Beer baron knows his brew

Daniel MacEachern
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New Melbourne man is the first Cicerone, or beer sommelier, in Atlantic Canada

Mike Buhler knows his beer. Buhler — one of the two men, with Tom Beckett, behind special-order beer club Beerthief — is now a Level 2 Cicerone or beer sommelier.

It’s a designation that requires extensive knowledge of modern beer styles, as well as beer history, retail beer storage and service issues, as well as principles for pairing beer with food.

Buhleris the first one in Atlantic Canada, and one of just more than a dozen in Canada.

For Buhler, his desire for certification grew out of his appreciation for a wide range of beer styles.

“I’ve been trying new and different beer for over 20 years in my travels,” he said.

“I’ve developed a passion for lambics, particularly gueuzes. Gueuzes are my favourite style, which are pretty hard to get.”

In a beer bar in New York a couple of years ago, he learned of the sommelier program, and has spent much of his time since then studying — certification requires a Cicerone to pass a written exam with short answer and essay questions, as well as a tasting and demonstration component.

Beerthief, Beckett and Buhler’s company, operates an artisanal beer club that orders in special suds unavailable in Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. outlets.

Members get a periodic email — there have been five since the club started last fall — listing the range of offerings, and they order as much, or as little as they want.

Beckett thought it was going to be a simple beer-of-the-month club. Buhler had an idea it would become as big as it has. Neither expected it grow this quickly.

Desperate for more variety when he’s at home in Newfoundland from travelling, Buhler started working on the plan with Beckett.

NLC gave a thumbs-down to their beer-of-the-month club idea, so they tweaked it into a special-order club. NLC gave it the go-ahead, as long as they brought in at least 40 cases of beer in any order.

The first round — people

Buhler and Beckett know personally who were invited to sign up — saw the equivalent of 420 six-packs ordered, and the volume has grown with each order, as has the number of people subscribed to the mailing list — nearly 1,200 people (people can sign up at

The most recent offerings — a selection of Belgian beers — have drawn orders of the equivalent of nearly 1,900 six-packs.

“It’s slightly larger than what I thought it would go to,” said Beckett.

“I didn’t expect it to be this fast at all.”

If it gets much bigger, Beckett said, they’ll have to automate the process — right now he personally takes all emails from participants and tallies the order.

But he doesn’t mind.

“It’s a lot of fun. Lot of great people,” he said.

The men don’t make any money off the beer club, but Beerthief is also organizing tastings for profit and have other projects they’re working on.

Thursday is Buhler’s Cicerone coming-out party, with tastings at Quidi Vidi Brewing Co., at the Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corp. and Howley Estates.

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor, Quidi Vidi Brewing Co.

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, New Melbourne, New York Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Dave
    June 05, 2013 - 00:17

    Funny stuff Red. Just because you don't happen to like a certain beer must mean that no one can like it? I'm pretty sure that a few people in Belgium do not share your "qualified" opinion...and at least one guy in this country.

  • RED
    June 04, 2013 - 12:46

    I don't drink lime light or any other generic beer for that matter I was simply stating the fact that this beer is swill no matter who you are or what you drink. I wasn't insulting anyone just stating a point. I drink beer that you can't get in NL and alot of them are great craft beer from our own country, try one sometime. So I don't need to drink any overhyped grog from Belgium just because someone says it has to be good. I like to think for myself.

  • Kozel
    June 03, 2013 - 18:50

    Duchesse De Bourgogne is a wonderful Flanders Red ale. Great flavours. It may taste like vinegar to the lite-lime drinker. The Beerthief has been ordering some fantastic products. Mike and Tom are a blessing to this province's beer lovers. I'll drink a toast to you with a Propeller IIPA. Cheers.

  • Mike
    June 03, 2013 - 16:31

    Are you saying you don't like Flemish reds or that you just don't like Duchesse de Bourgogne? I definitely disagree with you that it's like drinking balsamic vinegar. Yes it's sour but it's supposed to be along with Flemish browns, lambics and Berliner Weiss. Yes it may be an acquired taste, but when you grow to love them they are deliciously complex beers.

  • Red
    June 03, 2013 - 10:29

    I know beer also and I know that the particular beer he is drinking in this picture is terrible, unless you enjoy drinking balsamic vinegar.