La Cumbre assistant brewer achieves rare level of certification

Posted: April 28, 2015 by cjax33 in News
La Cumbre's certified Cicerone, brewer Bob Haggerty, was attacked by some hefeweizen out of the fermenter earlier in the day. Hey, we're all human.

La Cumbre’s certified Cicerone, brewer Bob Haggerty, was attacked by some hefeweizen out of the fermenter earlier in the day. Hey, we’re all human. Beer can sometimes be messy for all of us.

The word Cicerone gets thrown around a lot these days at local breweries. It is one of those terms that people have likely heard, but not necessarily understood. Even those of us in the Crew only had a somewhat vague idea of what it meant. To learn a lot more about this type of special certification, La Cumbre’s Geraldine Lucero tipped me off to the fact that one of their assistant brewers, Bob Haggerty, was one of the three people in New Mexico to recently become a certified Cicerone. It is a title not bestowed upon many — there were only two others in the state prior this latest group — so it made sense to sit down with Bob and find out just what it means to be a Cicerone, as well as what he had to do to earn his certification.

NMDSBC: So explain to us, what is a Cicerone?

Bob: So most people know about sommelier and sommelier program, but they most commonly associate that with wine. A sommelier is actually expected to know about wine, spirits, coffee, and beer, along with some other things as well. Beer was commonly overlooked in the sommelier program. And so Ray Daniels set up this Cicerone program to address that issue. The Cicerone program is a program designed to educate folks in beer in all aspects. The serving of, the keeping of, the history, the cultural significance, all things beer.

The Cicerone program has three levels. You go first you become a certified server. After that you become a certified Cicerone, which is the certification that I just attained. The third and final level is Master Cicerone. There are only a handful of Master Cicerones in the world. I think the last count was under 20. There are some hundreds of certified Cicerones in the country.

It was by no means an easy test. I have been sort of studying about beer for years. And so having sort of a knowledge base coming into this was a definite help to me. Also working here at La Cumbre and learning from Jeff (Erway) and Daniel (Jaramillo) was a huge help as well. We set up a study group. There were between eight and 12, depending on the week. We would get together, and we would taste different styles, discuss the styles. We would do a lot of off-flavor testing. We had some spike kits so we were able to spike samples of beers with common off-flavors. We learned to identify those. But most importantly it was the tasting and discussion of different styles. Every week we would pick a category from the BJCP guidelines and we would go down through that category and taste the styles and sub-styles.

You can’t really call it work, but there was a lot of studying going on. So the Cicerone program is designed to teach and … it’s not just about tasting and evaluating beer. That’s a large part of it. But equally important is to know how to keep and serve beer. The Cicerone certification is I think predominantly for people who serve beer. I happen to be a brewer. It was something that came up that I thought might be fun to do, so I did it. I think it’s mostly for people who serve beer to have a greater understanding of what they’re serving and the proper way to serve it.

Another very important aspect of the Cicerone program is pairing. Beer is equally and is infinitely parable as wine with food. So learning how and with which beers to pair with which foods was a big part of the study. It was very eye-opening, in fact. I’ve never really done that. I was a chef and I learned about some very basic wine and food pairings when I was a chef, but never really understood the mechanics of it. This really sort of taught me more the mechanics of pairings. How to pair intensities, what alcohol does, how it tempers fatty foods, how sweet beers can temper spicy, and different aspects of it.

NMDSBC: Now that you’ve accumulated all of this knowledge, do you find it changes your approach to work? To when you’re just hanging out and drinking beer with friends?

Bob: Oh, I’ve been intolerable to drink beer with for years. (Laughs) No, I usually keep my mouth shut unless I’m asked. A lot of what it did was it gave me an opportunity to branch out and to sort of taste styles that I don’t necessarily gravitate toward. Going toward, say, an American light lager. When was the last time you analyzed an American light lager? You don’t really do it. You grab it out of the ice and chug it down as fast as you can on a hot day. It’s not something you analyze. But really, you pick it apart and you analyze it. That was enlightening. You can extrapolate other styles as well.

One of the things for me that was the most fun was learning the history of styles. Learning how the history and geography lent to the creation of styles. In America, we have such a creative approach, where we have everything at our fingertips. If we want to make something, we can mix a pilsner with American hops and call it an India Pale Lager or whatever we want to do, it’s right there for us. Learning about water, the particular hops that grow in particular regions before there was transport, all of these different things that led to the creation of these styles, I really enjoyed that.

NMDSBC: You talked about the amount of studying you did. How much time would you say you spent?

Bob: So we met for generally about two hours for eight weeks. I tried to study for about four to five hours (on my own). So it was a good 40 to 50 hours of studying to get it done. And I have to continue to say how appreciative I am. La Cumbre has sponsored a lot of this. La Cumbre bought the spike kit, the off-flavor kit (and) most of the beer that we were evaluating. So they were just a huge help. If someone was to do it on their own, as a single person, I would schedule a lot more time. I would plan on six months.

We had sort of a more intensive study time because we had the luxury of La Cumbre sponsoring us. If you’re on your own, plan on more time.

NMDSBC: So how many people from your study group took the test and passed it?

Bob: From our study group, you can say there were roughly 10 of us. It would change depending on the week, but usually eight to 10 of us. There were three of us from our group who took the test. I was the only one that passed. The test itself, I believe there were 14 people taking the test. Three of us passed the test. That’s about average, about one in three to one in four pass it.

For the record, the others to pass the test were Santa Fe Brewing general manager Alana Jones and sales guru Angelo Orona, who we believe at this point is repping Santa Sidra and Abbey Brewing and possibly others because he is quite good at his job. All of you who enjoyed the recent Tart at Heart event he put on at Sister Bar can attest to this. Congrats to both of them! Oh, and for the record the other two people who were previously certified as Cicerones in New Mexico were Angela McMaster and Steven Anderson.

NMDSBC: Anything you’re planning to do with your certification now?

Bob: I’m thinking about the Master (certification). Just because I’ve come this far and you know, why not? It’s certainly a nice ring to reach for. It’s a two-day test. From what I hear, it’s pretty difficult. But that’s what makes me want to do it even more.

The only thing I plan to do with it (right now) is to continue to drink and love beer.

NMDSBC: While we’re here, let’s get a little background on you. How long have you been working at La Cumbre?

Bob: Almost two-and-a-half years now. Before that I was at Oxbow Brewing Company in Maine.

NMDSBC: So are you originally from Maine?

Bob: I’m originally from there. I was a chef for a long time and then I started a family. I realized having a family was no life for a chef. So I looked for another way to be creative with my palate and all. I had been home-brewing for a while. So I started volunteering at Oxbow. I worked my way into a job there. Then when we moved to New Mexico led to employment here at La Cumbre, which has been by far the most fun job in my brewing career. I can’t say (too much) about how awesome Jeff and Daniel are and how much they have taught me.

* * * * *

A big thanks to Bob for taking the time out of his day, which included a temperamental fermenter of hefeweizen, to chat about his experience becoming a Cicerone. As he said, it is not an easy test to pass. A friend of the Crew whose palate easily surpasses all of ours (combined) took the test for the first time with Bob and was among those who did not pass. It is an incredible challenge to undertake and we should all be proud there are now five New Mexico residents who have achieved this certification.

If anyone else out there wants to chat with us about his or her own Cicerone experience, pass or fail, or even if you are just planning on taking the test down the line, send us a message at


— Stoutmeister

  1. […] is a certified Cicerone who started out at Oxbow Brewing in his home state of Maine before moving west. He worked at La […]

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