Q & A with Lucy Burningham: Author of “My Beer Year”

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Our latest recommended read is My Beer Year by local Portland author Lucy Burningham, who gave us more than six minutes to answer six questions for us. Lucy has been recognized for her articles for mainstream  outlets like The New York Times, Bon Apetit, and The Wall Street Journal and her previous book Hop in the Saddle and A Feminist’s Guide to Beer Drinking. Her latest release is about a year of discovery and education spurred by an interest and growing love of beer that inspired her to become an expert and a certified Cicerone. You can meet her, get the book, and hear a few words this Sunday in Portland at Powell’s, or next Friday in Seattle at Book Larder.

My Beer Year is not like the usual beer books that take a look at a style of beer, beer history, or homebrewing, but is a first hand account of fun moments, experiences, travel and discovery. While reading it you will feel more like your along for the ride, and perhaps even learn and identify with the experiences instead of feeling like your learning from a cold manuscript.



My Beer Year is now available on Amazon and there is an author meet-and-greet this Sunday, November 6th at Powell’s City of Books downtown at 7:30pm. If you can’t make it, consider purchasing a copy here.



Here are 5 Questions with Lucy Burningham on her beer year:

Q: What is “My Beer Year” about and what is the perspective? It seems different than most beer books we feature in that it’s not a how-to, a history lesson, or an examination of an aspect of beer.

Lucy Burningham: My Beer Year is about my journey to become a Certified Cicerone. As you probably know, there’s no real coursework for this Cicerone exam, which covers everything from beer styles and beer history to brewing techniques and off-flavors. So the book follows my year of self study.

In addition to making tons of flashcards and taking classes on sensory evaluation and beer judging, I decided to have other experiences that would teach me what I needed to know to pass the test. I traveled to Yakima during the hop harvest, toured breweries in Belgium for the first time, and did less exotic things like help Ben Edmunds brew an IPA and clean draft lines with brewer Denver Bon at Hair of the Dog.

Q: What is the most interesting thing you learned while researching the book?

LB: Ah, it’s so hard to choose! My visit to Belgium was illuminating in so many ways. I’ve been fascinated by lambics and spontaneous fermentation for many years, so it was an absolute treat to spend time with Armand De Belder, one of the most famous lambic blenders in Belgium. He told me his life story, including the infamous bottle explosion of 2009, which nearly destroyed his career. He shared some incredible 3 Fonteinen gueuzes with me and Sarah Jane Curran, who was once the beer director at Eleven Madison Park. (She and I became friends as we traveled together in Belgium.)

Q: Did you discover any new favorite beers or styles in your research?

LB: I definitely started to appreciate subtle styles more. I’ll always have a soft spot for kolsch after visiting the German city of Cologne. It was wonderfully weird to be in a city that serves almost entirely one beer style (in small glasses from crazy servers wearing aprons, nonetheless). Kolsch isn’t a hit-you-over-the-head beer style, but one that’s wonderfully refreshing when done right and served fresh.

I took a great class from the master BJCP judge Bill Scheneller, and we covered many British and German styles I’d largely ignored up until then. I remember being slightly blown away when we tasted a Coniston Bluebird Bitter, a classic British “best bitter.” It seemed so perfectly restrained and balanced, with some caramel notes and a subtle breadiness. It was one of those beers that reminded me just how much I need to learn about styles that aren’t as readily available here in Oregon.
Q: What was the hardest part about the Cicerone exam?
LB: The quantity of information you need to know, plain and simple. There’s a reason there’s only a 40% pass rate on this exam. You need to understand 100+ beer styles beyond just memorizing things like IBU and ABV ranges. You have to develop a deeper understanding of how those beer styles were invented and how they connect to things like ingredient availability, brewing techniques, and cultural norms. The tasting portion of the exam also poses its own challenges. It’s really difficult to train your palate if you haven’t done that professionally before.
Lucy Burningham

Lucy Burningham

Q: What would be your tip for any aspiring cicerones?

 LB: The second you think you might want to study for this test, you should start studying. It takes time to process all the info, time you’ll regret not spending wisely when you sit down with your pen on test day. Also, consider forming a study group. I think it’s nearly impossible to study for the tasting portion on your own; you need to constantly be tasting beers with experienced tasters who can help you identify off flavors and drill down into the aromas and flavors that define beer styles.
Q: Now that you’re a Certified Cicerone, do you have any interest in becoming a Master Cicerone or a certified beer judge?
LB: After I took the Certified exam, I vowed never to take another beer exam again. It was such a tough test. But now that I have a little distance from the experience, I might have to backtrack. It was so rewarding to have a challenging beer goal that forced me to go deeper with this drink I’ve loved for so long. But I’m still not signing up for any BJCP or Cicerone exams anytime soon. Maybe someday? For now, I’m dreaming about doing something with beer and food pairings or heading to England or Germany for more beer research.




Portland Reading: My Beer Year 
Sunday, November 6 at 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Powell’s City of Books
1005 W Burnside St, Portland, Oregon 97209


Seattle Author Talk: My Beer Year
Friday, November 11 at 6:30pm
Book Larder
4252 Fremont Ave. N. Seattle, WA

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: [email protected]

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