Owen & Engine bartender and manager Elliot Beier, 29, is trying to achieve what only six others have worldwide — to become a master cicerone, or the ultimate beer lover.
The Cicerone Certification Program, founded in Chicago in 2007, offers beer enthusiasts what wine lovers have been able to do for years — prove that they have an "encyclopedic knowledge" of beer and achieve a "master" status.
At the time, Beier already was only the 35th person to get to the program's second level, certified cicerone, but with a less than 10 percent passage rate, becoming a master cicerone is a whole new ball game.
As if the four-hour certified cicerone test wasn't grueling enough, the master cicerone exam is given over two full days, 12 hours of it — yes, 12 hours — are spent on essay questions, with two hours of oral questions and two hours of blind testing, according to program spokeswoman Jenny Pfafflin.
The first day will be spent in a beer-dispensing facility outside Rockford, and the second at Emmett's Brewing Co. in Palatine.
"Yeah, the master cicerone candidates are pretty frazzled right now," Pfafflin said.
It isn't all tasting and knowledge of beer history. Candidates must also be able to assemble a complete draft system or repair a faulty one.
"Every free moment I have, I've been studying," Beier said Monday.
On top of 70-plus-hour work weeks at Owen & Engine, free moments are few and far between.
Still, it is the obvious path for someone who loves beer as much as Beier, so much so that he remembers precisely which beer it was that turned him on to the stuff forever — the Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar, made by Rogue Ales out of Newport, Ore.
"It was almost the polar opposite [of beer I'd had before]," he said. "Instead of being light and fizzy and almost flavorless, it had a lot of body and sweetness — it had a lot of character. And then I discovered hops after that ..."
It's clear the Logan Square resident loves drinking beer, thinking about beer and talking about beer, but pinning down his favorite beer is a different story.
"Asking me which beer is my favorite is like asking which child is my favorite," he said. "Generally, it's whatever happens to be in front of me at the time."
The master cicerone examination will be given Wednesday and Thursday. Beier and the handful of other candidates taking the exam this round will have to wait about two months before hearing whether they passed.
"Yeah, I'm nervous," Beier admitted. "I'm excited, but I'm nervous."