A glass of beer on a picnic table in an outdoor beer garden.

The Art and Science of Beer

By Katie Mobley, on

This year marks the eighth year of Longwood’s Beer Garden. Since debuting our Beer Garden in partnership with Victory Brewing Company in summer 2015, we have worked together to craft and debut 10 unique brews in our Longwood Seasons series. Throughout the years, we’ve grown in our Gardens strawberries, peaches, nectarines, lemons, grapefruit, cherries, and blackberries, as well as harvested honey, to create these selections—and this year we are thrilled to debut three new Longwood Seasons brews featuring crops grown in our Gardens, including the July release of Longwood Seasons: Berry Breeze. We’re celebrating this newest brew with a special evening in our Beer Garden featuring Victory’s Senior Manager of Education and Training Max Finnance—who happens to be one of only 22 Master Cicerones in the world. Representing the highest level of certification in the beer world, a Master Cicerone has outstanding tasting abilities with an encyclopedic knowledge of commercial beers … and we can’t wait to get a taste of the vast knowledge he’ll be sharing. Finnance shares with us his thoughts on his renowned title, what it’s like to work with beer and those who create it, drink it, and judge it; and what he wishes people knew about beer.

Born and raised in Connecticut, Finnance spent five years in the Navy as a nuclear electrician on submarines before earning his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Connecticut. “I was a bartender at an Irish pub while I was working my way through college and realized I was more passionate about beer than anything I was learning in school,” shares Finnance. “Not the typical college kid focus on keg stands and beer pong, but in how it was made, differences between styles, and all the geeky stuff. It has sort of snowballed from there over the past decade.” 

After graduating from school, Finnance started as a sales rep for Sixpoint Brewery and then moved into an education and quality role after passing the Advanced Cicerone exam (the third tier of the Cicerone Certification Program). As a whole, the Cicerone Certification Program is dedicated to educating and certifying beer industry professionals ranging from bartenders to brewery employees in all facets of beer so that they can be better informed stewards for their customers.

A person in a light blue shirt and gray baseball cap smiling at the camera while holding a class of beer.

Senior Manager, Education & Training for Artisanal Brewing Ventures Max Finannce. Photo provided by Max Finnance.

Finnance’s Master Cicerone title means he has earned the fourth and highest tier of the Cicerone Certification Program. Candidates for Master Cicerone participate in a two-day exam that includes many written, oral, and tasting components. The written component consists of essay questions in which candidates demonstrate the depth and breadth of their knowledge, while oral examinations are conducted by industry experts and often involve hands-on demonstrations of knowledge. Taste assessments include an extensive range of off flavors, blind assessment of beer styles, and descriptive analysis of blind samples.

"Preparing for the Master Cicerone exam was the result of years of dedicated beer study, with several months of 40-plus hours per week of cramming towards the end,” shares Finnance. “Besides reading the 20-plus books on the syllabus, I created over 1,000 flash cards, made recordings of myself reading my own notes so that I could listen to them as I drove or fell asleep, and set up a whole pantry of beer samples that my wife could select from to blind test me on, just as some examples.” The result? Gaining his Master Cicerone title in 2022—and being only the 22nd person in the world to do so.

Not only is Finnance a Master Cicerone—he’s also a Master Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Judge—of which there are only 172 in the world. What’s more? Finnance is one of only two people in the world to hold both titles.

The BJCP focuses on producing high-quality beer judges through an exam covering technical aspects of brewing, world beer styles, and judging procedures, and by demonstrating practical judging skills. Among the BJCP written exam requirements were writing a recipe from memory for a style of beer they chose, among other challenges. Finnance is an avid beer judge, having judged some of the most prestigious competitions in the world, including the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup, along with international competitions in Spain and Argentina.

“Earning these certifications places a level of responsibility on the holder to maintain a very high level of education and awareness, especially as science and practices grow and change in the brewing industry,” shares Finnance. “Once people start to look to you as a role model for beer knowledge, doing justice to the certifying organizations becomes a personal responsibility that we all take very seriously,” he continues. To that end, Finnance’s role at Victory is not only critical, but mirrors Victory’s value of quality and education within the craft beer space, as well as their goal to include those into such a space that could otherwise feel intimidating.

A persons hand taking two plastic cups of beer from a wooden bar.

To Finnance, “I believe there is a beer out there for just about everyone, it’s just a matter of taking the time to find it.” Photo by Hank Davis.

While there’s certainly seriousness involved in his career, there’s also a lot of fun. “The most fun part about my position is the people I get to spend time with,” shares Finannce. “Whether it’s my colleagues at Victory and across Artisanal Brewing Ventures, our wholesaler partners, our customers, or friends across the industry, there are tons of interesting, great folks in the craft beer world.”

And what does he enjoy most when it comes to educating others about beer? “I really love getting to see someone’s face light up when they taste a new style of beer for the first time and realize that beer can be a much wider spectrum of flavors than they previously thought.”

To Finnance, there are many myths around beer that he’s eager to dispel. “You hear lots of people say ‘I'm an ale drinker’ or ‘I only like lagers’, but that almost always tells me they don't have a complete understanding of what those terms mean. Ales are brewed with a different type of yeast than lagers, but for many styles of beer that difference isn't relevant to the customer experience. Both ales and lagers can be pale in color or jet black, low bitterness or high, very low alcohol or high, light in flavor or incredibly intense, and on and on. If you think you're only a lager drinker, I can find ales that would change your mind, and vice versa.”

During Finnance’s Festive Friday talk at Longwood, taking place in our Beer Garden on July 14 at 7 pm, he’ll be delving into the nuances of the beers that Victory Brewing Company brews exclusively for Longwood, including our newest flavor—Longwood Seasons: Berry Breeze—which will be available that evening in the Beer Garden and through August, while supplies last. In September we will debut Longwood Seasons: Hibiscus Harvest Ale, followed by Longwood Seasons: Holiday Mule Ale for the holidays.

A cluster of blackberries growing on a plant.

Black raspberries, grown and harvested here at Longwood, will be one of the key ingredients in the new Longwood Seasons: Berry Breeze. Photo by Hank Davis.

“I’m excited to see how much people enjoy the beers we brew specially for Longwood, and hopefully the folks who are able to attend will leave with a deeper appreciation for what goes into making a great beer, and where the flavors they love are coming from.”

Editor’s note: Our talk with Finnance on July 14, 2023, as part of Festive Friday: It’s a Philly Thing has been canceled due to the possibility of inclement weather.

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