Mirella Amato, Master Beer Cicerone
Mirella Amato, Master Beer Cicerone
Mirella Amato, First Non-US Resident to Earn the Title of Master Beer Cicerone

What do opera and beer have in common? Not much, other than the fact one of the world’s leading beer experts used to be an Opera singer. Mirella Amato, a Canadian native, is the first non-US resident to earn the title of Master Cicerone. After enduring a 14-hour exam to achieve the coveted Master Cicerone certification, she can now claim a title only seven other people in the world hold. While Amato got started with her foray into beer drinking when she was a child, taking a few sips here and there from her father’s cup and thinking it didn’t taste very well, her opinion as she got older changed completely, from objection to obsession.

The exam took place over the course of two days. During this time, students were tested in five areas of beer service: Keeping & Serving Beer, Beer Styles, Beer Flavor & Evaluation, Beer Ingredients & Brewing Processes and Pairing Beer with Food. The exam consisted of 10 hours of essay writing, spread out over the course of the two days. There were a total of two hours of oral examinations, divided into four half-hour exams — each with a recognized industry expert conducting assessments. Finally, there were a series of beer tasting exams. The exam is graded blindly by a number of industry experts as well as Master Cicerones, and a score of 85% or higher is needed to pass.

Basically, becoming a Master Cicerone is no easy feat.

“It was grueling! I’m glad I passed,” says Amato.

While the certification attaches a distinguished title to her name, for Amato it wasn’t about this at all. Rather, she wanted to demonstrate her expertise in the industry and provide her customers with a level of trust in her expertise; however, Mirella Amato is more than just the first non-US resident to become a Master Cicerone. She is a woman passionate about her craft, which is reflected in her desire to share her knowledge and educate others about beer, in both the local and global community.

Beer. Photo courtesy of Atilla Kefeli.

Local Advocacy

Locally, Mirella Amato is part of the Canadian beer industry. Beerology, Amato’s company, offers guided beer tastings and workshops to people in Toronto, Canada, and also provides staff training and consulting services for breweries, restaurants and pubs in the area. Her aim is to encourage people to discover their own personal favorites by sharing tips to confidently navigate the beer menu.

She also supports the local craft beer movement in Canada by working with the Canadian breweries to help spread the word about tasty beers being produced. She Amato, “My goal in Canada continues to be to draw more people into local beer and beer appreciation in general.”

For those that might not have this chance, her book, “Beerology: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Beer…And More,” allows her to reach an even broader audience globally. A woman on a mission, she is helping people around the world fall in love with beer and become more informed drinkers. Written for the inquisitive beer drinker, Amato says, “It provides a lot of straightforward, useful information for those who are curious to learn a bit more about beer.”

Beer From Country-To-Country

According to Amato, beer ingredients are portable, so there are traditional beer styles that can be found anywhere. These beers are locally brewed, but share similar traits. That being said, many countries have distinct brewing scenes. There are regional flavor preferences brewers will take into account when creating new recipes. Some countries have longstanding brewing traditions and unique styles, others are just starting to brew now.

Women In Brewing

While many may think of beer as a man’s beverage, Amato estimates the attendance at Beerology is about 50% women and 50% men. Not only are women drinking more beer, they’re brewing it, too.

“I remember times when I was the only woman at industry events and now there are always a handful of us,” she says. “It feels good. The women in the industry have banded together, forming the Pink Boots Society — of which I am a proud member — in 2008 to give us more visibility. I think it simply never occurred to many women that brewing might be a job option.”

While in the 1980s women wanting to get into brewing may have faced some resistance, Amato says she has felt very welcome in the beer industry. The beer world is very small, with individuals all united through their passion and appreciation for beer. As for the customers, she’s been told by more than one they were drawn to her because of her ability to break the stereotype of beer as a “man’s drink.”

Milling the grains before adding malt and hops and fermenting to make beer. Photo courtesy of Logan Ingalls.

Beer Advice From Mirella

How does one choose which beer to drink when there are so many different styles and tastes? Amato offers to us this advice: “Everyone’s palate is different. The only way to know which beer to choose is to sample a range of different beers, zero in on which beer flavors and traits you prefer, and seek out beers that fit the bill!”

For the beer drinker that wants to put a spin on enjoying a cold one, Amato shares tips for pairing beer with food. She says, “Flanders red brown ale with brown shrimp is very tasty!”

She also offers a suggestion for those that love to travel and enjoy beer and food in other countries. “A more contemporary area that’s great for beer and food is Italy, where the craft beer movement is designing beers specifically to pair with food.” She highly recommends finding a brewpub when visiting this country.

Beer tastings. Photo courtesy of Kate Borkowski.

When tasting a new beer, make sure to take a moment to stop and think about that first sip. Pay attention and you’ll be surprised at the flavors that just pop out at you.

Finally, one last piece of advice that Amato offers beer drinkers, as well as beer servers is to always pour beer into a glass. Just like with wine, beer is more enjoyable when you can put your nose directly over the aromas. Surprisingly many people drink straight from the bottle; however, this is wrong for two reasons.

“Our sense of smell greatly informs how we taste things. When you drink straight out of the bottle or can, your nose has no access to the beer’s aroma, so you’re not getting the full flavor of the beer. Beyond that, pouring beer out releases carbonation. I often have people approach me at tastings and say that they don’t drink beer that often because it makes them ‘feel bloated’.”

Furthermore, brewers intentionally over-carbonate beer because they are expecting the drinker to pour it into a glass. Who doesn’t admire a lovely head of foam on the top of the beer? Next time you order a beer, be sure to ask for a glass.

If Amato’s learned one thing on her travels, it’s that we live in a beer-obsessed world.

“No matter which city I’m in, if I go to a brewpub or a beer bar, I will immediately be welcome. It’s so amazing how a passion for beer draws us together; it’s fun to connect with people who are familiar with a completely different beer scene and share stories.”

Are you a beer enthusiast? What tasting tips would you add to the list? Please share in the comments below.

Also Check Out:

Ethiopian Culture: Exploring The Country Through Beer

Epic Brewcations: Top 8 International Beer Experiences

Travel Find: The Ultimate Bucket List Tote Bag

Jessica Yeager

Jessica is a Jersey girl, pure and simple. But it’s her love of world travel, meeting new people, and exploring sun-drenched elsewheres that takes her beyond state lines. A teacher by day, storyteller by night; she enjoys sharing tales of her adventures that inspire and awaken the traveling spirit in others. She loves this quote from Maya Angelou -- When you learn, teach. When you get, give. Stop by her blog,
Traveling Through Life to read more from this Jersey Girl.

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