In case you haven’t noticed, the local craft beer industry is experiencing quite a boom (see the latest issue of Minnesota Monthly on newsstands for “A Minnesotan’s Guide to Craft Beer”). To help keep the craft beer boom honest and all of us better beer-consuming citizens, Rob Shellman has started a grassroots organization called the Better Beer Society.
After living in the Midwest for years (his wife hails from Hibbing), Shellman moved to LA in 2006. His love affair with craft brewed beer flourished, so he took a job running a small batch beer program at a shop in LA. He learned about the Cicerone Certification Program in Chicago, studied up, and got his certificate. In 2010, Shellman and his wife moved back to the Midwest, where he started working as the Upper Midwest Brewery Rep at Tallgrass Brewing Company in Manhattan, Kan. (makers of that popular 8 Bit Pale Ale). Today, he works at Tallgrass and is the founder/president of the Better Beer Society.
A cicerone (pronounced sis-uh-rohn) is similar to a sommelier, except a cicerone has proven expertise in selecting, acquiring, and serving beer. The Better Beer Society has official “Certified Cicerones®”on board who share their knowledge with their clients and the general public.
“Our reps have great palettes. They’re experts in draft troubleshooting, beer styles, serving, and storage,” said Shellman. “We’re working with retailers to up the game across the board to improve the level of standards.”
The Better Beer Society works with breweries, retailers, distributors, and consumers. Small breweries that don’t have resources for a market representative can use the Better Beer Society to represent their products in markets outside of their home state. Retailers can become “Better Beer Society Certified” (once a retailer passes a series of evaluations on beer service, selection, storage, and knowledge, that retailer will be able to display a certificate). Distributors can contract with the BBS to develop placement strategies. In the Twin Cities, beer lovers’ hideouts such as Republic, Happy Gnome, and Bryant Lake Bowl are Better Beer Society certified retailers.
As for the consumer, the Better Beer Society “Brown Bag Blind Series” is a blind tasting event series open to the public. Their event last Saturday, “A Trip to Belgium,” was sold out at $45 per ticket. Held at Republic, it featured 25 taps and bottles of Belgian beer. The Better Beer Society even partnered with Duvel USA to give away two round-trip tickets to Belgium! Their next Bag Blind Series event is scheduled for December 8. Details will be posted on their Facebook page and website.
In addition to the tasting series, the Better Beer Society University offers a 13 week-long “course” for the consuming public. In fact, they’re holding an “Intro to Sours” class tonight with Michael Dawson (Northern Brewer), Spencer Anderson (Surly), and Jeff Halvorson (Where the Wild Beers Are). The session is a crash-course in open fermentation and wild yeast strains. Too bad for us, the fall semester class is full, but sign up information for the spring semester will be posted on their website soon.
With all these new breweries and new craft beer, there’s just no more room for a bad pint, so here’s a free lesson from Shellman on how to pour a proper one: