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3-course interview: Karl Hartdegen 

The cicerone-certified brewer discusses fermentation

click to enlarge karl_hartdegen_cr_alexis_korman.jpeg

Photo by Alexis Korman

When his siblings gave him a home-brewing kit for Christmas one year, Karl Hartdegen couldn't have known where it would lead. He developed a love for brewing and eventually became a brewer for Crescent City Brewhouse. Hartegen now works at Big Easy Bucha (, and last year became the eighth person in Louisiana to earn the title of certified cicerone, denoting beer knowledge similar to a sommelier's mastery of wine. Hartdegen spoke with Gambit about the credential.a

Why did you pursue a cicerone certification?

Hartdegen: I was working as a chemist in the oil, gas and chemical industry and I had gotten a little burned out and needed to change gears. I had been home brewing for a long time and decided I wanted to get into the industry. The process and techniques of brewing were very similar to my educational and professional background while allowing for a large degree of creative expression. My interest also was fueled by the artisanal, hands-on, do-it-yourself nature of the brewing community. The community is among the most open and innovative that I have had the pleasure of being part of.

What does the cicerone certification process entail?

H: There are four levels of the certification program: the certified beer server, certified cicerone, advanced cicerone and master cicerone. I took the tier two certified cicerone exam, and there are only eight in Louisiana right now. Globally, there are 3,000-plus. At level one, there's roughly 90,000 individuals (worldwide), and at the advanced cicerone level there are about 60 people. There are only 13 master cicerones in the world. You pretty much have to be a walking encyclopedia to get the master cicerone certification.

  There are five key sectors of study. There's keeping and serving beer, beer styles, beer flavor and evaluation, beer ingredients and brewing processes, and pairing beer with food. For keeping and serving beer, you look at how you're purchasing and accepting beer from your distributor; how are you serving it — what kind of glassware and at what temperature the beer is at; whether you're being mindful of the alcohol content and whether you serve it in the appropriate size for the customer; maintenance of draught lines and things of that nature. The beer styles portion deals with understanding the beer styles, which includes the history, flavor attributes and basic characteristics of these styles. Beer flavor and evaluation comes down to certain tastes and aromas that are present in the beer — how to identify those flavors, name their source and being able to identify off flavors and name those sources.

  Beer ingredients and brewing processes deals with the operational side of brewing, and lastly, pairing beer with food deals with increasing your beer and food vocabulary so you can better describe nuances in flavors, whether that's for an industry (person) or when describing it to someone who might not be as familiar with the technical terms. It also deals with how flavors and carbonation work, as well as creating pairings and designing meals to elevate the beer.

What similarities exist between brewing kombucha and beer?

H: Kombucha brewing, as with beer, relies heavily on the fermentation process. Both industries produce a sweet liquid that microbes ferment. A brewer does not make beer or kombucha. Rather, a brewer makes sweet wort or tea and the microbes produce the final product. I like to say a brewer is much like a play director and can only set the stage for the performance. In that sense, a brewer sets the tone, lighting, adds props, holds castings and rehearsals, etc. But at the end of the day, the microbes are the performers. They may forget lines or miss a step, or produce a standing ovation, depending on the direction or individual efforts.


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