In 2010, Rich Higgins became just the third person to earn the prestigious Master Cicerone distinction (to date, there are only 13 in the world). He then started San Francisco-based Rich Higgins, Consultant à la Bière – a beer consultancy that works with restaurants, bars, breweries and other clients. In Hong Kong for a series of masterclasses as part of Landmark Men’s Appreciate the Craft event, Rich sat down with Coaster to chat about his passion for educating people about beer.
How’d you get started in the beer world?
I started homebrewing in college and fell in love with it. In 2003, I moved from Minneapolis to San Francisco with my wife and checked out all the local brewpubs. It hit me one day – someone’s gotta brew these beers, so why not me? I asked the brewmasters and they all said, “You don’t have any experience, seeya later” – but I finally wriggled my way into one. After that was about 10 years of professional brewing.
Along the way, I did more cooking and more travel to Europe. I got frustrated coming back to restaurants that had great food and wine, but not much in the way of beer. So I talked to some chefs and general managers as someone who could help. Things started to click and I launched my consultancy on the side. I’ve since left full-time brewing to focus on educating. I really like to play matchmaker; I know a lot of great beers out there and can see the opportunities for each. There’s added value when you pair with the right foods, have trained staff, pour through a clean draught system, use the right glassware – stuff that helps elevate the image of beer. That’s what I’m absolutely passionate about.
And you passed the highest level of the Cicerone exam…
In the middle of all that, the Cicerone fell into my lap. I like the idea of being able to look at beer from all sorts of angles – history, food pairings, draught dynamics, the geeky science stuff. I was fortunate enough to pass the Certified Cicerone exam in ’08 and then sat for the first Master Cicerone exam. I didn’t pass then, but I was encouraged enough by my score to think that I could come back the next year – and I did pass in 2010.
Where do you go from here in terms of learning?
The education doesn’t stop once you become a Master Cicerone. I see it as proof that I know how to learn about beer – of course, it doesn’t mean I know everything. So I want to keep learning, as it’s constantly changing and expanding. That makes me as much of a student of beer as I am a teacher – like, “Hey, I’ll share with you what I can, but let’s learn about this together.”