Thanks to my man, Smiley Brown, for sending me a link to this interesting piece on “cicerones”. For those that have never heard the phrase, cicerones are the beer analogue to wine sommeliers. They’re experts in recommending brews and pairing them with food. The term has really only been around for a few years (according to the article, the Cicerone Certification Program was founded in 2007), but it’s starting to catch on in cities with well-established beer cultures like San Francisco.
The word “cicerone” is a tad…shall we say…pretentious? It was repurposed from a centuries-old Italian term for a museum guide. Full disclosure…my background is in museum studies and I had never heard the word “cicerone” until recently (and only in its current beer-related incarnation).*
*In the museum industry, they generally use the thrillingly original term “Guide” or the somewhat confusing “Docent” to describe tour-givers.
Despite its pretensions and unrelated origins, I’m all in favor of the word. If you’re going to compete with sommeliers (perhaps the most pretentious profession on Earth), you may as well go all out. Why not choose an obscure, vaguely European-sounding phrase? It makes it sound like the profession has been around for centuries and we’re only now rediscovering it. However foofy the term is, if it gets people more interested in craft brewing, I’m all for it.
Two other points worth touching on from the article Smiley sent me. One, as Aleheads have been touting for years…beer is cheap. I know, a $15 bottle of brew “seems” expensive when compared to that 30-pack of mass-produced swill in the blue and silver case. But compared to wine, beer is an absolute bargain. As the article states, “you can get the world’s best-quality beer for a fraction of the price of a mediocre bottle of wine.” Plus, wine rarely comes in six-packs, pitchers, or growlers (and if it does…it probably ain’t too good).
The second point got me thinking a little bit…read this quote from the article:
“I think we’ve opened some eyes,” he says, particularly those of women. Selvera says, “Some women don’t like hops,” which can give beer a slightly bitter edge. “But I’ll give them a Belgian beer, which is more citrusy, and they’ll like it much better.”
I hear this a lot. Many women don’t like bitter, hoppy beers. Some men don’t either, of course…but 9 times out of 10, when someone says they dislike hoppy beers, it’s a female of the species (I’m generalizing…it’s what I do). I guess I just find that a little interesting…why do women prefer sweet or sour beers to bitter ones? Are their taste-buds more sensitive to bitter flavors than men? A brief and wholly unscientific Google search shows a ton of articles that reveal just that…women ARE better at detecting bitterness than men. Why is that? You’re going to be shocked by this…but I have a theory.
In hunter-gatherer societies, the gathering was mostly left to the women (and children, but we’ll ignore them since they’re such terrible beer-tasters…their tolerance for alcohol is just pathetic). The women in these societies needed to be able to differentiate between edible and poisonous foods. Since poisonous foods often have a characteristically bitter taste, it only makes sense that over tens of thousands of years, the palates of women would have become more sensitive to those bitter flavors. Fast-forward to the modern era, and women (at least those who actually like beer) have a harder time “acquiring” a taste for over-hopped, super-bitter Imperial IPAs. Wifey McHops loves Flemish Sours, Brown Ales, Belgian Dubbels…she even enjoys Russian Imperial Stouts which mask their big hop profiles under a massive blanket of roasted malt sweetness. But she really just doesn’t like IPAs of any ilk. I have no problem with that. Her gender’s aversion to bitterness probably saved the lives of millions of members of my gender. If women had developed a taste for Imperial IPAs, humanity may not have survived.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go throw a rock at a mammoth…and then drink the bitterest goddamn beer I can find.