backbone to him, David was asked about the other brands the distributor could provide as the buyer explained that he wanted to migrate his inventory to be more craft beer focused. I enjoy these conversations, and often engage in support of some brands I love.

Goose Island was a brand that was mentioned, and the beer buyer said he wasn’t interested.

When David and I got back into his vehicle, he asked, “Why do you think he wasn’t interested in Goose Island?”

I think we both knew that the answer was because Goose Island is owned by AB InBev (Budweiser). AB InBev acquired  Goose Island several years ago, and they continue to purchase craft breweries. These breweries inevitably lose value in the eyes of some consumers.

This is the beer world we live in. We live in a world where buyers and distributors and brewery reps. alike are generally pretty cognizant of the world around them.

These distributors for the most part really want to see the good craft breweries excel. This is the future of their business. And that Budweiser commercial mocked all of those craft breweries. 

I’m glad I got the opportunity to be transparent and honest with a few distributor representatives about what could be a touchy subject. 

With that being said, I’ll continue to fight the good fight against”yellow fizzy shit”.  I won’t hold it against you if you’re drinking it. But expect that I’ll occasionally  challenge you. If that means putting a Devils Backbone Gold Leaf Lager into your hands, then awesome. If that means  introducing you to Shock Top (an AB InBev brand), then I’ll do that, too. And if that means cracking open a  vintage  barrel aged bottle I’ve been saving for year, then cheers, friend.

The world would be a boring place if we all just played it safe and didn’t challenge or  believe in anything. My goal has always been to never stop learning, and to share my love of beer with anyone willing to listen.

And now, you get to take the journey with me from inside the industry.

My new additional goal is to give you a picture of what that looks like.

I want to share with you that the three tier system isn’t just a necessary evil, as it often can be looked upon from the outside. There will always be advantages and disadvantages. (More on that later!)

I  want to talk to you about industry prejudices.

I want to let you know that relationships are one of the most important things in life, and I want to let you know how important these relationships are in the beer industry.  I spent an entire day  stocking  mostly Budweiser products in convenience stores  as I rode around with a distributor sales rep. in the market one day. One day when an account asks him if he has any good lager brands, hopefully the sales rep. will think of me and offer that account some Devils Backbone Vienna Lager.

I want to talk to you about industry camaraderie and how  fun it is to run into other brewery reps. in the market who share a mutual love and respect for beer.

I want to tell you that most of these encounters are great. And I want to tell you that for the one or two encounters outside the norm that have been bad, I’m actually thankful. We’re all ultimately competing  for  the same  space for our products. If you want to throw fuel on my sales fire, be my guest!

And I want to tell you how awesome it is to get to  do what you love every day. A few people in the industry have told me this exact same thing – If ever you come home from work and think you had a bad day, just remember, you get  to work in beer.

Stay tuned for what’s to come, friends. Cheers!

SAVOR 2015

SAVOR is a beer and food pairing event with a feel unlike anything else I’ve experienced in craft beer. This year and last, it was held in Washington D.C. at the National Building Museum.

Ben and I attended last year, not knowing what to expect. We had an amazing time, so we naturally planned to attend this year’s event.

It’s really a cool environment, even aside from being held in the beautiful National Building Museum, which already provides a great atmosphere.

It’s a little like a dressed up beer festival and a beer and food pairing dinner had a badass kid. It’s discernibly an event for foodies and beer geeks alike. You’ll see many people dressed up, but you wouldn’t feel out of place in jeans and your favorite brewery shirt either. They do take some fun red carpet photos once the event gets underway!Ben and Janee!

Tables form a bunch of little islands all over the event floor. Each island hosts 4 different breweries, and each brewery can showcase 2 different beers. Each beer has a food pairing picked specifically for the beer, and the bite-sized pairing sits on a large serving dish in front of where the matching beer is being poured. There are helpful signs at each station with each beer to tell you what food and beer are being paired there.

One of the things I love most about this event is that you usually have the opportunity to meet some incredibly badass people in the beer industry. Kim Jordan of New Belgium poured me a beer last year. And this year, I met one of my all-time favorite people in the industry, Dogfish Head’s Sam Calgione!

His beers truly got me into craft beer, and Dogfish Head remains one of my all-time favorite breweries because of that, the incredible beers they put out, their fantastic attention to detail and exploring history through beer. And Sam was even more awesome than I thought he’d be. A few people were asking him as he was pouring their beer to pause for a photo. I asked him if he’d mind photobombing a quick selfie in the background, but he insisted that I get someone to take a picture of the two of us. Very cool.

Ben and I attended one of the salons during (before) Savor. You have to buy tickets in advance, and there are typically a handful of salons each night at various times throughout the event. Last year we attended a kick ass beer and donut pairing with Stone Brewing’s “Dr.” Bill! (So much fun!) And this year we chose a salon on barrel aging in barrels with different spirits by Allagash. Definitely attend one of these if you have the opportunity. They provide an intimate, informative, and unique chance to talk to someone from a brewery in a very small group setting and ask questions.

This year, 76 breweries were at Savor. Lots of them bring brand new beers, and some bring some of their more rare and sought after brews.

Having sampled about 60 different beers (and definitely trying the food pairing with those that really impressed me), the best pairing of the night for me goes hands down to Hops And Grain Brewing’s Volumes of Funk: Sour Porter Culture paired with Beef Cheek & Oxtail Stew w/ Heirloom Carrot Butter Persillade. A brown porter in itself will highlight the stewed beef with its mild roastiness that comes from the malts in the beer. Caramel and toffee notes in the beer also match well with a beef stew. One of the most classic pairings in the world of craft beer is beef stew and a Flanders brown ale (a sour brown). So a soured brown porter makes a ton of sense to me.

Ben talked to one of the brewers at the booth about how he made the beer, and I remember it involved a long period of time adding Lacto at one point and Pedio at another and then seemingly doing 700 more things before the beer was finished. All of that hard work paid off in my opinion.

Some other cool little perks are the glasses they give you to keep (that you use to sample all night) and the fun parting gift of a 22 oz. bottle of beer brewed especially for Savor attendees. This year’s glasses were some nice Tekus, and the beer this year is called Philtimore, a pale ale brewed by Heavy Seas and Yards.

To learn more about this annual event, check out

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

This is not a post I wanted to write.

But this is my story. And as much as I’d love to, I can’t just skip over the bad parts.

I failed my first attempt at the Certified Cicerone test.

I went into it concerned that I hadn’t had enough time to study. I had a nightmare the night before I got my test results back that I got a 33%. I woke up the next morning and got ready for work. I was going back to the site where I took my test 5 weeks prior.

A couple of guys from the distributor (where the test was held and where I was working that day) had taken the test with me. I told one of them about my dream, and he said with confidence, ” We’re going to find out today.” I asked him how he knew, and he said he just felt like today was the day.

It was around 5:00 and I got a call from my co-worker who was riding with the guy who had taken the test. He said, “Check your email! Kevin passed!”

I was ecstatic for him! And my hands instantly began to shake. My email hadn’t come through yet. I knew they were sending around 20 emails with varying results.

I got off the phone and told another co-worker that I should be getting my results any minute. I was freaking out. I thought about calling Ben. But I figured I would wait the few minutes so I could call him to share the news.

My phone vibrated, and up popped the words “Cicerone Program”. This was the email. I took a deep breath, walked away from everyone, and opened it…

I had passed the tasting portion… But my overall score on the whole test was not high enough to pass.

I really can’t even begin to explain how that felt…

My excitement faded and my smile of anticipation and anxiety faded in slow motion into hazy eyes with restraint, trying not to look like an idiot in front of the people I was working with. I thought of my friend Michele saying, “Always be a robot” when we’d discuss having a bad day. 

I called Ben before I would let my emotions get the best of me. “Check your email”, I said, as I attempted to hide the devastation in my voice. 

Ben quickly said, “Did you get my text?”

I hadn’t looked or even noticed that I had one. I took the phone from my ear to look. 

“I PASSED!!!!!”, it read.

My eyes instantly filled with tears of happiness for him as I blurted out a, “Congratulations, babe! I’m so proud of you!”, before I lost it. And as soon as the first tear left my eye, the rest were fucking horrible and restrained tears of shitty saddness and devastation. 

Ben asked, still with excitement, “How did you do?”

I was silent. 

“Are you there?”, he asked.

I gathered enough breath to slowly get through telling him I hadn’t passed…

This is my life. This is what I fucking love with all my heart. And I wasn’t good enough to succeed. 

If you’ve ever seen the documentary “Somm” (about a group of people preparing for their Master Sommelier exam), I felt like that one guy who didn’t pass as he tearfullly pulled off a painful smile watching his friends be awarded the title.

I tried to pull my shit together to walk back over to my co-worker and the two people from the distributor we were riding with. 

I’m admittedly an emotional person. I remember a family dinner one night long ago where my dad was asked to describe me in one word. He chose, “emotional”. I instantly was offended. Then my dad explained. “That’s not a bad thing, Janee. Emotional doesn’t mean you’re a crybaby. It means you wear your heart on your sleeve, and whatever you feel, you feel whole-heartedly and with a lot of passion.” 

I can practice restraint in almost every case.

But this, to me, was actually heart-breaking. It was like being dumped. 

It didn’t matter that I had passed one portion. I almost didn’t even care.

I failed.

“I failed”, I kept thinking.

My team and I got into a car to go sell some more beer. It was the very last thing on earth I wanted to do at that point in time. I just wanted to bawl my eyes out.

After work ended, I drove a few minutes to a nearby restaurant where my husband was. 

I felt like a huge asshole. My husband accomplishes this awesome thing, and I don’t want to tarnish it for him. I decide to bawl my eyes out alone in my car after dinner on the half hour ride home.

Ben and I are big fans of the husband/wife high five. So I immediately walk in to join him at the bar and greet him that way and follow it up with a big hug.

I can’t describe well enough how incredibly happy I was for him. Shortly into our conversation, my smile broke into tears and I apologized, again telling him how happy I was for him and explaining that I didn’t want to take away from his happiness.

He’s come a long way with his consolation skills. Years ago, it would have been a mechanical “there there” pat on the back. But he was awesome and tried to make me laugh.

After dinner, I got into my car and bawled the whole way home on the phone with a friend.

The next morning, I woke up. I thought about feeling sorry for myself. But I literally thought of this one Barney Stinson meme that reads, “When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead.” And I just did that. And that day, I got to go back to my new job doing what I love. And it was a great day.

I needed to go through that shitty feeling. It wasn’t the end of the world. I wanted with all my heart to pass the first time. But I had less than 3 months of committed studying. I knew I wasn’t as prepared as I had wanted to be. And a good number of people have said that the tasting portion is the hardest to pass.

The only failures are quitters!

There’s a test at the end of August that I had planned to take if I failed, but that test is already full. There’s one in October that I think I can make it to instead. Work is going to be crazy for the next few months, and I’ll be working day and night. But I have a game plan to focus on my weak spots, and I’m going to pass!

I plan to retake the tasting portion, despite having passed it, because a better score on that can boost my overall score. Once you pass that portion, you’ve passed. So even if you fail at a second attempt, they take the better of your scores.

I’ll keep you posted. I’ll pass this test! Ben can’t be the only Certified Cicerone in this house for long!

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 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 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!

The Eddy Pub & Steel String Brewery Beer Dinner

I love beer. And I love food. So it stands to reason that I LOVE a good beer dinner.

I’m not quite sure how I really became a foodie… My dad is a plain burger, no seasoning on his fries, NO sauce ever of any kind, pizza-hating kind of guy. (Pizza hating!) My sisters are both pretty picky eaters. (Chicken tenders and cheese fries are the safest way to go for these two.) My mom probably is the most adventurous. But they’re ALL well-done burger people. I know several of them have commented “Ew.” on my Instagram burger shots upon seeing a beautifully topped, bit into, pinkish-reddish burger.

Yet somehow, a foodie I am. I work on the food team in my company’s marketing department. So somehow between a childhood of PB & J sandwiches and super-well-done burgers, and my growing up and life in the foodservice industry from restaurants to working in catering to my current job, I’ve become a full-fledged foodie.

Now. Back on to this beer dinner!

The Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw, NC never fails to impress. (Saxapahaw in itself never fails to impress either!) We get to The Eddy Pub about once a month probably. It’s one of Ben’s and my favorite local places. We recently brought a few other foodies from our Culinary R & D team from work from Pennsylvania to The Eddy, and the hard-to-impress were impressed and still talk about it.

We knew we would be lucky to live close to all this great beer when we moved to NC, but we found that we’re extremely lucky to live close to some extremely talented chefs. And Chef Isaiah at The Eddy is our absolute favorite.

The Eddy has a private room attached to the pub where they hold their beer dinners. They hold these dinners with different local breweries fairly often. And this most recent one was a dinner with Steel String Brewery.

The ambience is always phenomenal at The Eddy’s beer dinners. There’s typically some kind of flower or plant that is plucked from a local farm for use in one of the dishes, and they use the small flower buds in an understated, but perfect, centerpiece. The private room has a rustic feel to it, and you sit at one of two long tables, amongst the other foodies eager to see what Chef Isaiah and the brewery have in store for us.

The actual pub (minus the private room) boasts amazing sunset views, with the Haw River in the background only making it better. It’s literally the most beautiful spot I’ve visited in NC in my year since my move.

I’ve always been appreciative of my non-beer loving friends for entertaining my long-winded chats about the beer style I’m drinking or the 17 things I love about this brewery and the 27 things that I taste in the beer in my hand and why the flavors should all be there, or when I explain in depth what a “beer clean” glass is or why I wish this beer had a better malt backbone, or when I explain that a Lindeman’s Framboise isn’t at all indicative of the fruit lambic beer style because it’s sweetened post-fermentation, or when I explain that when a beer geek describes a beer as “catty”, that it’s really just a nice way of saying that it smells like cat pee, and that it usually comes from Simcoe hops and is entirely acceptable in American IPAs and similar styles. These friends are damn near saints. They listen to my beer geek talk ALL. THE. TIME.

I feel like Chef Isaiah is the same way about food that I am about beer. The food geekiness oozes out of him. He probably talked for 2 minutes just about how he made the popcorn biscuit for one of the courses by popping popcorn and then taking it and grinding it down to a powder to make it almost like cornmeal, and then using that to make biscuits. He talks about the processes and equipment he used and the mistakes he makes and how he turns them into something else amazing.

And nearly every ingredient he uses in his dishes is something from a local farm or something that just happens to be growing right outside the pub, like pine needles from the trees lining the walkway to The Eddy.

Steel String was one of the 106 breweries I had visited last year, and I was very impressed with their gose. We left the brewery with a growler fill of it. And we really reserve growler fills for outstanding beers, because we just have so damn many bottles at home that we need to drink!

For a beer dinner, keep in mind the 3 guidelines for pairing food and beer. You can read more about these guidelines and why they work and what else doesn’t work on my recent blog post about pairing food and beer here: How to Pair Food and Beer. First, you always want to match intensities. You don’t want either the beer or food to overwhelm what you’ve paired it with. Then, you can find complementary flavors, find contrast, or even both.

Here’s the amazing food and beer from that night, along with my notes on the pairings:

First Course: NC flounder tartare with goose egg béarnaise, cilantro juice, goose egg whites, beet powder, and micro bull’s blood paired with Der Schneid Berliner Weisse

NC Flounder Tartare

I can hear the voices of my mother and sisters in my head already – “Ewww! You ate something with bull’s blood in it?!”

Calm your shit… It’s just a type of beet.

This dish was beautifully plated, and a nice, approachable dish for the first course. The Berliner Weisse really shined here. A Berliner Weisse is known for being aggressively sour with a light body and a dry finish. It’s a wheat-based beer with high carbonation.

The intensities between the beer and food were a little off. The beer consumed some of the more delicate flavors in the dish. Carbonation in beer is a good palate cleanser, and the beer’s flavors don’t linger, so this actually did work for me in the end.

Second Course: Grayson cheese with mayhaw jelly, charred spring onions, and red buds paired with Pretty Polly American Wild Ale

Grayson Cheese with Mayhaw Jelly

This was one of my favorite pairings of the night. Chef Isaiah talked about loving this horribly stinky cheese. I always think that a stinky cheese like this belongs with a farmhouse ale, wild ale, or Brett beer because of the similar flavors of funkiness or farmey barnyard character.

The cheese was definitively stinky with a creamy but slightly sharp finish. The beer stood up to it and cleared your pallet for the next bite. The brightness of the beer scrubbed the pallet well, despite minimal carbonation. The jelly added depth to this dish and made the pairing even better by providing a slightly sweet, mildly fruity balance to the dish, while also providing some contrast to the beer.

Everything on the plate was edible. As we walked outside to leave the dinner, I spotted the red buds on one of the trees and contemplated pinching a bud off to sample again.

The Pretty Polly was one of my favorite beers of the evening. I had picked up a bottle of it the other week, and immediately regretted not picking up more than one. The dry hopping makes this amazingly complex.

Also, don’t underestimate the importance of proper glassware! This is a beer dinner, folks! Lots of time has been dedicated to working on the pairings and preparing a menu to highlight each and every flavor of the beer and the food. The beer geek (or as my husband would call me in this particular instance, “beer snob”. And I’m good with that!) in me applauds a brewery for bringing glasses that highlight each particular style of beer, or even for just bringing one type of glass like a tulip glass that generally is good to use for tasting any beer. (It’s just a little bonus that this glass actually is branded with the beer’s name. Bonus points to Steel String.)

I love proper glassware!

Pint glasses were NOT made for beer, people. I accept that they exist and will likely always exist in different places and circumstances. But I have to 86 them at a beer dinner. You wouldn’t give someone a straw to sip soup with because you’d be missing out on the aroma. This is the same concept.

Third Course: Popcorn biscuit with red eye gravy, bacon lardon, NC shrimp, sweet pea puree, and pea shoots paired with Dooley Black Saison

Popcorn Biscuit with Red Eye Gravy

The popcorn biscuit was really intriguing. I love popcorn. And I love biscuits. This was a marriage that just seemed like it was always meant to be. The bacon was the rockstar of this dish and was perfectly salty, fatty, and thick. I love a good piece of crispy, crunchy bacon, but I could eat this thick, fatty bacon all day long without even giving a second thought to wanting a nice crisp to it.

Dooley Black Saison has cold brewed coffee added to it. This isn’t your standard saison. I love coffee, but I truly didn’t love it in this beer. Saisons are dominated by fruity flavors, are moderately spicy, and sometimes have a tart sourness to them. It just didn’t work for me with the coffee added.

I understood the coffee/breakfast food pairing, but it didn’t hit it out of the park for me.

Fourth Course: Curried quail with paw paw ginger sauce, roasted daylily shoots, cleaver pesto, lambsquarter, spinach, and young garlic pakora paired with Cryin’ Holy Double IPA

Curried Quail

Fantastic dish. Fantastic beer. Fantastic pairing. And again, it was beautifully plated.

The IPA was very well-balanced with a good malt backbone and an approachable dry bitterness. It had a lemongrass and grapefruit finish. The malt backbone complemented the roastiness of the quail skin. And the lemongrass and grapefruit finish contrasted the curry with perfection. The IPA made the spiciness of the dish pop even more and really put this dish over the edge, in a good way.

Cryin’ Holy was another favorite beer of the night.

Fifth Course: Dark chocolate mousse with pine needle merengue, orange froth, sweet focaccia, and caramel powder paired with Turn Table Session Saison

Dark Chocolate Mousse with Sweet Focaccia

This dish was a champion I definitely didn’t expect. The pairing of sweet focaccia and chocolate mousse was a pleasant surprise. By themselves, they would have just been good. But the point of the dish was the two working together to create something unexpected and truly delicious. The pine needle merengue was the icing on the cake, almost literally.

Also, only a badass would pluck pine needles from the pine trees standing outside the window and make something truly incredible and edible with it.

I didn’t love that this was paired with a session beer, and I would have loved to have seen this with the Cryin’ Holy Double IPA to really highlight the pine needle merengue. But the chocolate in this dish may not have agreed with that pairing either. My heart says an American Barleywine may have worked phenomenally with this dish, as American versions of the beer are highly hopped with a rich and intense maltiness that would have supported the chocolate mousse well. The intense maltiness would have contrasted well with the sweet focaccia, too.

Few breweries have a full repertoire of beer styles available, and this dish is extremely complex on its own. The Turn Table Session Saison is one I could drink all day long. (Which is good, because that’s the entire point of a session beer!)

Steel String produces some solid beers that I continue to seek out. (The week after the beer dinner, I couldn’t help but to drive out to the brewery for round two of some Steel String beer. The Rubber Room Dry-Hopped Rye Pale Ale was just calling my name.) Cheers to the brewers and entire staff at Steel String (some of whom I sat beside during the dinner)!

And as long as I live near Saxapahaw, I’ll keep going back to The Eddy Pub for more great beer dinners. I love the risks they take with their food. Each dish is a creation just for that dinner, and at the next dinner, there’s a completely new and refreshing lineup awaiting. The Eddy has a lot of heart, and Chef Isaiah’s love for food absolutely shines through in each dish.

How to Pair Food and Beer

People often think of wine when they think of pairing a beverage with food. I’m here to tell you that not only is there another option, but that there’s a far better option. Beer.

Beer can be whatever you want it to be. Beer is all about choices. From water to hops to malt to yeast, the brewer has many choices to make. Then there’s the option to add additives or adjuncts. Do you want to dry hop the beer? Go for it. How about barrel-aging? Want to add some Lactobacillus or Pediococcus to sour the beer? Go ahead.

Beer offers options that put “red or white” to shame. In the most prestigious wine test that one can take, the Master Sommelier test, the tasting portion includes 3 red wines and 3 white wines.

There are 12 color descriptors used to describe beer. Straw, yellow, gold, amber, deep amber/light copper, copper, deep copper/light brown, brown, dark brown, very dark brown, black, and black opaque. And that doesn’t even include colors for any color contribution from the addition of fruit, etc.

The BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) currently lists TWENTY-THREE different categories for beer! And that doesn’t include the categories for cider and mead.

Amongst a group of other beer geeks, I literally was asked for my favorite beer style the other day, contemplated briefly, and declared it to probably be a Flanders Red right now. It was followed by a few chuckles, as people declared that that was such a specific choice. I could have just said “I’m really into sour beers right now.” But this love for beer makes me the geek that chooses the specific style of that complex acidic sour that boasts dark fruit flavors and is aged in oak barrels.

No disrespect to wine. Wines can be amazingly complex and beautiful. But wine just doesn’t have the versatility that beer has. Wine is really at its basic sense just grapes, and the yeast that naturally occurs on the grape skins. It can be aged on stainless steel or in barrels. Those are the choices.

The choices when it comes to beer and brewing are endless.

Often, people will tell me that they’ve been drinking light beers for a long time and that they want to branch out and try something new. And they’ll ask for a recommendation. It’s not the same for everyone.

I challenge wine to find my coffee-loving friends something that can compare better than an Irish stout can.

I challenge wine to find something that can please bacon-lovers better than a rauchbier can.

I challenge wine to pick me a suitable pairing for chicken noodle soup. Munich Helles is up for the challenge.

I challenge wine to find a better pairing for chocolate than a sweetened kriek fruit lambic.

There. I said it. All. And I feel much better now.

Now, let’s talk food and beer pairings.

Last year, my husband and I attended Savor, a large food and beer pairing event spanning two days. When you register, you have the option to sign up for one of several salons before they sell out. And they DO sell out quickly! (A salon is “a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation”. Sounds like a geeky, fantastic time, right?)

We attended a pretty badass beer and donut pairing salon with Certified Cicerone, Dr. Bill Sysak. Dr. Bill is Stone Brewing’s resident “Craft Beer Ambassador”. (For those of you on Untappd, you may recognize his name from the “New Brew Thursday” badges, as he joined forces with those guys and came to create “Master Pairings”. Read more about that here. New Brew Thursday.)

The first thing he told the small group of us attending the salon was to remember that, “There are no rules.” I’m pretty sure he even told us to write it down. And I did.

He went on to explain why different foods work well with different beers. There truly are 3 basic concepts for pairing beer with food. But Dr. Bill’s point was that beer is unpretentious. Beer is fun. And if you understand the basic concepts, you really can’t go wrong.

Here’s a photo I got the chance to take with Dr. Bill after the salon. We chatted briefly about cellaring beer, and he was a great representative for everything craft beer is and should be: Approachable, down to Earth, and badass. Cheers, Dr. Bill!

Here’s a photo I got the chance to take with Dr. Bill after the salon. We chatted briefly about cellaring beer, and he was a great representative for everything craft beer is and should be: Approachable, down to Earth, and badass. Cheers, Dr. Bill!

When it comes to pairing beer with food, here are the 3 basic concepts:

Match Intensity

Find Complementary Flavors

Find Contrast

You should always match intensities. And you can choose to either find complementary flavors or find contrast, or even both. If you’re following those guidelines, you can’t really go wrong. Let’s break it down.

Matching Intensity is the idea that you don’t want either the beer or the food to dominate the other. Intensities should always be matched.

For instance, you wouldn’t want to pair a dense imperial stout with a light chicken salad with a citrus vinaigrette.

Keep in mind the beer’s malt profile, sweetness, body, hop bitterness levels, hop flavors and aromas, ABV, acidity, tartness, sourness, or other special processes that contribute flavor, like barrel aging of additions of fruit, spices, etc.

A good example of matching intensity would be to pair a lighter, citrus-forward pale ale with that salad.

Find Complementary Flavors. Complementing the malt profile of a beer is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this. You want to look for flavor similarities within the beer and the food. For example, the nutty flavors contributed by the malt in a brown ale go well with nutty cheeses like aged cheddars. A peppered steak would go well with a peppery saison. And the caramel and smoke flavors from a rauchbier would match seamlessly with BBQ pork with a caramelly BBQ sauce on it.

Find Contrast. I think this one is the most fun. There are two main ways to find contrast. One way is to use a beer’s attributes to refresh the palate while eating. Carbonation and/or high alcohol can do that by “cutting” through sweetness or fat. Roastiness can also do that. A moderately carbonated and roasty imperial stout can cut through a rich, sweet chocolate dessert.

My favorite example of this is pairing a big barleywine with a creamy, earthy blue cheese. The barleywine and blue cheese pairing works well because the high alcohol in the barleywine will cleanse the palate of the creamy fat from the cheese.

The second way to find contrast is to actually contrast the flavors. A bitter American IPA contrasts beautifully with a sweet, rich carrot cake. The equal intensities in the bitterness from the beer and the sweetness and light spiciness from the cake pair beautifully.

A sweet cherry cobbler will contrast well against a dry Irish stout.

Some things to keep in mind when pairing are cooking methods and sauces. A baked apple dumpling will pair differently with beer than a brie tart topped with fresh cut apples will. Rosemary baked chicken will pair differently than grilled chicken with a bourbon glaze will.

There are several things you want to avoid when pairing.

You don’t want to pair bitter, hoppy beers with oily fish like sardines, tuna, salmon, trout or anchovies. Pairing these together can result in harsh metallic flavors. You also don’t want to really cook with IPAs, as the bitterness is drawn out by the heat and will overwhelm everything in the dish.

Also, keep in mind that when pairing beer with spicy or hot foods that carbonation pushes capsaicin heat forward. A good pairing for these spicy foods would be a mild ale with its low carbonation levels and its good malt presence and light to medium body.

Here are a few of my favorite pairings!

Beef Stew and a Flanders Brown/Oud Bruin: A Flanders brown is a malty, fruity, moderately sour beer boasting dark fruit flavors, caramel and toffee. Pairing this with a beef stew shows complementary flavors from the carameley cooked beef. The dark fruits like plums, raisins and figs contrast the roasty umami of the rich beef stew. These are well-matched being equally intense and complex.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with an Imperial Stout: My favorite imperial stout is The Bruery’s Black Tuesday. This is a HUGE stout aged in bourbon barrels. It’s viscous, bold, chocolately and has some vanilla, bourbon and oak flavors from the barrel. A good quality vanilla bean ice cream complements the vanilla flavors in the beer and will pull them forward. The contrast of chocolate and vanilla is always a classic one. And the intensities are perfectly matched. Another great contrast is the warming of the almost 20% ABV and the creamy, cold bite of the ice cream. (Now I’m hungry. And thirsty…)

A Bacon Cheeseburger with Sharp Cheddar and an American Pale Ale: The moderate to high hop flavor cuts through (contrasts) the umami from the bacon and the fattiness from the bacon and the burger. The clean and present malt flavors present in a pale ale provide for a bit more of an approachable beer that matches the intensity of the burger well.

Gose and a Dense, Moist Watermelon Cake with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting: This is a really fun one I want to use as a pairing example on the Certified Cicerone test. (A portion of the test involves pairing beer and food. And food and beer pairing menus and explanations have been known to be included as one of the long essay questions.) A gose is a light, refreshing sour ale brewed with salt and coriander. To me, a gose is like a far more refreshing beer version of a margarita. Salt and watermelon are a classic pairing and they contrast well. Contrast is also exemplified by the play on the sweet cake versus sour beer. They match intensities well, both being of a light-medium body. The cream cheese frosting cuts through (contrasts and clears the palate of) some of the acidity.

Many breweries work with local restaurants and chefs to prepare beer dinners. If you’re curious and want to experience how well beer pairs with food, I highly recommend seeking out a good beer dinner. Stay tuned for my next blog post on a recent beer dinner I attended here in NC!

And don’t be afraid to try out different things at home when you cook or when you go out to eat. There are beer geeks everywhere who love to share their love of beer with others. Ask questions. We’re friendly people. And beer is a friendly drink! Cheers!