By Gary Glancy
When Cliff Mori began running brewery/history walking tours in downtown Asheville a few years back, he wanted to put himself in the shoes of a visitor to Asheville who was interested in beer, and the thriving culture that surrounds it in Beer City USA. Mori, the area’s first Certified Cicerone—the beer equivalent of a sommelier for wine—pictured himself on a winery tour in northern California when he designed his now-thriving, educational-based BREW-ED tour company.
“I would hope to come away from that winery tour with the feeling that I now know a little bit about wine,” says Mori. “How it’s made, why I like certain wines more than others and an understanding of the industry. That’s the experience I hope my guests have, and the feeling they come away with after a BREW-ED tour.”
Beer tourism is big business in Asheville, and that raises the bar—so to speak—for the industry. Visitors to our booming beer scene range from craft-brew newcomers seeking guidance for what they make to serious beer nerds ready to talk hop varieties and fermentation techniques.
Mori believes that, with Asheville being a destination for craft beer, there is a responsibility among those in the service industry to represent the products from our local breweries on a higher level than your average bar or restaurant. “Educated consumers expect to be able to ask questions of their servers and bartenders,” he says, “and get thoughtful, accurate answers.”
In addition to his tour business, Mori trains bar and restaurant staff in everything from serving beer in proper glassware to detecting and recognizing off flavors. Local servers and bartenders also are studying on their own. More and more breweries and craft beer bars are giving preference or even requiring aspiring employees to become Certified Beer Servers—the first level in the Cicerone program (cicerone.org)—which requires passing an online, multiple-choice exam.
Consequently, the competition for jobs in the craft-beer industry here in Western North Carolina has become intense. To train workers for this growing industry, both Asheville-Buncombe Technical College and Blue Ridge Community College in Hendersonville have developed two-year degree brewing programs—among the first in the country to do so—and both colleges also offer continuing education courses that teach students about beer styles, off flavors and the business of beer.
Leah Rainis, a ‘beertender’ at Catawba Brewing Company in downtown Asheville, is a first-year student in A-B Tech’s degree program. Rainis calls it “very comprehensive” and says she feels “incredibly fortunate” to have been accepted into the program. The curriculum covers the science and technology behind brewing and fermentation, beverage and facilities management, safety and sanitation and hands-on experience in an onsite brew house during weekly production days.
“A lot of the hands-on experience is meant to prepare us for the internship we are required to complete during our third (summer) semester,” says Rainis, “and I really think it gives us a leg up over the many people who walk into a brewery with a résumé saying, ‘I’ll do anything.’”
Gary Glancy is a freelance writer, tour guide, bartender and Certified Cicerone® living in Hendersonville.