What is a Beer Sommelier?


Craft beer, in case you haven’t noticed, is all the rage. The Brewers Association now estimates that there are more than 2,400 craft breweries operating across the country. In 1978 there were only 89. It’s an industry that not only provides an estimated 108,440 jobs in the U.S. (including serving staff in brewpubs), but it’s a movement that has ignited a passion for beer that some say may eclipse our obsession with wine. So what is a beer sommelier?

The official title is Certified Cicerone, a designation that assures the holder’s knowledge of beer styles, storage, history and production is top-notch. The certification process, which involves a four-hour test with 100 questions, demonstrations and food pairings, requires weeks of study to pass.

Turns out Certified Cicerones are pretty hard to come by in Orlando, but I managed to sleuth one out. Chris Brown, Executive Chef at JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, received his Certified Cicerone title last year and will be the first to tell you that he has one other official title: certified beer nerd!

It takes just a few minutes of conversation on the topic of beer to realize that not only does Brown really know his stuff, but he is deeply passionate about the craft beer movement. Becoming a Certified Cicerone was much more than a professional development move for Brown, a home-brewer since 2008. He REALLY loves beer.

What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about beer?
That it is something just for tailgating or getting drunk or that wine is more sophisticated. I have no problem serving beer in wine glass. It pushes the aromas up into the nose. So much of the flavor is derived from the aroma.

Why are beer dinners becoming so popular?
I think another misconception is that beer doesn’t pair well with food, when in fact it pairs very well with food because the carbonation really refreshes the palate between dishes. One of the best ways to turn someone is to have them come to a beer dinner and really learn about different styles and pairings.

What’s is your favorite beer/food pairing?
It changes all the time depending on the mood I am in, but more recently it was a Cigar City Cucumber Saison with and Indian flavored sausage or with BBQ in general. Beer really holds its own against the robust flavors of BBQ.

Should the wine industry be worried about craft beer breweries?
I would think so, a little bit. But in actuality the overall consumption of beer in general has gone down but the craft segment is going up. It’s really the mass producers of beer that should be worried. They’re the ones losing market share like crazy.

What are your favorite beers right now?
Right now, I love Cigar City Brewing’s Jai Alai IPA and Dogfish Head’s Red, White and Blue.

Okay, last confession: what would you drink if a craft beer wasn’t an option?
Miller lite.