He knows his beer: Meet P.E.I.'s only cicerone
'You've got to train you palate to pick up different flavours and really be able to dissect beer'
Bryan Carver has an unusual hobby. Like many Canadians, he drinks lots of beer, but Carver can analyze every sip — he's Prince Edward Island's only cicerone.
Carver, 35, is one of only 133 certified cicerones in Canada, and the only one listed as being from P.E.I. by the certifying body. There's also one master cicerone in Canada, Mirella Amato of Toronto.
"A cicerone would be the beer world's equivalent to a sommelier," explained Carver, as we sat down at Hopyard, a Charlottetown bar known for serving beer, much of it brewed locally by P.E.I.'s four craft breweries.
"We help people appreciate beer and learn more about it."
Carver can explain at length the qualities of a pilsner (it's a hoppy, crisp lager first made in the Czech town of Pilsen), an India, red or American Pale Ale, a stout or a weizen.
Cicerones all receive their training in beer culture and expertise through cicerone.org, based in Chicago, which began a decade ago. According to its website, as craft brewing exploded in the 1990s, the organization's founder wanted to motivate servers and retailers to up their game by learning more about proper beer service and beer styles.
There are four levels in the company's certification program — certified beer server (there are more than 2,300 in Canada), certified cicerone, advanced cicerone and master cicerone — only 16 people in the world have the top designation.
I've always been a big beer fan, since I was probably not old enough to be a big beer fan.— Bryan Carver
Many of the cicerones work for breweries or in the hospitality industry, or write about beer. Carver works for Diversified Metal Engineering, which creates and sells micro-brewing equipment around the world, although he started off working as a brewer at Charlottetown's Gahan brew pub.
"I've always been a big beer fan, since I was probably not old enough to be a big beer fan," Carver said with a smile.
Carver took the training online and was tested in Halifax.
"I was lucky I had a background in making beer, so that allowed certain aspects of the examination to be pretty straightforward," he said, adding "not anyone could write this test and pass it."
Beer for all tastes
He had to study the hundreds of world beer styles, and do a lot of reading. The final exam also included drinking beers and identifying what may have caused some to taste "off." (The company even makes a kit to help people study those tastes.)
"You've got to train your palate to pick up different flavours and really be able to dissect beer, both good and bad qualities," he said.
Even people who don't like beer can likely find a beer style they like — they just need to experiment, Carver said.
"There's definitely a beer style out there for everyone to enjoy," he said. "There's always more room to learn more about beer."
Carver hopes to open his own small brewery on his property in Long Creek, P.E.I., in the next year or so, where he'll use his cicerone certification to educate and guide customers.
"Hopefully it helps," he said. He's looking for investors to raise about $750,000 to start the brewery, which he plans to call Modern Brewer.
Cheers to P.E.I. beers
And his favourite beer?
If stranded on a desert Island with only one choice, Carver would pick Saison DuPont, a blond beer from Belgium.
"It's nice and crisp, a little complexity to it, it drinks really well — I find it really enjoyable," he said.
Vic Park Pale Ale from P.E.I. Brewing Company is his go-to Island beer available at the liquor store, and he also enjoys Copper Bottom Brewing's APA on tap and is "looking forward to seeing that in cans in the future."
Carver likely won't be alone in his designation as P.E.I.'s only cicerone for long.
He's helping three of his friends, the owners and bar manager at Hopyard, to study for the test this May.
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- A previous version of this story stated Hopyard only serves beer.Jan 22, 2018 11:05 AM AT