Though still shy of his 21st birthday, Newton native Neil Quigley already has more than his fair share of sudsy experience. He collaborated on Farmer Willie’s alcoholic ginger beer; spent some quality time at the UK’s Brewlab; and now manages the beer program at both Ames Street Deli and Study. Most recently, through a tiny loophole called Canadian citizenship, Quigley managed to secure the title of Certified Cicerone® at the tender age of 20, making him quite possibly the youngest one in the country.
The Craft Beer Institute’s program sets an industry standard for brew-focused knowledge. Pronounced “sis-uh-rohn,” the word translates to “guide.” The four levels of the program—Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone®, Advanced Cicerone® and Master Cicerone®—test beer professionals on everything from styles and taste, to serving, pairing and storing. Quigley undertook the first level of the Cicerone® Certification Program while study beer history and culture at Brewlab. In just one attempt (and after a night of “field research” at the pubs), he passed the online exam to become a Certified Beer Server: “It gave me a lot of confidence about being able to pass the Certified Cicerone® exam. It inspired me to really buckle down and do the extra studying I needed and figure out a way to take the exam when I got back to the US”—and pass before the legal drinking age.
The Certified Cicerone® exam is offered both in the States and, on a more limited basis, internationally but applicants must be at least 21. The exam includes a written portion and a rigorous tasting session. Contenders sample pours that have been altered with off-flavors and have to correctly identify them. The errors, which can be the result of poor brewing or storage, go beyond your everyday skunkiness (otherwise known as 3-methyl-2-butene-thiol) to notes of grassiness (acetaldehyde), butterscotch (diacetyl) and more.
To keep his flavor-sensors tuned, Quigley tasted beers at home and cut back on coffee (a veritable lifeline in the restaurant industry). He took advantage of his Canadian citizenship and got permission to register for the two-part test in Toronto despite the age restrictions. He passed the written half with no problems but was tripped up by the tasting. Because palates can be fickle (stress and strong foods can dull your taste buds), the Institute allows applicants to retake the sample portion separately. Quigley booked a flight to Vancouver (all the way across Canada!) to try again at what could have been his last chance at the certification before his 21st birthday. At the end of his exam, the administrators revealed the answers and he had failed by one. Or, so he thought. “I’d taken the exam on the first day I was there and I was just devastated for the rest of the trip. It was kind of a funny experience, being out there and having this ridiculously depressing vacation.” On his return to the US, he learned that he had, in fact, achieved his goal.
How did he celebrate? “I definitely drank a beer. The best thing I could find in my fridge when I got home from work was an Orval. It was one of the best Orvals I ever had.” The youngest Master Cicerone® to date is 25 years old, so though Quigley mentions no immediate plans to continue climbing the certification ladder, he has four years (and change) to give it a go. In the meantime, you can find him at the bar at Ames Street Deli—head over to toast to his accomplishments and tap into his certified beer knowledge.