For David Reese, beer isn’t just a beverage. It’s an experience.
He’s the brewmaster at Chandeleur Island Brewing Company in downtown Gulfport, so beer is his life. But now, Reese can add Advanced Cicerone to his resumé. If you’re not familiar with the title, that’s OK. Think of a cicerone as the beer equivalent of a wine sommelier. Similarly, an Advanced Cicerone is comparable to an advanced sommelier. Reese is now one of 78 certification holders in the world — and the only one in Mississippi.
“There are four levels of cicerone,” he said. “There’s the Certified Beer Server, the Certified Cicerone, the Advanced Cicerone and the Master Cicerone. There are about 16 Master Cicerones.”
According to the Cicerone Certification Program, this third level “requires a solid understanding and distinctive expertise of beer as well as an excellent ability to detect and describe beer flavors using both consumer and brewer vocabulary.”
To reach the level, Reese had to achieve a score of 80 or higher on a nine-hour exam that required written, tasting and demonstration portions. His exam was in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“It was intense,” he said. “The oral test was before Ray Daniels, who is the director and founder of the program, and he is such a respected beer expert and brewer.”
Preparation for the test began months before, when Reese’s “homework” involved tasting scores of beer — an assignment many a beer fan might envy.
“There were 100 recognized beer styles I had to study for, but we can get about half of them here in Mississippi,” he said. So Reese had to go to Louisiana and other surrounding states to access the brews.
“I would go in and say, ‘OK, give me five beers but don’t tell me anything about them.’ I would have to rely on my palate and senses to identify them,” he said. “I’m really happy (how far) my palate has come.”
So what does this mean to a consumer? What does a guy having a fancy title mean to you as a beer drinker?
“A cicerone can recognize and evaluate beer flavors and styles and give suggestions for food pairing. And they can help you choose a beer that you’ll enjoy and appreciate,” he said.
Reese’s next step is to study for Master Cicerone, which could make him the first in the state.
According to the cicerone website, a Master Cicerone “must demonstrate encyclopedic knowledge and an in-depth understanding of all issues related to brewing, beer and beer service.”
Reese has been working in the beer industry for nearly 10 years.
“I got into the industry because I was in chemistry, and I was a home brewer,” he said. “I was originally in Milwaukee, which, of course, is known as a beer city. I was hired to be the manager at a brewpub, but the owner said he needed a brewer and would send me to brew school, so that’s how it all began.”
He came to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to be the brewmaster for Chandeleur when it was founded in 2014. During that time, the microbrewery culture in the state has flourished, and Chandeleur is one of five breweries on the Coast. The advent of the microbrews has opened Coast beer drinkers up to new flavors and tastes.
“I came here with a love for sours,” he said. Early on, the brewery added a sour to its offerings. “And now, we do that year round and we have the Gulf Sour Series. I think that’s a testament to the beer drinkers of Mississippi. If they’re willing to drink it, we’ll brew it.”