Good Beer Hunting

In Good Company

Pretend Egalitarian — Master Cicerone Pat Fahey in Chicago

Pat Fahey is only the seventh person in the world to become a certified Master Cicerone. His level of commitment to the craft of beer is immeasurable. The sheer number of beers that have passed his palate, and the range and depth of styles he's explored are hard to wrap your head around. But in the end, his journey is just as long as the rest of ours — because every day he wakes up is a another brew day for over 2,500 breweries in the US alone. His work will never be done.

sharing a Farmer's Hand at Begyle Brewing in Ravenswood, Chicago

sharing a Farmer's Hand at Begyle Brewing in Ravenswood, Chicago

I ran in to Pat in an unlikely place — the penthouse of MillerCoors' headquarters in downtown Chicago where we both found ourselves alongside Ray Daniels, the founder and director of the Cicerone program, raving about the quality and flavors in the AC Golden sour beers on display. We bonded. 

What's your favorite style and beer?
I like to pretend that I'm egalitarian with respect to my choice of beer, but truth be told I'm a sucker for sours. While I'm assuming that this partially stems from my love of Sour Patch Kids as a child (and now), there's something truly magnificent about a brewer being able to harness various bacteria and coax them into turning out a complex, nuanced, and delicious beverage. Picking a favorite beer is a task I find nearly impossible, but I would be willing to say that Bockor's Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge is one of my favorite go-to sours. And Cantillon's Mamouche is one of the most exquisite beers that's ever passed my lips.

What's in your fridge right now?
Haha, what isn't in my fridge right now? I rarely buy 6-packs, and as such have a strange array of beers I'm planning to drink soon and beers I forgot to drink long ago. There's some Stone Soup and Berliner Weisse from New Glarus, an oxidized Duvel, an old can of Surly Furious, a can of Guinness (not quite sure where that came from), some Tallgrass Vanilla Bean Buffalo Sweat, an Imperial IPA from Hardywood Park, and a healthy selection of Gueuzes (Lindemanns Cuvee Rene, Oud Beersel, and Tilquin). Like I said, it's a mess. I don't even want to talk about the cases of barleywines, imperial stouts, and barrel-aged beers that are sitting next to my fridge.

What was the first beer that clued you in?
Summit Brewing Company's Horizon Red Ale. As a relatively newly-minted 21 year old, the only beer that I drank that could remotely be considered "Craft" was Summit's Extra Pale Ale. EPA was and remains a solid brew — well balanced and approachable, it was a quaffable symbol of my Minnesota pride. I remember seeing ads for their new red ale and marveling at the ruby hue. When I finally got a chance to try it, it didn't disappoint. There was something about it, a flavor that I couldn't put my finger on — "hops" I was told at the time. I needed to find more of these so-called "hoppy" beers, and so began my craft beer journey.

What's your most memorable beer moment?
The best beers are the beers you share with friends. I can think of a lot of great events I've had the pleasure of attending over the last few years, but one sticks out in my mind — the Brewfarm Classic. A friend of mine in MN conceived of the Classic a few years ago, an annual 70 mile bike ride from Minneapolis to Dave's Brewfarm in Wisconsin. The ride is harsh, but the reward is great — Dave's delicious beer, Natedogs quality weiners from a hotdog cart, and a night around the fire drinking and camping at the farm with 50 of your friends. 

Favorite watering hole?
Depends on the city. I feel like it's almost cliche to say that Hopleaf is my favorite beer bar in Chicago, but there's a reason that it always makes the list of best beer bars in the nation — they do amazing food and the freshest beer you can drink in the city, 365 days out of the year. Bangers & Lace takes a close second for their eclectic draft list and unbeatable dogs. Back in Minnesota, I have to send some love out to Republic at 7 Corners. They're already known as one of the preeminent beer bars in the Twin Cities and every time I go back, I'm amazed that they've somehow gotten even better.

What was your greatest beer hunt?
I'm not much of a beer hunter anymore — for every rare, highly sought after, one-off beer out there on the market, there's usually 5 others that are just as good and can be procured without waiting in lines for hours or selling your first born child. That said, on a recent trip to Burlington, VT, I drove about 100 miles out of my way to go sample beers at Hill Farmstead. My GPS failed me a few times and my Kia Soul rental barely made it through the last mile and a half of gravel road leading up to the farm, but getting to talk with Shaun Hill and sampling Satsuma (a barrel-aged Saison with Satsuma Mandarins) straight from the tank made the trek well worth my while.

What's a beer on your wishlist?
Anything from Cantillon. Have they ever made a beer that wasn't solid gold?

Bonus: What's the biggest misconception people have of being a Master Cicerone?
Hard to say as I haven't been one long enough for people to form too many misconceptions about me (I hope!). However, I do feel that sometimes people will make jokes about me judging them for what they choose to drink. I love introducing people to new beers and helping them expand their horizons, but if you try a bunch of beers and decide that at the end of the day, you're still happiest with your PBR, well, more power to ya.

You can learn more about the Cicerone Certification Program, where Pat develops content and proctors exams here.

Michael Kiser