Josh Scott’s job requires him to drink on the job. A lot. In fact, he documented more than 1000 beers and their flavour profiles when training to be a cicerone (basically a “beer sommelier”), spending hundreds per week flying in exotic beers to then blindfold himself and document tasting notes and profiles on each, as well as draw out food pairings to suit.
What exactly is a cicerone?
The best way to explain is a beer master or “beer sommelier”. It’s a course that tests your knowledge on a wide range of beer aspects over three levels – a Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone and a Master Cicerone. I covered everything from what makes a good beer good, to the anatomy of a hop plant to how to pour the perfect brew to tasting. It’s not often you get to drink on the job but I was up for the task.
Can you tell us how you qualify to be a cicerone?
Lots of studying, lots of tasting (which is the best part) and immersing yourself in the beer culture. I started at Moa 12 years ago, so had a good base, but was amazed how much more I learned as I started to study. I studied for over one year before sitting my certification, which has only a 30 per cent pass rate.
How did your career in beer begin?
I am a qualified winemaker by trade and as part of this you do a lot of vintages overseas. In Europe I got exposed to a lot of traditional beers but my real epiphany came when I had a hoppy American beer which was a staple in the winery I worked at (Sierra Nevada pale ale). When I came home there was nothing on the market like it. Because I couldn’t buy these beers I decided to start making it …
What is the definition of a craft beer?
That’s a tough question. USA has tried to define it by volume and ownership and here in New Zealand there has been some robust discussion about whether it can be defined or not. But at the end of the day I see now we don’t need a definition. Good-quality beer will always rise to the top and that’s where we at Moa intend to stay and where all the noise and excitement is in the beer world.
Why do you think craft beer is trending now particularly?
People are becoming more educated – it’s very similar to what happened in the wine industry. People went from drinking cask/sherry/port/hybrid wines to the classic varieties that dominate the shelves today. All driven by winemakers’ passion for quality and burning a bit of leather educating the public. The beer industry in NZ is mirroring this to a T.
Is craft beer here to stay?
One hundred per cent yes. It might change and morph a bit but it’s here and it will stay. We’re seeing the same sophistication in beer as we had in the wine sector just before it became one of our most prized exports. There is enough margin in craft beer to follow this same path in taking NZ beers to the world stage.
What do you see on the horizon for craft beer?
Maybe some consolidation, acquisitions and amalgamations. At last count there were over 190 craft beer operators in NZ.
What flavours are particularly popular right now?
American style IPAs are big. There has been a big move to hoppy beers that does not seem to be waning anytime soon. My pick is the limited Sours we’ve just released, which are an acquired taste but actually the most akin in brewing technique to how beer was made 7000 years ago.
What foods lend themselves best to craft beer?
All food. There are no boundaries. In fact it is greatly argued that beer is a far better match to food than wine (especially cheese). However, taking a Kiwi classic like fish and chips, it would have to be a chilled NZ pilsner, in a tall pilsner glass. The higher carbonation of the beer cuts through the fattiness of the food and there is great contrast with the saltiness of chips with the biscuity malt charters of the beer.
Can you fine dine with craft beer matches?
Absolutely. This is a huge part of the growth of craft beer and only something we are just starting to touch on. If only half the amount of effort that was put into a wine list was put into beer, there would be some incredible beer lists out there matching great food.
What most excites you about craft beer and/or your job?
Seeing the growth of the industry is incredible. When I started out, beer outside of the main brewers was almost impossible to get hold of, and some of the bold styles we see now were non-existent. Mind you, this was only 12 years ago.
It’s still early days in the beer revolution that has been happening in New Zealand, and there is still some ways to go, and there is no reason why we can’t carve out a unique niche in the world beer market and be as well-known for it as we are for our wines.