They Say Great Minds Drink Alike

Soon after boarding the Air New Zealand 777-300 from the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles Airport I was taping, swiping, and pinching the seatback touchscreen. There were hundreds of hours of movies and television shows to choose from as well as a selection of games. I knew I could find something to entertain me for the next 13 hours. I waited until the plane was at cruising altitude before swiping to the inflight live flight tracker; we’d left US airspace and were flying at 500 plus mph. I decided I would check back between movies to watch the small plane’s progress as it inched slowly along its flight path on the flight tracker touchscreen.

image source:jmcadam

The cabin staff had just pushed the food trolley past me when the aeroplane shuddered because of turbulence. My chicken tikka masala and steamed jasmine rice and peas jostled in the tray. The turbulence caused me to lean back in the seat and sway back and forth as the plane dipped and bumped; that’s when the food on my clothes problem happened. I checked if my napkin had a buttonhole or if I could attach it to my shirt to reduce the possibility of chicken tikka masala dropping on my clothes. A thrust from the engines caused me to swipe the seat-back entertainment touch screen to display the flight tracker, we were climbing and increasing speed. Just as the chicken tikka masala stopped its jostling, and the drink trolley with its selection of wines, beer, soft drinks and juices appeared beside me.

Air New Zealand Flight Attendant: (in a chirpy tone) Something to drink sir?
Me: (with confidence) Beer please
Air New Zealand Flight Attendant: What type of beer sir?
Me: (with a smile in my voice) What do you have?
Air New Zealand Flight Attendant: Stella Artois, Steinlager, Heineken, Speights, and Victoria Bitter
Me: (feigning expertise) I’d better have something New Zealand
Air New Zealand Flight Attendant: Steinlarger or Speights?
Me: (disguising my NZ beer ignorance) Would you mind sharing the difference?
Air New Zealand Flight Attendant: (in an affable constructive manner) Speights is a full-strength bitter ale with a hint of grassy undertones that add to its complexity and allows the full flavour of the malt and hops to shine through. Steinlarger has a robust hop bouquet of fresh-cut green grass and delivers a full flavour that’s perfectly balanced with a dry, tangy finish and crisp clean bitterness.
Me: Oh!
Air New Zealand Flight Attendant: That would be a Steinlarger then sir?


I finished my chicken tikka masala and adjusted the wing-like arms on the headrest. I was soon musing about when a simple “pot of whatever’s on tap” was all it took to get a beer. Now when you walk into your favourite watering hole you’re asked to choose between an ale, a bitter, porter, wheat, IPA, stout, or pilsner. And beer doesn’t just taste like hops anymore; there’s coffee, chocolate, banana bread, pumpkin, or any flavour you can imagine.

The pretension and pomposity that some say is associated with wine drinking seem to have inched its way into swilling the suds. The wine sommelier has been reincarnated as a cicerone; a professional who’s experienced in selecting, and acquiring and serving today’s wide range of beers. I’ve always thought that ducking into a bottle shop and asking for a slab of VB stubbies or downing a few with the mates at the local, qualifies you to be a cicerone, but if you want a piece of paper to frame and hang on the wall there’s a couple of certification programs now available. One program claims to provide everything you need to know about beer’s history and cultural heritage, the traditions of selecting and acquiring beer, and the practice of serving beer; it offers four levels of certification.

  • Beer Server: you learn how to be a master of beer service and styles
  • Cicerone: you acquire a professional body of knowledge and essential tasting skills related to beer
  • Advanced Cicerone: you receive a solid understanding and distinctive expertise of beer as well as an excellent ability to detect and describe beer flavours using both consumer and brewer vocabulary
  • Master Cicerone: you gain an exceptional understanding of brewing, beer, and pairing; combining outstanding tasting abilities with an encyclopedic knowledge of commercial beers

image source:jmcadam

You’d have no worries mastering the four levels of certification if you spent a few Saturday arvos studying beer at the local by downing a few pots with the mates; how hard would it be to come up with a few practice questions for the Master Cicerone certification test.

  1. How many VBs can the average bloke throw down before going for the liquid laugh?
    a. a slab of tinniesb. half a dozen schooners
    c. half a dozen longiesd. all of the above
  2. After downing ten stubbies most people crave a
    a. chicko rollb. dim sim
    c. souvlakid. all of the above
  3. Which of the following is not a beer?
    a. frothieb.stubby
    c. eskyd. all of the above
  4. What beer would you pair with a chicken parma with chips and salad counter lunch?
    a. Carlton Draughtb. Coopers
    c. Boagsd. all of the above

We were back in The Land Down Under last year. After we had settled into our Airbnb Albert Park, single fronted, fashionable weatherboard Victorian house one of the owners dropped over to check the barbie’s propane tank.

image source:jmcadam

Somehow our conversation turned to beer. After the usual VB and a “good cold beer” banter, I confessed how excited I was to see Melbourne Bitter back in the bottle shops, and that I was bowled over by all the craft beers in public bars and bottle shops. With a smile, he shared that he worked for an inner-city microbrewery. And so our beer banter turned to craft beers. The next day he called in with a filled propane tank and a 6 pack of 3 Ravens heirloom 55 American Pale Ale. He offered the six-pack with “enjoy em mate”.

I opened a 55 after it had spent a few hours in the fridge, angled the glass and slowly poured the golden ale down the inside; allowing a frothy head to form on the beer. I walked with a slight swagger as I carried the ice-cold beer to the kitchen table. I instinctively knew I had mastered the Beer Server level of certification.

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The first sip of 55 allowed me to surmise that it possessed a structured maltiness and clean finish; probably from five assertive hops meeting a blend of barley, corn, wheat, oats and rye grains. An uncontrollable smirk interrupted my second slurp of 55 suds; I had achieved Cicerone certification.

After a couple of days of catching the tram into town, walking the leafy streets, and shopping the local shops I was back living in Albert Park; it was as if I had never left thirty plus years ago. It was a warm, late afternoon when I set off for a pot of whatever’s on tap at the old watering hole; just as I would leave work a few minutes early to down a few with the workmates. Alas, the Albert Park Hotel had closed. The closest I could find to a bottle shop was a Vintage Cellars in the main shopping centre. It sold mostly wine, spirits, and liqueurs, but there was a small selection of craft beers. And soon I was engaged in an informative chat about Australian craft beers with a helpful associate.


Vintage Cellars Associate: (in a chirpy tone) We describe Little Creatures Bright Ale as a filtered, top-fermented ale with a striking clarity in the glass; it’s a smooth, full-flavoured beer that’s clean and refreshingly balanced
Me: Oh!
Vintage Cellars Associate: The Cricketers Arms Keepers Lager is made with sun-dried Australian malt, and infused with Amarillo Hops to impart an intriguing citrus character to its aroma and flavour
Me: Oh!
Vintage Cellars Associate: We like to say that Collingwood Draught is a chestnut coloured lager with a malty aroma and subtle toasty sweetness; a dash of the finest hops gives this refreshing beer a superbly clean finish
Me: I’ll have the Collingwood Draught
Vintage Cellars Associate: ‘Carn the pies
Me: ‘Carn the doggies

image source:jmcadam

A smile crossed my lips as I left the Village Cellars. I had just ascended to Advanced Cicerone certification; I was now able to describe any beer. I kept chanting the mantra; balanced malts, subtle toasty sweetness, aroma and flavour, clean finish.

It was early evening when we walked into the Steam Packet Hotel. The Steam Packet sits on the corner of Aitken and Cole Street Williamstown; a dropkick up from the cafes and restaurants of Nelson Place. The two-storey structure was built in 1863 to replace an earlier building called the Ship Inn; Williamstown’s first hotel. During my late adolescence, I spent many hours on Saturday arvos in the public bar of The Packet. You could say my time growing into an adult at The Packet was beverage driven.


My visit to The Packet this time wasn’t to uphold the tradition of wetting the whistle with the boys; it was for a counter tea before partaking in a two-hour walking ghost tour. Whilst waiting for my order of lamb cutlets to arrive I wandered into the old Saturday arvo sanctuary. I didn’t recognise the remodelled space; time and tide wait for no man. I asked for a pot of whatever’s on tap, and the bartender gestured toward eleven craft beers and ales. And I saw the 3 Ravens.

Me: Ravens thanks mate
Steam Packer Bartender: No worries mate
Me: (in an intellectual tone) That 55 American Pale Ale pairs well with lamb cutlets. It’s crafted using five assertive hops and a blend of barley, corn, wheat, oats and rye. I’d say it has notable floral aromatics that lead to a structured maltiness and a clean, crisp, refreshing finish
Steam Packer Bartender: (placing a pot on the bar) No worries; that’ll be seven dollars mate
Me: (in a discerning tone) It boasts a full flavour and a serious hit of bitterness
Steam Packer Bartender: (in a discerning tone) No worries; cheers mate


I turned, and there was a buoyancy in my walk as I headed back to my lamb cutlets. Deep down I knew my 3 Ravens 55 American Pale Ale chat with the Steam Packet Bartender had advanced me to Master Cicerone certification level.

You’ll have to excuse me. I need to pour myself a kölsch and let it sit until it reaches a temperature of 44 degrees Fahrenheit and then settle back and peruse my latest The Beer Connoisseur Magazine.



Steam Packet Hotel

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