If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that beer, especially craft beer, is in right now. According to the Washington Post, the number of breweries in the United States has increased twofold in just four years. As of December 2015, there are 4,144 breweries in the country. Lucy Burningham, beer aficionada and author of the recently released My Beer Year, has been rejoicing in this beer renaissance.
Burningham decided to take passion for beer to the next level by becoming a certified beer expert, studying independently and traveling throughout the United States and abroad to Europe in her efforts to master the craft. Due to the increased interest in beer, a connoisseur named Ray Daniels established the Cicerone Certification Program in 2008. After suffering a barrage of bad beer in the early 2000s, he wanted to educate people to properly tend to and serve beer. There are several levels of Cicerone certifications—the top is the Master Cicerone, a certification so difficult it has only been granted to 11 Americans. Burningham opted to become a Certified Cicerone, an arduous process that involved a year and a half of independent study to prepare for the intensive three-part exam.
Burningham balanced her career as a freelance journalist with raising a young son as she spent months preparing for the exam. She began by homebrewing and talking to brewers in Portland, Oregon, her home and a mecca of craft breweries. She spent the late summer visiting hop farms throughout the Pacific Northwest, which accounts for 85 percent of American hop production. In October she traveled to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver to indulge in a variety of brews and talk to the brewers who created them.
Burningham devoted winter to studying draft systems and beer styles. Burningham even fit in to Belgium to learn about European approaches to brewing. She visits the Senne River valley, best known for production of the ancient style of beer known as a lambic, and stops at the famous Cantillon Brewery. She draws insightful comparisons between American brewing traditions and Belgian, notably the recognition that American brewers are more interested in invention while their Belgian contemporaries are concerned with making “honest beers with simple ingredients.”
At the end of all these adventures, Burningham benefits from a deepened appreciation for brews and successfully passes her certification exam. As she recounts her travels, both geographical and educational, through the land of beer, readers glean the fruits of her labors and may be inspired to take a pilgrimage of their own.