SAINT ANDREWS – Ian Covey has a job title unique in the Maritimes. He is the sole advanced cicerone, which he said is an industry standard for beer. Basically, a cicerone is the beer equivalent of a wine sommelier, and it involves knowing all of the components of beer service, which Covey said is “wide-ranging”.
Covey said having the title of cicerone allows him access to the world of beer. Originally from St. Stephen, Covey has been working in the brewing industry for several years, and is now a brewery owner in Saint Andrews.
“As a cicerone, I was able to work in breweries as a quality management specialist. I was the person who would go in and have the final say on whether the beer tasted good enough to serve to the public, if it was up to the standards of the brewery and things like that,” said Covey.
According to Covey, there is a large educational component when it comes to becoming a cicerone. He said people are tested in a variety of areas, from how to serve beer to what type of glassware to serve it in to different styles of beer and more. With more than 200 different types of beer on the market, knowing what ingredients go into each type and how it’s made is a lot to learn. He said a cicerone learns how to properly taste beer, what to look for, and how to pair various beers with different types of food.
Covey challenged the exam for the level that he is currently at, level three, which is advanced cicerone. He hopes to one day become a master cicerone, which will take a few more years to accomplish. Right now, there are 19 master cicerones in the entire world. As an advanced cicerone, Covey is one of only 142 in the world.
“It’s pretty cool. It definitely gives me a title that nobody else has around these parts. It gives me some street cred I guess you’d say.”
There are 11 advanced cicerones in Canada, and Covey is the only one east of Ottawa.
“Depending on the level, there’s four levels of the cicerone beer program,” said Covey. “Certified beer server would be level one. Certified cicerone is level two. Advanced cicerone is level three, and master is level four. Each of those is progressively harder than the other; exponentially. When I went and wrote the certified cicerone exam, which is level two, that was basically an in-person exam, writing, tasting, and there’s a presentation component. When I wrote the advanced cicerone exam in 2019, that was basically a nine-hour exam. It tested on everything, and then some curve balls in there too to make sure I wasn’t just a book nerd I guess.”
Covey grew up in St. Stephen and graduated from St. Stephen High School in 2007. He went on to UNB to study creative writing before heading to the University of Maine to study teaching. Upon graduating, he realized he didn’t want to be a teacher. He began working in the brewing industry in Fredericton with an entry-level position, and discovered he was “really passionate about it”. So, he dove into this line of work and never looked back.
“I’ve worked at a number of breweries in whatever role was there,” said Covey. “I brewed, I managed events. I ran quality programs, sales, marketing, and eventually took the leap in opening the Saint Andrews Brewing Company in the last month. That’s been a new thing. Officially, we opened in May, but we’ve been working on it for about three years, trying to get it right.”
The Saint Andrews Brewing Company is not currently open to the public, but you can enjoy the beer when you visit the Red Herring Pub, Kingsbrae Garden, and the Treadwell Inn. Covey’s goal is to be able to open a taproom in Downtown Saint Andrews by next spring. He and his partners are currently in the final stages of getting the finances they need for this venture.
Covey thinks beer has gotten a bad rap throughout the years because it is often not considered to be a “fancy” drink. He said for a long time, if people wanted something fancy, they would order wine or cocktails. In his opinion, beer is just as complex as these other drinks, or even more so, and encourages people to try different types of beer.
“There really is a beer for any occasion,” said Covey. “For people that haven’t tried new beers, it can be a fun exercise. Go to the liquor store and pick some things up that you’ve never heard of and go into it with an open mind, knowing that you’re going to try some different flavours.”