Josh Scott is not your typical winemaker. It is not often that a person qualified in viticulture absconds to the Napa Valley by way of France to study winemaking techniques and returns with intel that he uses to create premium beer.
It is also not every day that someone who has dedicated their life to alcohol completes six Coast to Coast multisport races, the most recent of which was clocked just last month (placing him 20th overall in the competition).
And it is even more unlikely to somehow manage to train for these multisport races and concurrently sample 1,000 beers from all around the world in a bid to become New Zealand’s first qualified Cicerone (a Sommelier of the beer world).
But that’s exactly what Josh Scott did and has done.
When Josh Scott laid down his first commercial brew on 13 June 2003, Moa Brewing Co. was born. Back then you could count the number of craft breweries in New Zealand on one hand. Now there are over 100 and growing by the week.
The son of renowned Marlborough winemaker Allan Scott, Josh’s interest in all things liquid can be traced back much further than his wine studies and subsequent travels to a bootleg wine/raro mix operation he was running out of boarding school. Back then he was the go-to for rocket-fuelled party starters that impressed his comrades based on potency rather than palette. And it appears Josh is even more surprised than his Dad to fast forward to 2015 and find himself responsible for the 13-year strong Moa Brewing Co., with its focus on producing super premium handcrafted beers that (following his qualifications in winemaking) have at their roots a winemaker’s approach to brewing.
Moa’s Estate and Reserve range of beers are 100 per cent bottle conditioned. This is a secondary fermentation in bottle in line with the way Champagne is made. This traditional technique naturally carbonates the beer (rather than adding CO2 like you do with a SodaStream maker), significantly enhances shelf life and longevity, creates dynamic and complex flavours that change over time (like a good wine), and gives the brews an elegant, champagne-like mouth feel.
Today Josh is at the forefront of the craft scene, and is the only qualified Certified Cicerone in New Zealand.
The Cicerone program was developed in 2010 as a way to recognise the complexities and extent of the beer market in much the same way as professional sommeliers and the ‘Master of Wine’ program has.
Growing up in a winemaking family, Josh was no stranger to the term ‘Master of Wine’, a three year study and gruelling course based out of London. When his friends in brewing circles began talking of the same deal for beer, called a Cicerone, his ears pricked up. With three levels – a Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone and a Master Cicerone – the mix of theory, tasting and education hones in on what makes a good beer good, then uses that knowledge to improve all facets of the beer-drinking experience.
Studying for a full year before having the nous to reach his certification, Josh has already been tested on everything from the proper way to pour a beer to the anatomy of a hop plant. About 3,500 people have passed the beer server exam (level 1), and only 200 (a 30 per cent pass rate) have achieved the Certified Cicerone status he sat in January, where he gained a 99 per cent score in the tasting section.
“I tasted some 1,000 beers in the lead up to the exam, forking out hundreds of dollars per week importing exotic beers from all corners of the world and tasting, photographing and documenting my own personal notes in anticipation of the blind tasting. It was of course Murphy’s Law that the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale that tripped me up from scoring a perfect 100 in the tastings was what I call my epiphany beer, the one that propelled me to pursue brewing in the first place,” says Scott.
Perfect scores aside, Josh is excited to continue the program and become one of only a dozen beer wizards worldwide who have made the cut as a Master — a person who can legitimately claim to know almost all there is about various beer styles, proper serving procedures, beer pairings and the rest.
“Beer’s not just for guzzling. The Master Cicerone will be my driver for 2015. My biggest strength is my palate and thankfully this has the largest weighting in the Masters. Although the stakes are as high as the fail rate, on the plus side, it’s not every day that you’re encouraged to drink in class,” he finishes.
Josh will sit the final Cicerone Master test in November.