November 22nd.

While I do intend to make this blog primarily about beer, there are certain occasions that require comment. Today is one such occasion.

As history (or memory) tells us, on November 22, 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade, sitting next to his wife and sharing the limo with the Governor and first lady of Texas.

He was shot three times at 12:30pm Central Time, being pronounced dead a mere 30 minutes later. At 2:38pm, the United States had a new sworn president in Lyndon B Johnson.

President Kennedy was killed 18 years, 8 months, and 3 days before I was born. This was a man I could never know except from history books, old film, crackly radio. A man who was an enigma to those who shared the planet with his living self, so how could I ever understand.

But I remember my mother telling me the story of where she was when his death was announced. She was 13-years-old and, as many youth, enthralled with this young, charismatic leader. He wasn’t the stodgy old president of the older generation, he was their president. And he was dead.

She said that she cried. She cried for a man who had as many controversies as victories. A man who, it seemed, had politics running through his veins as sure as blood. She would cite him as inspiration in her own (unsuccessful) political run some 40 years after his death.

Who knows what the future would have lead to had he lived. Speculation runs rampant on that subject. The shortness of his life and the fact that he, himself, could not do more to shape the world is much bemoaned.

But to say that his premature death cut short his opportunity to change the world is ignoring the power of memory and the influence of a strong personality.

How many great leaders have talked about how President Kennedy inspired them? How many people in power talk of his legacy in the United States and abroad? How many people, no matter the scope of the project, use the President’s memory to push them towards greatness?

Was President Kennedy perfect? By no measure in any world can that be claimed. However, his connection with American youth, his charm with other state leaders, and his determination to move the country forward, are all traits that made him into our most beloved, our most revered leaders.

Tonight on my drive home, I listened to the late Walter Cronkite‘s remembrance of President Kennedy’s assassination on NPR. I could not help but be stricken by the speed of that day (and how fast it must have felt for those who were there) and the efficiency of all that occurred. A little more than two and a half hours after our President was murdered, we had a new President. By evening, the new President and the Cabinet were already assembled in Washington, ready to continue on in the service of the country.

There are so many images that stick with us – even those too young to truly know. Jackie standing, in her blood-stained pink wool suit, next to LBJ as he is sworn in. The Secret Service agent leaping into the back of the limo as it speeds to the hospital. The sound of the audience’s reaction when the director at the Boston Symphony tells them the news. The sound of that broken note as Taps is played at the President’s funeral. John Jr saluting his father’s casket as it passes. These images, these sounds, fill our collective memory and remind us that the past matters and is so much more real than a tale hastily remembered by grandpa on Thanksgiving night.

I feel reflective tonight as I sip my beer. How would I feel if a president I adored was gunned down? How would I react? I wonder how the 24-hour news cycle has affected our reactions to these tragic events. Would there be the outcry that we hear from that audience? Would the country go into four days of mourning? Are we so far divided, so self-obsessed that we would have no collective reaction? I hope not.

I wish I could change places with my mom. To be there. To have lived a history like that. So many people now have lived through so many historic moments, that we forget that they are Historically Monumental. Those of us who watched in horror on 9/11/2001 will never forget that day – but do we see it as history? Did my mother know that she was a part of history just by living through President Kennedy’s death?

Who knows what might have been if President Kennedy had lived. Who knows what the future brings for us know. I am privileged to live in a country where I can muse on these things openly and with others. Maybe if more of us muse more often, we might come somewhere close to brilliance. Maybe we can continue the legacy of President Kennedy in all of his youth and brilliance and charisma. Maybe we, too, can change the world.

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Thanksgiving pairing.

I received a text from a former coworker today. It read, simply:

What’s the best thing to get?

This would seem rather random to normal, sensible human beings. But for me, I go directly to one of two things: beer or dogs. Since I know this gentleman already has a dog, by process of elimination, he must mean beer.

At the brewery? Or in general?
[Side note: “the brewery” refers to Brewery Rickoli, where I am currently “Doer of Stuff”]

For Thanksgiving.

Ah… Thanksgiving. That most food-centric of all American celebrations. And, as he asked, what to drink?

Garrett Oliver, in his excellent book on beer and food titled The Brewmaster’s Table, posits that the best beer you can possibly pair your Thanksgiving feast with is Bière de Garde. While I can’t debate that point (the earthiness, the herbaceous quality, the general funkiness), I did have some slightly more accessible options to offer up as well.

Now, my friend probably expected me to reply with “the IPA” or something similarly brief and to-the-point. HA! While I could do that (and make his life simpler, I suppose) I would rather give him the education of not only which beer to choose, by why.

I SHALL FORCE KNOWLEDGE UPON YOU, WHETHER YOU WANT IT OR NOT!

My response was a wall of text that need not be reproduced here. Instead, I will go the more refined route and actually format and punctuate my thoughts.

Beer pairings with a “typical” American Thanksgiving meal. In this case, I will qualify “typical” as Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce. My friend threw a wrench into my plans by giving me green bean casserole as well. Since I wouldn’t touch the stuff with my neighbor’s absurdly large television antenna , I am going off of what I know the individuals components taste like.

– Munich Dunkel: I just love dunkels. There is something about them: malty, slightly rich, roasted with a lovely chocolate back note, but still crisp because of the lagering. They are my go-to beer for so many dishes. Again, here, a dunkel will play nice with all of the different parts of the menu. The cranberries will contrast nicely with the chocolatey notes and marry with the refreshing lager character. The melanoidins (the lovely brown bits created when you put high heat to food) in the stuffing and (yes, again) the turkey skin are perfectly matched by commiserate flavors in the beer. There is little to no spice in a dunkel, so those flavors will have no competition. Dunkels are the least alcoholic of my recommendations (4.5-5.6% ABV), and can be a really nice session beer to sup from early morning turkey prep through late evening turkey comas. Specific brand: Yazoo Dos Perros (technically a Vienna Lager, but it’s dark enough to qualify as a dunkel), Pug Ryan Dead Eye Dunkel. I am absolutely addicted to this beer and grab several six-packs where ever I can find them.

– American Brown Ale: malty, slightly toasty – to pair with the turkey skin – but with enough hop bite to handle the richness of the potatoes and bring out some of the tartness of the cranberries. Because of a chocolate/nutty/caramelly characteristic, this beer will also be stellar with the pie. I can’t think of many things better than sitting in front of a fire with a big slice of berry pie, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and a solid American brown ale. Since the majority of American brown ales are relatively low in alcohol (4.3-6.2% ABV), this beer can also be enjoyed all evening without much worry. Specific brands: Big Sky Moose Drool, Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, Brewery Rickoli Elke.

– Belgian Golden Strong or Belgian Dark Strong: Belgian golden strong ales are fruity, dry, and spicy. Belgian dark strong ales have many of the same flavors of the golden strong, but with more toasty, chocolatey notes and more residual sweetness. Both have enough Belgian/European ale yeast funk to match with the much maligned green bean casserole. The dark strong will go better with some of the more roasted aspects of the meal (stuffing, that horrible sweet potato marshmallow monstrosity, and turkey skin) while the golden strong will cut through richer aspects and lift some of the more delicate flavors (mashed potatoes, any version of sweet potatoes not spawned by the devil himself, and Brussels sprouts). Anytime you reach for a Belgian or French beer, you can be fairly certain that it was brewed with food pairings in mind. And Thanksgiving bears many of the aspects of a good European meal (plenty of meat, rich sides, and bread). As denoted by their names, Belgian strong ales are strong (7.5-11% ABV), and may not be the beer you drink all day if you want to avoid the status of drunkicorn.* Specific brands of dark: Chimay Blue, Rochefort 8. Specific brands of golden: Delirium Tremens, Duvel, Russian River Damnation, Brewery Rickoli Quicher Bichen (a Dutch Golden Strong Ale, so a little milder in the spice category, but very easy to drink. A fine gateway beer).

– Bière de Garde: this beer has some of the great European yeasty funkiness of the Belgian strong ales, but with an added herbaciousness that will work wonders with stuffing and side dishes and, shockingly, the turkey skin. Bière de Gardes can run the gamet in color from blonde to reddish-brown and each offers its own contribution to the menu. I would recommend leaning more towards the copper Bière de Gardes as they will pick up on the melanoidins without sacrificing any of the dry cutting power. Slightly less alcoholic than Belgian strong ales, Bière de Gardes are still formidable, so should be consumed in quantity with caution. Specific brands: Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi, Brewery Ommegang Bière de Mars, 3 Monts Amber Ale On Lees.

– Christmas beers: these beers are often laden with caramel, toffee, toast, and chocolate flavors that make them both a joy and a challenge. These beers will clash with green bean casseroles, most salads, and Brussels sprouts. However, they will marry nicely to the turkey (and skin!), sweet potatoes, and dessert. Maybe not your go-to for the entire meal, but a good consideration to mix things up a bit. Make sure you find a beer that isn’t too spicy (as in nutmeg and pepper, not chili peppers) or it will overwhelm everything else. The ABV on these beers varies wildly, so be aware of that as well. Specific brands: Anderson Valley Winter Solstice (I just cracked open this beer from 2009, and despite an ABV of only 6.9%, it was still gorgeous), Corsendonk Christmas Ale, Anchor Our Special Ale (varies year after year).

Beyond these four examples, here are some of the flavor profiles to look for when considering what to pair with your Thanksgiving meal:

Turkey, stuffing, gravy: toasty, roasty, herbal

Mashed potatoes, bread: effervescent (to cut the fat), herbal, earthy

Sweet potatoes (not the unholy marriage of marshmallows and sweet potatoes. I will live in denial that anything so profane exists): caramel, chocolate, earthy

Green bean casserole: herbal, effervescent (again, the cutting power), bright hops

Pumpkin pie: spices, caramel, toasty

Fruit pie: caramel, toasty, fruity, bright hops

It is rare that everyone will agree on a single beer that goes best with an entire meal. Especially a meal as diverse as Thanksgiving. However, by doing a little bit of homework and planning ahead, it is easy to pick a variety that you know will work wonderfully, and will give people the illusion that they have created these amazing pairings on their own. Because it’s all about that warm fuzzy feeling (and beer, mostly, it’s about beer).

* Drunkicorn (n):

The host of a party who begins to drink so early in the preparations that they are inebriated well before the beginning of the “main event”. Distinguished by the propensity of said individual to pass out and their friends to break off a massive icicle and place it on the individual’s head to make them look like a unicorn.

Lonely beer.

Here’s the issue with being with a brewer: despite his best efforts,  he is rarely on time.  If it isn’t knockout issues,  it’s a particularly chatty customer. So,  I spend a lot of time waiting and waiting and waiting.  Sometimes this is at home (yey TV!),  sometimes at work (ugh government drudgery),  sometimes at bars (beer!)

So I am currently drinking alone.  A Port High Tide,  for the record. Year after year it continues to be my favorite fresh hop beer and in my top 20 favorite beers overall. It’s been three years since I had it on tap,  and so I moved butt (post haste,  if you will)  down to Hops & Pie to sup some of this citric,  piney brew.

And here I sit.  Alone.  Drinking this great beer.  Texting my best friend about how I will miss his company happy hour at the brewery tomorrow (again…  government drone…)  and sending photos of my “sad beer face” to the Bearded Brewer,  hoping to lay some good ol Catholic guilt on his ass.

Not that I’m really complaining. Great beer, good atmosphere, the coolest preggers proprietor in D-town, and a wifi connection.

I’m good.
image

I know stuff.

certified-cicerone

So I passed my Certified Cicerone® exam.

Holy crap. I honestly didn’t know if I would. The amount of knowledge we are expected to have mastered is insane. Feeling unprepared on October 7th and changing my test date from the 11th to the 8th, is insane. Thinking that I was up to the challenge at all, is insane. But somehow I did it.

For those who don’t know, the Cicerone Certification Program is an organization that issues levels of certification for beer knowledge. This knowledge includes beer styles, beer flavor and evaluation, beer storage and serving, brewing processes, beer ingredients, and beer and food pairing. There are three levels: Beer Server Cicerone, Certified Cicerone®, and Master Cicerone®. The Beer Server Cicerone test (which I passed in June) consists of 60 questions in an online test. The Certified Cicerone® exam is administered in person and last for four hours, including 150 short-answer questions, four essays, a tasting section, and a recorded demonstration. The Master Cicerone® exam is also administered in person and occurs over two days. It consists of essay questions, oral examinations, and extensive tasting. And it’s fucking terrifying. But more on that later…

When I got my results for my Certified Cicerone® exam, it was a wee bit anticlimactic. I was told it would be 4-8 weeks before I received them. Having waited about the same amount of time for [insert tired Comcast installation window reference here], I knew it would be torture. I was not disappointed: it was! But, luckily, the turmoil in my delicate headmeat lasted exactly 29 days, well short of the pessimistic 60.

When my phone dinged at me and I saw that it was my “beer business only” email that was pregnant with news, I positively buzzed with excitement. I was sitting in the Bearded Brewer’s truck while he was loading the back with trash to take to the transfer station (woohoo living in the mountains!) I shouted something along the lines of “akh;ladsfkhasdkfjh CICERONE lksjlfksdj IN HERE andalkdjflasdf BLARGHHHHHHHH!”

The Bearded Brewer spent several star lifecycles perfectly arranging the bags in the bed of the truck before climbing into the seat next to me. I had my finger hovering over the little envelope symbol, ready for liftoff as soon as he was seated next to me.

CLICK. Or, rather, TAP.

I expected to get the email from the Cicerone program and have to actually open it to find out if I was a badass or if it was time for one of my legendary 10-hour long shower, booze, and sob-fests. Instead, I received the email from the program with my scores, and immediately above it, an email titled “Certified Cicerone Roster and Logo.” It kind of gave the game away. Not that I’m ungrateful, but I do like the manufactured tension of waiting to see who will be the Biggest Loser (hint: it’s the one who looks like Skeletor).

I tend to get excited about really dumb things. Like the time the Cupcake Truck tweeted that they were coming all the way out to my job in the industrial area of Denver and I ran around the office waving my hands like Kermit and shrieking that everyone HAD to buy a cupcake or I would just DIE. Or every single time I see a Siberian husky.

Maybe it was the premature evaluation based on the email trail. Maybe it was the “Cool” and high-five I received from the Bearded Brewer. Maybe it was the fact that said male companion proceeded to have a meltdown when he realized the transfer station was now closed and he would have to unload the trash from the truck and bring it another day. Maybe it was that this was not something “stupid”, but a really big deal that should be taken seriously. But while I had a momentary high one gets from finding out they aren’t getting kicked out of school or that there’s minus on the ClearBlue, that was all I had.

I tried to give my excitement some CPR by posting my results on Facebook and Twitter, but that didn’t help. When my mom called (justifiably pissed that I had told my “friends” before her), that should of saved it. But no. The sob-fest was not to be avoided. My exultation had been aborted and there was no way of reviving it.

Now, one would surmise that, being a beer geek, I would immediately drown my sorrows & celebrate my triumph in as much high-quality beer as I could gather. But I couldn’t. The thought of drinking beer actually made things worse. I guess this would be the best argument against those who have posited that I might possibly be an alcoholic: when I was at the lowest of low, the LAST thing I wanted was a drink.

The only thing that made me feel better was to re-read and re-re-read my results email and see how I made that test my bitch. Well, at least some of the test.

Overall Score: 91% (Blam!)

Tasting Exam: 100% (Blam blam!)

Keeping and Serving Beer: 86% (No so much of a blam, but still okay I guess)

Beer Styles: 91% (Blam!)

Beer Flavor & Evaluation: 99% (Blammidy blam!)

Ingredients & Process: 92% (Blam!)

Beer & Food Pairing: 85% (Let’s just pretend you didn’t see that one…)

And, bizarrely enough, it was something in the letter that is probably on all the emails the program sends out, that I kept returning to. In my Eeyoric state, it meant something truly special to me:

“Great scores, Dev!”

The Grading Manager for the Cicerone Program thought that my scores were “great.” For some reason, my partner’s cool response, my friends’ congratulations, my parents’ pride could not shake me loose. But that one little sentence on a form letter from a stranger kept the light alive. I am one strange puppy.

So now, I have a nifty, trademarked title after my name that tells people that, maybe, I do know one or two things about beer.

And now, a week later, I AM excited. (Cue uplifting scrappy-underdog-beats-all-odds music). It’s awesome. And other people think it’s awesome, too. My friends: Fixie and Janelle and Zack and Courtney and Thomas and Sarah and Britt and Joe and Mike and Bill and Matt and Allison and I’m forgetting so many other people and feel like a jerk – but MY FRIENDS! My family: Mom and Dad and Jae and Jess and Libby and Jim and Joanna and Amy and Yvonne and Joe and Sharon! Fans of the Brewery Rickoli Facebook page where the news was posted! The Rickoli’s Grand Crew! The owner of Barrels & Bottles in Golden who gave me a big hug when I introduced myself! The brewer at Sanitas who gave me an awesome high-five! And yes, the Bearded Brewer.

It feels good.

Then there are some who may not see this as the accomplishment it is. I recognize that not everyone respects brewing and beer as the serious and nuanced business it is. And the Cicerone program has a long way to go before being universally recognized on the same level as the Sommelier program. I get it, I do. But just as I don’t fully grasp what goes into becoming a Certified Project Manager or a Pharmacist or a respectable member of society, doesn’t mean that I can’t respect that amount of dedication and work that goes into gaining that title.

I guess what I’m trying to say cannot be stated in any better way than this:

Respect my authoritah!!!

You said it, Cartman.

Despite a bit of a rocky start, I am very excited to see where this all takes me. I’m giving myself around two years to study for the Master Cicerone® exam, which only takes place 1-2 times per year. The third-level test is far more extensive than the Certified Cicerone® exam, and virtually requires a trip (or two) to Europe to tour breweries and taste beers (I know, sounds horrible, right?) Give a peek at the Master Cicerone® syllabus to give some idea of what I’m in for. Yes, just the syllabus is 23 pages long.

But I am finally excited. If I’ve learned anything from these first few steps (besides 63 beer styles, all of their qualitative and quantitative data, beer and food pairings, brewing, and serving beer, that is), it’s that I’m a journey person, not a destination seeker. It’s all about the ride and learning as much as I can. Of course I want to succeed and have a shiny new pin and a title after my name, but it’s the knowledge that really gets my yahyahs going.

There are only ~1,000 Certified Cicerones® in the world, and only seven Master Cicerones®, so it’s a huge mountain to climb. But I’ve already reached Base Camp Number Two. The path is steep and littered with dead beer cans and bottles, but I think I can do it. Tell the summit I’m coming for it.

Cheers,

Dev

Can’t get enough of my inanity?