The Personal Trainer: Cicerone Content Director Pat Fahey
Occupation: Content Director
Time in position: Since July 2012
Previous job: Founder, Minneapolis-St. Paul Beer School and private tutor
Every office needs a designated grown-up, someone who won’t let anything subpar slide, a person who volunteers for the toughest tasks, and does so with good humor. At the Chicago-based beer server certification program Cicerone, that role is occupied by content director Pat Fahey.
“It’s not something that the world sees,” says Cicerone’s founder and global director Ray Daniels, “but it’s something that we spend a lot of time making sure of—if we say something or put it in print, that it’s verifiable. We’re not making it up or repeating something that somebody else made up. That’s how a lot of the myths and misinformation get out there in the beer world.”
Correct and verifiable information is Cicerone’s stock in trade, since the organization is dedicated to educating, testing, and certifying beer industry professionals. As one of the authorities on beer and brewing information, Cicerone requires Fahey’s academic precision. His degree in organic chemistry, combined with a longtime love of beer and teaching, help him assemble and disseminate information with meticulous care.
“It doesn’t happen very often, but there have been instances when Pat’s held my feet to the fire about these things, and that obviously improves the overall content and the overall quality of what we do,” Daniels adds.
After Fahey, a Twin Cities native, graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2010, he passed the Certified Cicerone exam in 2011. Shortly after that, Daniels’ wife met Fahey in Minnesota, where he co-founded and ran the Minneapolis-St. Paul Beer School. She thought Fahey could be a potential asset for Cicerone and brought him to her husband’s attention. Daniels arranged a meeting with the 24-year-old Fahey at Chicago beer bar Hopleaf.
“After 10 or 15 minutes, I was no longer assessing, I was selling,” Daniels says, quickly discovering how well Fahey’s skills would fit at his company.
Fahey began on a contract basis by grading and proctoring exams and providing other exam content management services. In 2012 he moved to Chicago to work at Cicerone full time.
Since he’d already ruled out lab research and academia as career goals (“research and laboratory work were absolutely not my jam”), Fahey tutored math and science while trying to decide what to do with his chemistry degree. The opportunity offered by Daniels in Chicago came at a fortuitous time in his professional life. “It was a nice intersection of my two passions, education and beer,” Fahey says. “I don’t know how my skills would have fit in more traditional beer industry roles.”
Today he also presents at conferences, conducts training, and judges competitions like the Great American Beer Festival. “I like to interact with a lot of people and see the light bulb go on in their heads when they learn something new.”
Fahey’s work at Cicerone with food pairing also gave him the opportunity to participate in the Brewers Association’s Beer & Food Working Group, alongside food, science, and beer experts, including Julia Herz, the organization’s craft beer program director.
“Pat is super down to earth,” Herz says. “He’s very generous sharing his wealth of knowledge, and amazing intellect.”
She also describes Fahey as a true leader in beer education who uses his role at Cicerone to help advance the beer industry. Herz says she’s watched Cicerone grow from nothing into one of the country’s strongest beer education programs. When Fahey started working with Daniels, there were around 10,000 Cicerone Beer Servers, people who had achieved the first level of certification. Five years later, there are over 80,000. The program has grown stronger and larger because of Fahey and the rest of the team behind it, Daniels says.
“The entire world of beer education is on fire,” insists Herz. “There’s a much more advanced beer palate for beer lovers and retailers today than ever before.”
Fahey agrees. “If you look at what’s happened in beer over the past five to 10 years, there’s a wider variety of styles, flavor profiles, and ingredients. Breweries and bars want to provide a great and uncomplicated time for [consumers], so they need to learn how to demystify the process for them.”
According to Fahey, Cicerone’s preparatory materials were created in response to consumer demand, and the extent of these resources has grown alongside the number of people sitting for the exams. The availability of training and testing has expanded as well, with more access to the program available worldwide. In recent years, Daniels has focused on international markets in Europe and Asia, leaving Fahey to keep the mothership running.
The administration of the Master Cicerone exam, the company’s highest level of certification, is now under Fahey’s purview, too. In 10 years only 13 people have achieved this milestone. Fahey is one of them, and when he passed the exam in 2013, he became the youngest to do so. “God, it was terrible,” he says of the experience. Before the two-day test, which involves written, oral, and tasting components, it was all he focused on, single-mindedly studying and preparing for nearly an entire year, “to the exclusion of almost everything else in life.”
Fahey notes that many people were taking the Master exam in the hopes of distinguishing themselves from second level Certified Cicerone, but found it much, much tougher than anticipated. To bridge the gap, Fahey helped create the Advanced Cicerone level, introducing it in 2015. He warns that it’s still a really difficult exam—in 2016 only 27 of 210 people have passed.
Anything else would be out of character, though. Like any good teacher or a responsible grown-up, Fahey is constantly challenging prospective Cicerones, and in turn, the greater beer community, to do a little better. ■