“Beer saved my life.” Zach Rosen—the youngest “certified Cicerone” in the world—isn’t joking.
As a UCSB student, the Antelope Valley native suffered from a debilitating stomach illness, which even caused a mild stroke. While doctors struggled to find the cause, Rosen discovered that beer calmed his intestinal woes, even though drinking alcohol in such an anemic state was dangerous. It turns out that the anti-bacterial properties of the beer’s hops were cutting down on his problem way before it was identified as h. pylori. “I was able to keep myself bandaged up until the doctors knew what was going on,” said Rosen, “and I did that with beer.”
His fondness for the fermented beverage was sparked while sipping a Stone Brewing India Pale Ale a few years ago. It was a “moment of clarity,” said the 23-year-old. “I just laughed and said to myself, ‘Well, I know what I’m doing for the rest of my life.” That path led him to the Cicerone certification, which is becoming the world’s foremost accreditation system for beer knowledge, much like the Master Sommelier program for wine servers. “People were making up their own titles, like ‘beer sommelier,’” said Rosen, “but there was no way to certify if they knew what the hell they were talking about.” He passed the formidable four-hour test last June, making him the youngest of the 100 or so Cicerones certified since the program began three years ago, and the only one in Santa Barbara.
The word “cicerone,” Rosen tells me over sips of the strong-but-smooth Belgian brew Klokke Roeland at the Dutch Gardens, where he’s worked for nearly five years, is an archaic English term for museum guide or docent. “That’s our spiel,” he said. “We’re guides who can take you anywhere you want with beer.” And he’s doing so this Sunday, October 17, by curating a beer pairing dinner at the SpiritLand Bistro that’s a benefit for the Ocean Futures Society. Teamed with Telegraph Brewing, Rosen will be presenting dishes such as Moroccan lamb tagine with Turkish vegetable fritters alongside the brewery’s Stock Porter and grilled prawns atop sesame cabbage slaw with the California Ale.
The young man, who also plans to consult with restaurants around town on their beer selection, is excited to share his relatively newfound knowledge. “People don’t realize how little about beer they really know,” said Rosen, noting that there are more than 100 different styles of beer. “It’s more dynamic, more sophisticated than wine. Beer is working with more of your taste buds.” In addition to his beer work, Rosen is finishing his chemical engineering degree via an online course offered by the University of North Dakota. The major makes sense, he explained, because “beer is one of the first chemical engineering processes ever done by man.”
As our ale sipping switched to He’Brew’s Rejewvenator and Schneider-Weisse’s Aventinus, Rosen’s intensity did not fade, as he showed off a thick, nearly $200 textbook he’d just purchased called Beer in Health and Disease Prevention. “For me, it’s a Holy Grail quest—I’m never going to finish, so I never worry about reaching the end,” said Rosen, adding with a laugh, “And then again, it’s just beer.”
With so much beer passion, Rosen is frequently asked why he’s chosen to stick around Santa Barbara, a town with a growing ale reputation but one that whimpers compared to brew-hubs such as San Francisco, Portland, and Boulder. “I don’t want a worn battlefield,” said Rosen, who grew up the son of silkscreeners and sculptors, the grandson of a cookbook author. “I’m looking for a blank canvas. I’m an artist, not a warrior.” And Rosen’s determined to stay, pledging, “I really feel that Santa Barbara can be a drinking mecca.”
Upcoming Beer Events
• Santa Barbara Beer Festival: Featuring 25 brewers from Santa Barbara and beyond. Benefits Elings Park and the Santa Barbara Rugby Association. Saturday, October 16, noon-4 p.m. Elings Park. $45 advance/$55 door. Call or see sbbeerfestival.com.
• SpiritLand Bistro’s Telegraph Five-Beer Organic Dinner: A benefit for Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society. Reservation required. Sunday, October 17, 6:30 p.m. $65. SpiritLand Bistro, 230 East Victoria Street. Call 966-7759.
• Pierre Lafond Bistro’s New Belgium Beer Dinner: Featuring Hoptober Golden Ale, 1554 Black Stout, and more. Reservation required. Thursday, October 28, 7 p.m. $40. Pierre Lafond Bistro, 516 State Street. Call 962-1455.