Nicole Erny
Photo: Alex Farnum
On the grueling, 14-hour Master Cicerone Certification Exam...
"It's intense—two full days. Ten hours of writing. And two kinds of tastings: In one you have to detect the flaw of the beer down to the compound name. In another you have to describe the flavor profile and identify the style of beer, which is often obscure. It's very tricky." (Of the 11 candidates to attempt the exam in 2011, only Erny passed.)

On choosing pale ale over pinot...
Erny grew up near California wine country but naturally gravitated toward beer. "There's too much posturing in the wine world; I don't have the personality for it."

On the state of her liver...
"Most people think all I do is drink beer all day, but I probably drink less now than I ever have." Erny currently oversees the planning of the Certified (second-level) Cicerone exam and travels the country training beer aficionados.

On working with mostly bearded, big-bellied guys...
"Being quite a bit younger than most, and a woman, I've certainly run into walls within the beer community. I was partially fueled by my own defensiveness to get the certification, to earn legitimacy among my peers. But sometimes there's actually reverse sexism: 'Oh, you're a woman? You must have super tasting powers.'"

Next: How to upgrade your brew IQ

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