GRAND RAPIDS — Angela Steil may be young, but don’t hold that against her. Sit down with her over a pint and you are quickly aware of her beer knowledge. At 21 years and 3 months, she became the world’s youngest Certified Cicerone.

The Craft Beer Institute runs the program, and has designated the word Cicerone for those with proven expertise in selecting, acquiring, and serving a wide range of beers. This is no easy feat, and only accomplished by those who have dedication and sincere desire to achieve this certification. Applicants are tested in five different areas:

  • Beer Storage, Sales and Service
  • Beer Styles and Culture
  • Beer Tasting and Flavors
  • Brewing Ingredients and Processes
  • Pairing Beer with Food

“I remember when I was 19, sitting in a bar in Brooklyn, N.Y. I ordered the smoked pork entrée, and asked the bartender to recommend a beer. That beer and meal together — it was such a wonderful transcendent experience, I was like, ‘how do I continue this in my life?!’”

On a mission, Angela began looking up different certification programs, and the Cicerone program popped up. “The Cicerone program is a catalyst for people like me who wish to challenge themselves and hone in on their craft.” It seemed like a perfect fit.

With further research, Angela learned that Nicole Erny was the world’s first woman and youngest Master Cicerone; Steil decided right then and there that she was going to beat that title. The first step was completing the second tier of the program, Certified Cicerone.

“I saw the syllabus, and filled out every single portion of it, only if I was sure of the answer. Basically, I studied and studied. Memorized facts, read recommended books as much as possible, (like “Tasting Beer” by Randy Mosher and “The Brewmaster’s Table” by Garrett Oliver) pretty much anything I could get my hands on.”

In terms of tasting, which many people struggle with, Angela shares her tried and true method. “I did blind flight after blind flight after fucking blind flight. I broke it down by region, for example all German beers. I’d have friends bring over very traditional versions of a Kölsch, or a Weissbier. It’s much more significant to study this way, because all you have to rely on is your palate muscles, which you have to practice and nurture.”

In order to truly understand how the brewing process and systems work, Angela attended the Micro Matic Draft System course in Northridge, Calif. “By the time I got to this part [during testing], it was easy, it was an old hat.”

Passing all areas with flying colors, Angela now has four years to receive her Master Cicerone certification in order to beat the record. “It’s a fun little thing, the age — but it doesn’t really mean anything in and of itself. This is just going to hold me accountable. I know I must study within this timeframe, in order to take this test.”

Which, by the way, only seven people have passed so far.

Originally from Grand Rapids, Angela returned from modeling stints in California and New York to BeerCity USA with her new found expertise.

“I came to GR very specifically for the craft beer scene that is happening here. I wanted to come to Grand Rapids and be a part of it, and help direct it towards quality, not quantity,” she said. “I’m structuring a business model wherein I can create and host beer and food pairings and dinners. Outside of my emphasis on pairings, I’m looking to do beer judging, educational classes, beer writing, beer buying, event coordinating and consulting for bar menus and draft systems. However, I also plan on opening my own craft beer bars. All in all I want to wear many hats in the industry and become a well rounded beverage expert.”

Visit Angela at angelasteil.com and look for her upcoming articles on MittenBrew.