Q&A: The Spring Thing's Cicerone

Q&A: The Spring Thing's Cicerone

Peter Gutkowski is the certified Cicerone that will be leading The Spring Thing: Modern Mutiny guests on a blind beer tasting adventure during Cocktail Hour. Wondering what a Cicerone is? So were we. MCASD met with Peter to get some details about his trade and what he's got planned for the big night on Friday, March 4 at MCASD Downtown.

The Spring Thing is our biggest downtown party of the year that supports the Museum's exhibitions, educational programs, and art acquistions. Get more information about this year's event and buy your tickets (while you still can!) here

MCASD: What exactly is a Cicerone?

Peter Gutkowski: A Certified Cicerone is essentially a Beer Sommelier, similar to a Sommelier in the wine world. The notion of fancy tuxedoed tableside service however may not exactly apply. A Cicerones main focus is to assure that a quality product is delivered to the table and to act as an advocate and guide educating and expanding ones knowledge of beer.

MCASD: How does one become a Cicerone?

Peter Gutkowski: The designation of Cicerone can be had by the passing of a single exam. One REALLY difficult exam! There are no specific courses to take in preparation for the exam, only independent study. The exam consists of 150 short answer questions (no true/false or multiple choice questions) and three essay questions. You have three hours for this portion, this allows no time to waste thinking about an answer. Next, comes a taped video demonstration pertaining to some aspect of keeping and serving beer. Finally, you have the tasting portion which consists of twelve samples. These are divided into "Off-Flavors," "Beer Styles," and "Fit for Service." "Fit for Service" meaning if a customer returns a certain style saying it does not taste right. You have to determine if it does in fact have a flaw, what exactly is the flaw, and what could of caused the problem.

It has been mentioned by the program's director that a reasonable time frame to study and prepare for the test is two years. Personally, I studied most nights over a six month period for a total of about 300 hours. I had flash cards, charts and empty bottles all over the house. If you'd like a really good feel of the experience, there is a great documentary on the Wine Sommelier exam playing on Netflix right now called Somm.

On top of my time studying, I already had been a beer enthusiast and home brewer for many years, having my first organized tasting back in 1987. My wife and I even chose to have our wedding at the Karl Strauss Brewery Gardens.

MCASD: What's your favorite part of the job?

Peter Gutkowski: I would be lying if I did not answer tastings, especially pairings with food. I came into being a Cicerone from a career in the arts and I love craft beer's appeal to the senses. There are an estimated trillion aromas that can be detected by the human nose and 90% of taste is said to be through smell. I also love any endeavor that has constant discovery. There is so much to learn about beer and it's always evolving. One can spend their whole life with beer as a hobby and still have more to learn.

I also love introducing people to new and different beers. I probably buy just as much to give away as I keep for myself, and who doesn't like free beer?! Beer is the world's most affordable luxury. Though many bottles are now reaching high-end wine prices, there are many fantastic brews available for just a few dollars.

MCASD: Can you give us a sneak peek of one of the beers you'll be pouring?

Peter Gutkowski: I actually won't know exactly what I will be serving until right before the event. Most beers are meant to be served as fresh as possible. You need to check dates to insure the beer is exactly what the brewer intended to serve. Most beers will start to fade or change within just a couple weeks. The exception being high alcohol beers and bottle conditioned beers with active yeasts. Those can be cellared for long periods and can change for the better. 

That being said, I plan to focus on currently trending beers, ones that are local and/or noteworthy yet easily accessible. I'm thinking of starting with a gateway craft beer, like an American wheat, then an introductory "sour" beer followed by a more traditional "sour". Then an IPA with a more tropical and juicy profile, and onward to a brown beer or porter, probably with smoked grains. And finally a stout with coffee and/or chocolate.

MCASD: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Peter Gutkowski: There is a misconception that beer is simple and wine is complicated. It's actually somewhat the opposite. Wine is limited to one main ingredient...grapes. Beer uses a wide variety of hops, grains, yeasts, bacterias and a host of add-in ingredients. There are currently 34 recognized styles of beer and 118 sub-styles. Beer almost always wins whenever there is a "beer vs. wine" dinner. The reasons being, beer has a much more diverse range of flavors. Beer has carbonation which refreshes the palate. Beer can have bitterness which slices through fat. Beer has caramelized and roasted flavors to match those in your food and Beer has sweetness to quench out heat from spices. There exists a perfect Beer for any occasion, mood or taste. 

Here are some things online to checkout:

Here are my favorite pairings:

  • Witbier: Allagash White with breakfast. I like a filled omelet, toast and fruit.
  • Barleywine: AleSmith Old Numbskull with Stilton Blue cheese. Go crazy and stuff a date with the cheese and wrap in bacon.
  • West Coast IPA: So many to choose! A Union Jack from Firestone Walker will do and a luscious carrot cake....Just trust me on this one.