All posts for the month December, 2013

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!

Happy Monday! We hope that everyone stayed safe and warm over the weekend. With the first real snow falling in the Atlantic Provinces, our thoughts turn to Christmas and other reasons to get together with friends and family. Why not get the beer-lover on your list something special from your local brewery? We’ve compiled a list of fun and interesting brewery- and beer-related gifts, to make any Cerevisaphile happy on December 25th (or any other day of the year!).

Gift Baskets


Several breweries in our region are doing up gift baskets, including Boxing Rock in Shelburne, NS. They have several basket examples in the $30-$80 range, but are also happy to tailor them to your exact specifications. Baskets can include 1.89L growlers, 1L growlers, trucker hats, toques, glassware, t-shirts and long sleeve shirts, books, magazines, cards, bottle trays, magnets and keychains/bottle openers. And of course, beer! Their just-released U-889 Russian Imperial Stout is a great beer to sip beside the fire on a chilly winter night. You can contact them via email or phone (902-494-9233 ext 3, ask for store manager Carmen) to order.


Propeller Brewing in Halifax also has a few gift basket options available. Their $50 Gift Baskets include a sixpack of beer, t-shirt, Two single 650ml or 500ml beer (their Revolution Russian Imperial Stout is a great choice here), 2 bottles of pop (Ginger or Root Beer), two glasses, a bottle opener and 4 pin-back buttons. They are happy to mix and match customer baskets as well, to fit any budget. Drop by their Halifax or Dartmouth locations to check out the options.



There is no shortage of breweries selling tshirts and glassware in our region, so why not choose something a bit unique to put under the tree this season? Garrison Brewing in Halifax has several items that certainly fit that bill: they sell everything from soap to tin signs to put up in your home bar. Plus their Spruce Beer is a great way to get Christmas in a bottle!


Big Spruce Brewing in Cape Breton also has some great items available: how about a forged steel double-growler holder, spent grain granola, or Picante Kitchen Party Pale Ale Pickled Carrots? Drop by their brewery in Nyanza or the Cape Breton Farmers’ Market every Saturday in Sydney River to grab these and more unique gifts.


Another brewery with a variety of gift options is PEI Brewing Company. Every day from Dec 10-21st they have been offering up a different free gift or special price on their gift ideas, including coffee mugs and free tours of the brewery. Check out their retail store for more details. And look for their 6.5 % Bock, infused with vanilla bean, bourbon, and oak chips, available soon in growlers at the brewery and Gahan House Pub.

Specialty Beers

You’ve got a basket/stocking full of  tshirts, hats and glasses, so what about the beer to go with all of that? Well, your local breweries have you covered as well!

As mentioned above, Russian Imperial Stouts are popular this time of year, as well as other darker, more robust beers, or beers using spices not normally chosen in the warmer months. Quidi Vidi brewery outside of St. Johns’s, NL, has brewed up their Winter Ale, a dark rich ale, brewed with coriander, cacao and vanilla. Look for it at the NLCPaddys Irish Brewpub have released their Frost Biter Winter Warmer, with notes of chocolate and weighing in at 6%. Pick up a growler to share! And Sea Level Brewing will have their High Street Wee Heavy available shortly in cans and growlers. Weighing in at 6.3%, it features a complex malt body and slight smokiness in the finish.


Picaroons Brewing in Fredericton is taking it to a whole other level, with their annual 12 Beers of Christmas event. From the 12th to the 23rd of December, they are releasing a new beer daily, only available in growlers at their Queen St Brewtique. Check their Twitter or Facebook pages at noon for the announcement, and be sure to show up promptly at 4pm (or earlier), as they sell out quickly! So far this year they’ve released their Dark & Stormy Night infused with orange and dark chocolate, their Yippee IPA with spruce tips, Timber Hog Stout with vanilla/hazelnut/chocolate coffee beans and their Blonde beer infused with cranberries. Also look for snazzy locally-produced wooden coasters at the Brewtique, great stocking stuffer material!

Event Tickets

If you are looking for more of an event-based gift, why not choose tickets to some of the upcoming beer events or festivals? Over the next few months, there will be several events worthy of your attention. The Fredericton Craft Beer Festival is taking place at the Fredericton Convention Centre March 8, 2014, and will feature the festival debut of new ciderhouse and breweries in the region (Red Rover and Hammond River). Less than a month later, on April 5th, the Saint John Beer Fest takes place at Harbour Station, and will help to thaw off some winter freeze. A new festival in the Maritime provinces is the Great Canadian Beer Expo, in its first year. It will be visiting Sydney, Halifax, Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton and Charlottetown, with two nights in each city. Tickets for all of these festivals are on sale now!


Why not turn your beer-enthused friend or family member onto homebrewing? Getting started is very simple, all you need is a bucket and a kit to make good beer at home. For those looking to do a bit more, Halifax homebrew shop Everwood Ave has everything a new brewer (or seasoned veteran) would need, from grain and hops, to kegging and bottling equipment. For someone who likes to experiment with out-there styles, maybe a one-gallon all-grain kit is the way to go (in case an experiment goes wrong, very little is lost; or for brewers with very limited space)? They will ship anywhere in the region (and beyond), and if you order today it will arrive before the 24th. Home beer and wine makers are both served by Noble Grape, with several locations throughout the HRM, Annapolis Valley and Fredericton, NB, including many that offer onsite winemaking. They also carry the Festa Brew line of wort kits, which is a great way to start onto a path to brewing. The direct them to the Brewnosers forums for great resources from fellow homebrewers, always happy to help out new brewers.

We hope this brief list of gift ideas helps to spark something for you this gift-giving season. Remember to support your local brewery, keeping jobs in our region. Please leave your favourite beer-related gift ideas in the comments!

Happy Friday, Craft Beer Fans!

• Following very successful sales in Fredericton (on tap at the King Street Ale House and growlers sales at the Brewtique) and Moncton (on tap at the Tide and Boar Gastropub), Grimross Brewing recently began selling their beer in Halifax. Earlier this week, both the Ben’s Pale Ale and Belgian Rye IPA appeared on tap at Stillwell to great enthusiasm from their customers. If you’re in the Halifax area and missed out on your chance to try these beers, follow Stillwell on Twitter to see when they make an appearance there again! And don’t worry, Fredericton-local fans, they’ve just stocked the Brewtique fridge with more Rye IPA.

• Spruce fans, rejoice! Today’s the day that Garrison Brewing is releasing their highly-anticipated Spruce Beer. Brewed using a truck-load of spruce and fir harvested from Meander River Farms, and blackstrap molasses from Crosby’s in Saint John, the beer weighs in at 7.5% ABV. The brewery doors opened at 9 this morning, and folks were picking up the beer shortly thereafter. For us working stiffs unable to visit the brewery this morning, a cask of the beer will be tapped at 4pm, so you can sip it while you buy a bottle (or case). The beer will also be available at the local private beer stores, NSLC, and also at select ANBL stores beginning next week. Also look for a cask of it to be available at Stillwell soon.

• Meanwhile, Garrison Brewing has expanded distribution of their beers outside of Atlantic Canada – their Imperial IPA is now available in Ontario at select LCBO stores. If the beer proves popular with Ontario beer fans, it could become a regular product at the LCBO. Along with Garrison’s Mixed 6 recently becoming available in Alberta, this shows that the brewery is slowly starting to expand… hopefully we’ll see further growth in the not-too-distant future!

Shiretown Beer has a previously-available brew returning for growler fills at the brewery. Big Brown Ale is an English-style Brown Ale that has a “complex bill of specialty malts, leaving well-balanced hints of roast and chocolate”. It is lightly-hopped to 20 IBUs, and clocks in at 4.5% ABV. Drop by to get some of this beer before its gone!

• Just an update concerning Picaroons‘ 12 Beers of Christmas event, which started yesterday (with the return of the popular “Dunkel Wisemen”, their Dark & Stormy Night brewed with dark chocolate and orange peel, which sold out in a little under an hour) – the time of the daily growler release for the Christmas beers at the Brewtique has been changed to 4 pm. Remember, each day’s beer will be announced on Picaroons’ Twitter feed around noon, and there is a 2 growler-per-person limit.

• Speaking of Picaroons, they’ve released an online survey for those of you who enjoy their beers. Check it out here; it should only take a minute or two to complete. They’re looking to learn a little more about drinking habits of Picaroons fans, so help them out and fill out the survey!

• Rogues Roost has released their popular Russian Imperial Stout seasonal beer this week. Brewed with tons of dark roasted malt, the beer starts with liquorice and treacle flavours, and ends with roast and coffee flavour and aroma. The beer weighs in at 9% ABV and 50 IBUs. This black beauty will not be available in growlers, so pull up a stool at the bar, and have a pint or two!

• Hell Bay has released their newest seasonal, Black Fog Oatmeal Stout. This dark beer features lots of roasted aroma and flavour with hints of chocolate and coffee and weighs in at  5.5% ABV and 36 IBUs. It is currently available in kegs and growlers at the brewery, and will shortly be released in bottles as well. Look for it at your favourite bar or private beer store soon!

Boxing Rock has also released a new seasonal, the U-889 Russian Imperial Stout. We do not have many details on the beer , but do know that it weighs in at 8.89% ABV and a hefty 65 IBUs, and that vanilla was used during the brewing process, so this will be an interesting RIS! It is currently available in bottles and growlers at the brewery, and at Bishop’s Cellar and the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market this weekend. Look for it on tap and cask at Stillwell soon as well!

Sea Level Brewing has announced their much-loved High Street Wee Heavy Scotch Ale will be available soon. Brewmaster Randy Lawrence first brewed this beer in the mid-nineties as a tribute to his grandfather who was born and lived on High Street, Inveraray, Scotland. An ale with a complex malty body and a slight hint of smokiness in the finish. Smooth, easy drinking and brewed in time for the longer darker nights. Good and Strong, ABV 6.3%. It will be available soon in growlers and on tap at the Port Pub, and cans at three of the private beer stores in Halifax.

• For those of you attending the Fredericton Craft Beer Festival on March 8th, 2014 (if you haven’t purchased your tickets yet, there’s still some available), the Crowne Plaza-Lord Beaverbrook downtown (right across from the Fredericton Convention Centre, where the event is being held) has a special rate of $109/night for ticket-holders. Check out this link to reserve your room now. Also, if you would be interested in volunteering for the Fest, contact FCBF on Twitter or by their website. It will be a fun night!

• As we mentioned previouslyBig Spruce held their homebrew competition last Friday. The winning brew was Tim Gregory’s Dirty Grain IPA, which beat out 16 other entries for the best American IPA. We chatted with Tim about his win, and he had this to say, “The name comes from me being a very disorganized brewer and rushing to get my grain crushed while the strike water is heating and dumping them all over the basement floor, and then sweeping them up and back into the mill (hey, it’s all pre-boil right?). I was really shocked and excited when I found out [I’d won].  Just before bed I logged onto wifi on my phone and it immediately buzzed and said that like 13 people had mentioned me on facebook.  I logged on and saw the post that I’d won.  I was pretty surprised, I didn’t even know the judging was going down that night.” He will be heading up to Nyanza next Friday to brew his beer with Jeremy on the big system, and it will be released at the Local Connections Craft Beer and Local Food Celebration January 14th at the Halifax Club. Congratulations, Tim!

• St John’s YellowBelly Brewpub is holding a customer appreciation event next Wednesday (Dec 18th). Free hors d’oeuvres and music from 4-9pm, and sample Brewmaster Liam McKenna’s great beers (including the recently released Mummer’s Brew winter seasonal). All of YB’s friends and fans are invited, just be sure to RSVP via email before Monday.

• The Beerthief is holding another tasting next week, this time it is beer and olive oil. An interesting combination, to say the least, but we think it will work quite well. They are partnering with O’Leva Oils and Vins for the event. There will be five beers and oils tasted, each chosen to pair with each other. Attendees will also leave with a 60mL bottle of their favourite oil of the evening. The beers to be tasted are de Koninck, Liefmans Goudenband, and three beers from The Bruery. To take part, please email Tom Beckett to reserve your spot.

• Tickets for the Saint John Beer Fest are now on sale! The event will be taking place 7-9:30pm, Saturday April 5th, 2014, once again at Market Square downtown. The list of attending breweries is not yet available, but we have been assured that it will be even bigger and better than last year, complete with more unique and interesting entertainment (remember last year’s Atlantic Cirque performers?). Tickets are available at Harbour Station (online, by phone or in person). VIP tickets are also available, which will allow early access to the event.

• The Great Canadian Beer Expo is coming to your town! Well, if you live in Sydney, Halifax, Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, and Charlottetown, it is. The multi-city Expo will offer attendees the chance to taste and enjoy 120+ different beers. The ticket format is slightly different than most others in our region: entrance is $25, and then beer sample tickets are purchased for $1 per 4oz pour. Tickets are now on sale, and we will release more details as they become available. The Expo’s first stop is two nights in Sydney, NS, January 24th and 25th, at the Centre 200. And a lucky attendee from each stop on the tour will win a trip for two to Munich for Oktoberfest!

• Be sure to check out PEI Brewing Company’s Facebook page for their great twelve days of Christmas gift ideas and specials. There’s a new feature every day, so check back often.

That’s all for this morning, but stay tuned, as we’re working on several more posts for next week, it’s going to be a busy one! Here’s a teaser: we’ll have a full profile on Nova Scotia’s newest brewery, Bad Apple Brewhouse.