Bryan Paler confidently studies the sea of pilsners, ales, stouts and lagers lining the shelves of Cascadia Liquor Store in Colwood.
“We have 23 categories of beer in 84 distinct styles and anywhere between 300 to 600 offerings at our stores,” says Paler, Canada’s only certified sommelier and certified cicerone.
A cicerone, or expert guide, is the accreditation awarded by The Craft Beer Institute for identifying a beer expert.
“It’s essentially the equivalent of a wine sommelier, but for beer,” Paler says.
There are currently 37 certified cicerones in Canada, including four in Greater Victoria, but Paler’s combined titles put him in a league of his own when it comes to curating craft beer and imbibing good wine.
“If I’m wrong and someone else does hold both certifications, I will buy that woman or man a beer or glass of wine of their choosing and apologize for having stood up on that soapbox,” he says.
The advantage of being a cicerone, Paler says, is that he can easily explain to both his customers and employees what comprises good beer. It also allows him to stay on top of craft beer trends and source out limited release brews as they become available.
“We’re fortunate in the Pacific Northwest to have just a booming industry – a person can get lost in it. There are so many producers producing the same styles and there are different styles coming forward every day,” he says.
Many liquor store customers are looking for smaller quantity with better quality in their beers, but when it comes to demographics Paler said he’s thrown curveballs daily.
“We have one older lady who’s a label hunter. Her goal is to try a beer from every country in the world. If you sat next to her on the bus, you’d expect her to be a teatotaller, not a craft beer enthusiast,” he says. “And I’m always amazed when 19-year-old kids come in keen to learn about the craft beer varieties. How did they get into it this quickly?”
But even for a cicerone, it’s not all about barley wines and hophead beers.
“There’s something to be said about a really crisp, clean pilsner,” he says. “I drink Steamwhistle when I’m thirsty. It’s a great beer.”