Atlantic Canada Beer News

The NB Liquor Corporation has announced that they will be reducing the price of 24-packs of several domestic beers later this month. The prices of Alpine, Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, Molson Canadian, Moose Light, and Sleeman Clear will all drop by $7 to $35.99. While a trial period of discounts on multiple 24-packs was implemented last year, this new change will be permanent. The drop in price is being financed solely by the ANBL, with revenue losses of $7,000,000 expected annually.

We spoke with ANBL’s Mark Barbour for how they expect these changes to affect the local beer producers. Barbour shared data that during last year’s trial run, sales in craft beer was up more than 20% over the same period in 2015, the solid growth apparently undeterred by deep discounts in domestic beer. “There are two distinct beer drinking profiles in the province, those who choose domestic beer, and those who choose craft,” he went on to say. He suggested the possible spillover effect of a cheaper domestic beer might even allow the value drinker a few extra dollars to try the local beer offerings. When asked if discounts would be applied to locally-produced craft beer, he responded that they would not, but added, “The ANBL is very invested in the development of the Craft Beer Industry in New Brunswick, providing circa $2M annually in subsidies annually in the form of a reduced Markup Structure.” Both last year, and with this announcement, the ANBL denies that it is reducing the price to compete with lower-priced beer in Quebec and Maine, but as the sole retailer of domestic beer in the province, it is difficult to deny the reality of the situation.

We also reached out to Stephen Dixon, owner of Grimross Brewing, and  President of the NB Craft Alcohol Producers. He expressed concerns that these price reductions were done without any consultation with the small local producers, who learned of the price change through the media like the general public. “Part of ANBL’s mandate is to participate in the development of the liquor industry in the province,” Dixon says, “The province in general would reap more benefit if ANBL and the New Brunswick Government worked towards creating a better environment for the development of NB-based producers.” The delineation between value and craft beer drinkers is not so cut and dry, Dixon believes. “Those that currently drink either (craft or macro industrial beer) will be enticed to the macro beer with these big discounts”, he explains.

The implementation of the permanent price change is puzzling: as last year’s trial wound down, the ANBL stated (from a CBCNews article in October 2016), “Although profitable, the beer promotion had a negative impact on overall profit margins”. And that was with the price reduction shared with the participating breweries, not solely a burden on the ANBL. With this move costing ANBL something like $7M annually, we feel it important to note who the likely beneficiaries are. Certainly not the average New Brunswicker, who will potentially see a reduction in the Government’s coffers. Licensed establishments who serve the same macro beers might not be happy to see the discrepancy between what a patron pays per beer at home vs. what is paid at a bar grow even wider. The “value drinker” will surely see a benefit, we suppose, but we believe it will more likely be viewed as, “It’s like getting every 7th case free,” rather than, “I’ll take that $7 and buy something I wouldn’t normally buy.” The ANBL’s stated mission is, “To responsibly manage a profitable liquor business for New Brunswick,” which certainly seems countermanded by a seven million dollar writedown, unless you buy the argument that they are fending off competition, which is an interesting notion for a company that effectively operates as a monopoly in their market. Perhaps this is anticipation of the provincial trade barriers being lowered, but we also note that the Canadian Free Trade Agreement only specifies a working group to provide guidance around interprovincial alcohol trade and they’ve got a year to develop it. So their recommendation isn’t due until June 30th, 2018, let alone any resultant action. The real winners here then, are the producers of the beer being discounted. While one, Moosehead Light, is a NB product, the others are all owned by multinational conglomerates who will likely see sales increase at no extra cost to them. So more money is potentially leaving the province than before. Meanwhile, craft producers will now be competing with even cheaper mass produced products readily available in every market around the province. We suspect it would cost much less than $7 million to eliminate all excise duties on craft producers in the province, a move that would likely see more money staying within the borders of the province. It’s interesting that ANBL chose instead to stimulate sales for out-of-province producers instead.

What about the fans of locally-produced, small, independent beer? We don’t anticipate those drinkers to switch to the bigger brands because of a cost savings; if a difference in price was the primary issue, we wouldn’t have been drinking craft beer for all this time anyway. We drink craft beer because we like the taste, and having it produced in the Atlantic provinces is just another positive aspect. However, everyone has to start their love of craft beer somewhere, and for those who are currently drinking macro, this cost reduction is just one more reason for them to stay away from craft beer, stifling the amount of growth that could potentially be seen in the craft beer market. This means that local breweries (and other businesses associated with them, such as hop growers, beer tour companies, etc) may not flourish as well as they should. If the ANBL can’t see that, it doesn’t seem to us that they’re standing behind local breweries as they claim to be doing.

And for those readers in PEI and NS, PEI Liquor has said they have no plans to reduce the price of domestic beer to compete with the ANBL*; there has been no specific response from the NSLC as of yet, only that they are “assessing their options”.

*Update (June 6): PEILC has reduced the price of Alpine, Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light, Canadian, and Moose Light to $39.99, “for a limited time, while supplies last”.

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What a weekend! From Friday afternoon, until Saturday night, 21 beer judges came together to sample the more than 250 beer and cider entries in this year’s Atlantic Canadian Beer Awards. At the Gala Sunday evening, awards were handed out for the top beers in the region. Here are the winners!

1) North American & European Style Lager
Gold: Moosehead Breweries – Moose Light
Silver: Oland Brewery – Schooner
Bronze: Propeller Brewing – Nocturne Dark Lager

2) German Style Specialty Ales
Gold: Uncle Leo’s Brewery – Altbier
Silver: Uncle Leo’s Brewery – Vohs Weizenbier
Bronze: Garrison Brewing – Rise ‘N’ Stein

3) UK Style Specialty Ales
Gold: Pump House Brewery – Barley Wine Ale
Silver: Garrison Brewing – Irish Red Ale
Bronze: Trider’s Craft Beer – Rod’s Red

4) North American Style Specialty Ale
Gold: Upstreet Craft Brewing – One Way Black IPA
Silver: Spindrift Brewing – Riptide IPL
Bronze: Good Robot Brewing – Leave Me Blue

5) Belgian Style Specialty Ale
Gold: Petit-Sault – Tante Blanche
Silver: Upstreet Craft Brewing – De Novo I
Bronze: Tatamagouche Brewing – Tatamagouche Tripel

6) North American Style Amber / Red Ale
Gold: PEI Brewing – Island Red
Silver: Boxing Rock Brewing – Temptation Red Ale
Bronze: Paddy’s Pub – Annapolis Valley Ale (AVA)

7) Fruit & Field Beer
Gold: Lazy Bear Brewing – Braunbär Honey Brown
Silver: Big Spruce Brewing – The Silver Tart
Bronze: Petit-Sault – Bonhomme Sept-Heures

8) Pale Ales
Gold: Hell Bay Brewing – English Ale
Silver: Bad Apple Brewhouse – American Pale Ale
Bronze: Big Spruce Brewing – Gimme Citra

9) Stout / Porter
Gold: Alexander Keith’s – Lunenburg Coffee & Cacao Stout
Silver: Breton Brewing – Cocoa Envy Chocolate Robust Porter
Bronze: Tatamagouche Brewing – Two Rivers Baltic Porter

10) India Pale Ale
Gold: Rockbottom Brewpub – Fathom IPA
Silver: Tatamagouche Brewing – Deception Bay IPA
Bronze: Bad Apple Brewhouse – Mosaic DIPA

11) Experimental Beer
Gold: Bad Apple Brewhouse –  Smoked Porter
Silver: Good Robot Brewing – Damn Fine Coffee and Cherry Pie v2.0
Bronze: Propeller Brewing – Graceland Too White IPA

12) Wood & Barrel-Aged Beer
Gold: Big Spruce – Ra Ra Rasputin Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout
Silver: Bad Apple Brewhouse – Smoke Show
Bronze: Big Spruce Brewing – Coade Word: Snowmageddon Barrel-Aged Winter Warmer

13) Standard Cider and Perry
Gold: ShipBuilders Cider – ShipBuilders
Silver: Paddy’s Pub – Fitzgerald Traditional Cider
Bronze: Elderkin’s Cider – Elderkin’s Traditional Hard Cider

14) Specialty Cider and Perry
Gold: Annapolis Cider – Crisp & Dry
Silver: Annapolis Cider – Something Different – Peach & Peppercorn
Bronze: Red Rover Brewhouse – Fall Cider

Brewery of the Year
Bad Apple Brewhouse

Brewpub of the Year
Rockbottom Brewpub

Cider House of the Year
Annapolis Cider Company

Beer of the Year
Ra Ra Rasputin Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout (Big Spruce)

Cider of the Year
ShipBuilders Cider (ShipBuilders)

People’s Choice Beer
T-Rex Porter (Port Rexton)

People’s Choice Cider
Crisp & Dry (Annapolis Cider Company)

Congratulations to all of the winners!

2016 Atlantic Canadian Beer Awards by the numbers:
228 Beer entries from 35 Breweries and Brewpubs
29 Cider entries from 7 Cider Houses
21 BJCP National, Certified, Recognized, and Novice Judges
10 dedicated stewards behind the scenes
12 hours of judging
900 cups of beer and cider sniffed, swigged and sampled
30,000 steps (20 km) walked by the Judging Organizer (acbbchris)

49 Awards

1 Great Industry Worth Celebrating!

The ANBL is launching its Growler Pilot Project today at three locations – Prospect Street (Fredericton), Kennebecasis Valley (near Saint John), and Regis Street (Dieppe) – when they open at 10:00 am.

Customers wishing to take part in the program must purchase an ANBL-branded 1.89 litre growler for $8; growler fills have four different prices ($8, $10, $12 and $15), depending on the beer chosen. The ANBL plans on rotating the selection on a regular basis; whether particular beers will be re-ordered will depend on sales. However, the Dieppe store will feature a permanent Pump House tap, while the Prospect St. store will have one tap dedicated to Picaroons beers.

The first beers that will be available in this program are as follows:

Prospect St.: Picaroons Selection DIPA, Unibroue Ephemere Cranberry, Labatt Shock Top Belgian Wheat

Dieppe: Pump House IPA, Flying Monkeys Genius of Suburbia, Creemore Springs Premium Lager

Kennebecasis Valley: Moosehead Boundary Ale, McAuslan Pumpkin Ale, Flying Monkeys Hoptical Illusion

Though touted as a way to increase both a wider range of products and distribution for local and small craft breweries (it has been said that the program would “only be offering craft or import beers, [and not] mainstream domestic beers”, according to ANBL CEO Brian Harriman), most of the initial beer offerings will be from outside of the region, and some from multi-national breweries. We reached out to the smaller NB producers not on the initial list, and they cited lack of details on pricing and volume requirements, as well as packaging concerns, for reasons not to take part in the launch. We hope that the ANBL and small breweries will be able to make the economics work to increase local participation in the project. You can do your part by requesting them at the ANBL.

If this initial pilot program is a success, the ANBL plans on increasing to 10-15 stores, “in a more permanent fashion”.

In an announcement just made this afternoon, ANBL has removed the new regulation requiring craft breweries to sell at least 100 hL (10,000 L) of beer through ANBL stores before being allowed to sell beer at the brewery for off-site consumption (e.g. growler fills). That regulation, just announced last month (our reports here and here), would have been a major hurdle for many of the small breweries that have opened or would be opening in the province.

ANBL CEO Brian Harriman had the following to say: “I am pleased that the board of directors has approved these changes and I look forward to working with all brewers in New Brunswick to promote the craft beer industry. This regulation was put into place to ensure product quality, however, after discovering it may be a barrier to new breweries, it was removed.”

In order to meet these quality demands, all new brewers will be required to send a product sample to an independent food inspection lab and undergo Smart Serve training; both of these requirements will be paid for by the ANBL.

This is fantastic news for NB craft brewers; we’re ecstatic to see that ANBL board members have listened to the demands of both brewers and the public. If it wasn’t for fans of small and local businesses voicing their concerns, the regulation may never have been re-evaluated so quickly. We look forward to the continued growth of craft beer in New Brunswick, and the rest of Atlantic Canada!

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This past weekend, the city of Fredericton welcomed the 12th Annual Canadian Brewing Awards and Conference to its fair city. Over the course of three days, attendees took in some excellent presentations, manufacturer and supplier displays, lots of social events, and of course the Awards Gala. We were fortunate enough to be in attendance, and wanted to share our great experience with you.

The weekend kicked off with a Welcome Bonfire along the Saint John River. It was a great time for folks to meet and greet after arriving to town. Attendees had traveled from across the country, so it was a great chance to stretch their legs while enjoying the beautiful weather and surroundings. A couple of kegs of Picaroons were poured while folks enjoyed some slider-sized burgers and live music around the fire.

Food, drink, and music around the bonfire

Food, drink, and music around the bonfire

The Friday morning sessions started early for many, after having enjoyed the city’s great bars (shout out to King Street Ale House and Brewbakers, where many of the visiting brewers seemed to congregate each night). Tony Formby of 2×4 Brewing & Imports gave a talk on exporting Canadian craft beer to the U.S. He spoke of dealing with the three-tier system, and the economics that that entails. From our perspective, while (or perhaps, because) the U.S. is a huge market, it can be difficult to break into, and does not seem to be lucrative for most breweries to send their beer south, at least not until they’ve reached plateaued sales in Canada. The next session was from hop farmer Laurie Thatcher-Craig of Clear Valley Hops. She spoke of the history of small hop farming, especially in the Northeast U.S. Did you know that in 1849, New York state was the largest hop producer in the US? She also described the results of experiments with later harvesting of hops, allowing them to mature further on the bine. When waiting 3 weeks after the AgCan suggested harvest date, she was able to increase oil and alpha acid content by more than 50%, as well as change the aromatic characteristics of the hops to a more orange-like characteristic. The waiting period is not without perils: after the very short ideal harvest window, an oniony character can come through, negating most benefits of the delay period. For those unable to attend, the talks were recorded, and should be available soon on the CBA homepage. Also look there for “Live From the Green Room” interviews, where Rob Engman interviewed several people in the brewing community.

Between the sessions, the Expo Floor was open, with about 20 exhibitors from across the brewing-related world in attendance. Models, videos and literature were available on all beer-related topics, including excise-bond insurance, brewhouse hardware, malt and hops, packaging, glassware and tap handles. From nation-wide to nano, breweries of all sizes benefited from chatting with the companies whose purpose is to make brewing and selling beer an easier task. Lots of connections were made, and we even saw a brewpump being walked down the hallway, bought at a particularily attractive fest-only price.

Lobster Boil Pano

Lobster, Beer, and Music in the new Picaroons Brewery (opening 2015)

Friday evening, Picaroons hosted a lobster boil at their new location (opening in 2015), at the former site of the Gibson Roundhouse, located on the Northside of the river, adjacent to the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge. Featuring a ton of great food from local producers, and music from local band Dub Antenna, it was also the first chance that outside brewers had to share any beer they may have brought with them for the weekend. And share they did! From all across the country, bottles, cans, and kegs of stout, pilsner, IPAs and wheat beer were enjoyed, and this social lubricant fueled discussions long into the night.

The Saturday sessions started with a talk on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software trends in the brewing industry, by Milan Jelaca of Deltasco. ERP software allows one to dig into the minutiae of the production costs and sales income of the brewery, as well as resource (both human and material) managements. The current costs of these types of software are definitely outside most brewery’s budgets, but the talk did bring to the forefront that it is important to keep detailed records of every step of the process, to track trends and act accordingly. The afternoon session was the Keynote address by Moosehead CFO Patrick Oland. He shared a history of the Moosehead Brewery and the six generations of the Oland family who own it. The brewery has recently undergone some expansions and improvements to the canning and bottling line, and is now capable of producing one million hectolitres of beer annually. Patrick also answered some questions regarding his company’s alliance with The Beer Store, despite the trouble smaller breweries have getting their beer on its “shelves”. Finally, Patrick let local beer fans know that there are no plans to expand Moosehead’s offerings of packaged products, including the cask beer that is available weekly at the Saint John Ale House, or the ales that were available at the Fredericton Craft Beer Festival earlier this year.

Lighthouse on the Green

Lighthouse on the Green

After the keynote, the Lighthouse on the Green was the site of another chance to unwind and meet informally with members of the Canadian brewing community, at a location with beautiful views of the river. We also understand there was a meeting between the brewers in attendance on establishing an Atlantic Canadian Brewing Association, not unlike the newly launched Nova Scotia Craft Brewers Association, or Ontario Craft Brewers group. If there are any updates on this front, we’ll be sure to share them!

Patrice Godin, MC of the evening

Patrice Godin, MC of the evening

And then it was time for the Big Show, the Awards Gala. Patrice Godin of Acadie-Broue was the MC of the night, seamlessly switching between both official languages of New Brunswick in order to make everyone feel welcome. After a brief introduction from TAPS Media President Rob Engman, Patrice got right down to business with the medal announcements. 950 beers from 150 breweries in every province were judged at Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto in April. Under the very capable charge of Tracy Phillippi, the team of 42 BJCP-certified judges spent three days picking the winning beers in 38 different categories. Tracy had this to say, “The judges were all quite professional, and there was a good mix between novice & experienced judges. I took over from Grand Master Beer Judge Paul Dickey, who had been organizing the CBAs for 9 years! BIG Shoes to fill, but I’m honoured to take the lead role in Canada’s largest beer competition. I’ve been judging regularly for 5 years & really enjoy the organizational component, but it certainly worked my multitasking ability. Also of note, we had 3 Maritime representatives – Craig and Jeff Pinhey, and myself, more than any other region of Canada (besides Ontario).”

The medals were flying off the stage quickly, and by the end of it, five Atlantic Canadian Breweries went home with some hardware: Quidi Vidi Brewing Co. won silver for their Premium Lager (North American Style Lager), and bronze for their Iceberg Beer (North American Style Premium Lager); Picaroons Brewing Co. won bronze for their Blonde Ale (North American Style Blonde/Golden Ale); PEI Brewing Co. won bronze for their Sir John A Honey Wheat Ale (Wheat Beer – North American Style); Rockbottom Brewpub won the region’s only gold with their Wreckoning RIS (Imperial Stout); Boxing Rock Brewing Co. won bronze for their The Vicar’s Cross Double IPA (Imperial India Pale Ale). Our sincere congratulations to all of the winners, and well done to Great Lakes Brewery who repeated as Brewery of the Year (full winner’s list available here). For those of you not in attendance, check out the streaming link.

Henry Pedro, Andrew Estabrooks, Einer , and Chris Long show off their hardware

Henry Pedro, Andrew Estabrooks, Einer Holtet, and Chris Long show off their hardware

Perhaps the most important part of the CBAs is meeting and talking with fellow members of the Canadian craft beer community. We really enjoyed seeing again (or meeting in person for the first time) our friends in the brewing world from Atlantic Canada and beyond; and for brewers, it was great to catch up and learn of successes across the region and country, what was working (or not) for breweries, and how that could apply for existing, new, or upcoming breweries.

Thanks to Rob Engman and Kristina Santone for giving us the privilege to attend, and a special thanks to the many crew members and volunteers we ran into over the weekend. Without your help, it wouldn’t have been such a memorable time! We hope to see you all in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON next year!

Happy Wednesday folks! We wanted to interrupt your week to give you some important news for beer events taking place over the next couple of days.

• There are two new beers on at Rockbottom Brewpub this week, both tapped Today. The Balticus Smoked Baltic Porter returns after last being brewed in 2012. This beer features 35% beechwood-smoked malt, along with 2-Row base and Melanoidin, Carastan and Black Patent. Weighing in at 7.8% and 40 IBUs (calc), the beer will feature that smokey nose, as well as licorice, raisins, and dark fruit. Also on is the Wreckoning Russian Imperial Stout. Brewed with Pale Ale, Melanoidin, Crystal 150 and Chocolate malts. Lots of rich vanilla and chocolate aromas, and balanced with over 100 IBUs (calc) from Magnum and Cascade hops. Both beers will be on at 4pm this afternoon, we hope to see you down there!

• Speaking of Wednesdays at the Rockbottom, they are switching up their weekly firkins to Wednesday nights. Tapped at 4pm every Wednesday, these gravity-fed casks will feature limited brews (only 20L available). We’re not sure what will be on this afternoon, but have been assured it’ll be a pin of something special (as always). You’ll have to show up to find out what it is! (Or it might be announced on Brewmaster Greg Nash’s Twitter feed this afternoon)

• Finally from Rockbottom today, they have announced details of their first beer dinner, being held Monday, Jan 27. There will be three courses of food, each paired with an appropriate beer. Full details are available here, but needless to say the food looks excellent, the beer is always outstanding, and for just $30 plus tax and gratuity, an excellent value. Reserve your tickets (only 40 will be sold) by phoning (902) 423-2938.
We also contacted the breweries taking part in the Local Connections Craft Beer and Local Food Celebration, being held tomorrow evening at the Halifax Club. Many of them got back to us to give attendees a hint of what beers they’ll be pouring. There will be cider and beer throughout the 7 rooms of the event, and a collection of special casks in one room.
Big Spruce is starting off this list strong! They held a homebrew competition in December to crown the best homebrewed IPA in Nova Scotia. Tim Gregory won the competition with his “Dirty” IPA, and it will be launched at the event. It will be available both from a gravity-fed cask, as well as on draft, so this is a good opportunity to taste the difference between the two serving methods. Also on cask will be their Cereal Killer Sideways – a cask of their extremely popular Oatmeal Stout, infused with Scotch, for an even bigger blast of great flavour and aroma. Several of the Big Spruce crew (including Brewmaster Jeremy White) will be on hand to chat and enjoy the festivities. When speaking with him leading up to the event, he was excited about the prospect of a great variety of beer, cider, food, and experiences, and has high hopes for the evening.
• Jillian from Petite Riviere Vineyards, was kind enough to announce what they will be bringing to the event: “We’re excited to be a part of the event of course; this is our second event with Local Connections. We will be serving Stutz Cider and ShipBuilders Cider and will be offering a chance to win a cider prize pack which will also include a tour to our favorite vineyard, Petite Riviere! We’re always very happy to take part in all of the exciting local events that are happening; Nova Scotia is booming!”
• From Boxing Rock, owners and brewers Emily and Henry will be on hand, with their three year-round beers:  Hunky Dory Pale Ale, Temptation Red Ale and The Vicar’s Cross Double IPA. Emily says, “We’re really excited about the event, it will be great to have all our local brewers together in one venue and show off what we do, with great food to boot!  And apparently karaoke.  Fun! I believe that there may also be some U-889 ice cream available from Dee Dee’s Ice Cream…” Sounds like a great treat, as the U-889 is full of vanilla, coffee and chocolate flavours and aromas.

• Brewer Kellye Robertson and the crew from Garrison Brewing will be on hand as well. They will have a few of their year-round and seasonal offerings, as well as a couple of special casks: a dry-hopped version of their Imperial IPA, and a Mint Wheat beer. Tracy of Garrison says, “It’s going to be a great event – the first of its kind! It gives us the opportunity to show-off our stuff and connect with a larger group of beer enthusiasts & chefs.”
Rogues Roost Brewpub will also be in attendance, and are excited for the event. They’ll be bringing a keg of their IPA, dry-hopped, their Russian Imperial Stout, and possibly a couple more of their year-round beers, depending on space allowance.
• The crew from Propeller Brewing Company will be on hand as well, and Andrew Cooper gives us some insight into the event: “We’re excited about this event! It will bring together the very best of what Nova Scotia Craft Beer is all about. Propeller is bringing a selection of our core brands, our winter seasonal Revolution RIS & a Cask of Amarillo Dry Hopped Pale Ale.” Sounds great!
• An event featuring cask beers wouldn’t be complete without casks from Halifax’s original Cask Master, Kevin Keefe at Granite Brewery. In addition to a few of their core brands, they’ve prepared a special cask conditioned firkin of their Hopping Mad Pale Ale.
Thanks to the breweries for taking the time to give us attendees a sneak peek as to what we can expect tomorrow. Unfortunately for those who haven’t yet grabbed them, tickets for the event have sold out. However you can follow along with the great beer and food by checking out the #meetyourlocal tag. And if you see acbbChris in the cask room, please say hi!

There are many folks out there who claim to know everything there is about beer. The Cicerone Certification Program was created several years ago as a way to test and certify knowledge and aptitude of beer serving, storage, beer styles and beer flavours (drinking, and pairing with food). On Thursday, January 23rd, 2014, there will be a Certified Cicerone® Exam held at The Halifax Club, the first time this exam has been held in Atlantic Canada. For more information on the exam, we reached out to several people involved with the Cicerone Program.

First, we connected with Mirella Amato, one of only seven Master Cicerones® (and the first outside of the US), and the person who will be administering the Exam on Jan 23rd.

ACBB: Who is the Cicerone program aimed towards?

Mirella: The Cicerone Certification program is geared towards industry professionals. It was created to help ensure that beer was being stored and served properly.

What are the different levels of the Cicerone program?

There are three levels: Certified Beer Server, which is an online exam; Certified Cicerone®, which is a four hour in-person exam; and Master Cicerone®, which is a fourteen hour exam. Each level builds on the previous one.

What are the requirements to sit the Certified Cicerone exam?

The only pre-requisite for the Certified Cicerone® exam is to have passed the Certified Beer Server exam. Having said this, it is a challenging exam; I highly recommend having a look at the Certified Cicerone® Syllabus before registering. The Syllabus outlines everything you need to know in order to pass; it can be used as a checklist. Of course, you also have to be of legal drinking age because there is a tasting component to the exam.

Can you tell me about the test format?

The Certified Cicerone® exam has a written portion that includes both short answer questions and essay questions. There is then a tasting portion to the exam as well as an oral component that usually takes the form of a demonstration. You need to achieve a grade of 80% to pass the exam, and also have to have scored at least 70% on the tasting portion.

What resources would be useful in preparation for the exam?

The Syllabus is definitely the number one resource. As I mentioned earlier, it lists everything that could be on the exam. If you’re comfortable with all of the topics covered in the syllabus, you’ll be fine. The Cicerone website also has a list of resources and tools to help people along. A couple of them – off-flavour kits and style cards- are not yet available in Canada, but we’re working on that.

Please tell me about your experience as a Cicerone® (first Certified, then Master).

I found the Cicerone Certification Program to be a great way to focus my studies, working towards a specific goal. Beyond that, as a beer specialist, I wanted my clients to know that they could trust my level of expertise. When I first became a Certified Cicerone®, no one really knew what it meant, so there was a lot of education to be done. Now, I’m hearing stories from beer specialists who say they’re frequently asked if they are Certified Cicerones®. It’s great to see that an increasing number of people are becoming aware of the certification and what it means.
I was thrilled when I passed the Master Cicerone® exam – it’s incredibly challenging. Having added consultancy services to my portfolio, it made sense to work towards that certification. Again, it was a way to demonstrate that I’d achieved a certain level of knowledge. I’ve gotten so much positive feedback on my accomplishment – because I was the first person outside of the US to pass the exam. There are currently 25 Certified Cicerones® in Canada.

If someone is just hearing about the exam now, will they be in with a chance, 6 weeks out of the exam?

When I took my Certified Cicerone® exam, my friend Dominic – who is a professional brewer in Québec, as well as a BJCP judge – took it with me. I think he studied for about a week – simply filling in the gaps that he identified in reading the syllabus. I had been studying for about six weeks, doing the same thing. We both passed the exam… how long it takes to prep for the exam depends on the individual. Six weeks is definitely not enough time for someone who doesn’t know anything about beer to work up to the Certified Cicerone® level.

Mirella has outlined her keys to successfully passing the exam on her website, including a great group of curated links to resources.

We also caught up with Mike Buhler, a Certified Cicerone® (the first in Atlantic Canada) who passed the exam mid-2013. Mike, better known as the Beerthief, lives in Newfoundland and holds tastings and administers the Newfoundland Artisanal and Craft Beer Club, bringing excellent beer not otherwise available in the province.

What additional resources would you suggest consulting to succeed at the exam?

Best resources include Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer and the Beer Judge Certificatiom Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines. Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table is an excellent resource, plus tasting and getting to know as many styles as possible. Researching national, provincial and local liquor laws is worth doing as well.

Tell us about your experience with sitting the Certified Cicerone® exam

I studied on and off for almost a year and a half between working and other commitments, plus tasting in the area of 750 beers to prepare for the exam. I first sat it in Toronto in February 2013 and missed it by a minimal number of points. I then scrambled to rebook in the Bronx in March (plus studying like a fiend as well). The airline cancelled my flight the night before and I was scrambling again to rebook! Fortunately, I was able to get seats on a plane and a seat in the next exam in DC the following week. This time I passed, but for the second time, my weakest score was in the style category, despite tasting many different beer all around the world.

Any final words for people considering taking the exam?

I think it’s a great program that will drive  the level of service up for customers everywhere. As for succeeding in passing the Certified Cicerone exam with only six weeks to prepare, I would say this is virtuously impossible without a substantial background in beer across a broad spectrum of topics. Atlantic Canada is particularly hard due to the lack of beer selections to learn styles and know about for both the written and tasting perspectives.

So, what to do if you’d like to take the exam on the 23rd? First and foremost, study the syllabus of the Certified Beer Server, and take that exam. This online exam is a pre-requisite to sit the Certified Cicerone® exam, and a great way to confirm that the program is for you. After completing that, sign up for the Jan 23rd exam. Several of the other people taking the Halifax exam are part of a Facebook group, so join that to schedule virtual and in-person study sessions. And keep in mind that the exam is only scheduled when there is a demand for it, and may not happen locally again for a long time, so if you were contemplating taking it, strike while the iron is hot!