You moved to Dallas from Philly four years ago. Does that mean you’re an Eagles fan?
Indeed, I am. But you don’t have to include that.
You can’t be a Sixers fan.
Who could be a Sixers fan? Nobody, right? No, but I did enjoy going to games back in the day. That’s where I had my first pork and broccoli rabe sandwich, which is my favorite traditional Philly sandwich. It’s the best sandwich—next to peanut butter and banana—in the whole world. What I remember most about going to Sixers games was that’s where I had that sandwich for the first time.
With a palate like yours, do you have a lot of memories like that, where a food that impressed you is connected to a place?
Yes, or when I drank certain beers. If you say “Sixers game,” I don’t think about the games themselves. I think food. Or when I think of going to a Bills game, I picture the game, but I also picture Victory Brewing Company’s beer garden.
Could anyone with enough study and practice get to the point where their palate is as refined as yours, or, like Allen Iverson, were you born with a physical gift?
I think it’s half and half. I guess I did have something that I didn’t know I had until I exercised it. But if people were dedicated to it, like anything, you can develop and refine your palate.
How long did it take you to prepare for the Master Sommelier exam?
Eight years. Then it took me three tries to pass the exam, which is pretty normal. Now, as the director of education at the Court of Master Sommeliers, I help administer that exam, and I’m in charge of the education side. We teach 98 introductory classes around the country, with about 6,200 students.
You are one of only three Master Sommeliers in the country who is also a Certified Cicerone, which is the equivalent for beer. Have you met the other two?
Yeah! I’m really good friends with Thomas Burke, in Las Vegas, and Doug Krenik, from Colorado.
Can the three of you protect this very exclusive club? Do you know when a Master Somm takes the Cicerone test, and can you Tonya Harding that thing?
No! I know when one of the Master Somms is interested in taking the next step, but I don’t know when people are testing.
What’s your favorite liquid?
As a cyclist, I have to say water. But after that, it’s between beer and coffee. Coffee in the morning, and then it just transitions into beer at night. My favorite beer mug also works as a coffee mug.
You’ve been all over the country and seen the resurgence of craft beer in different cities. How is Dallas doing by contrast?
We’re now on par with some of the best cities around the country. Maybe not Boulder or San Diego just yet. But in the last four years, we’ve really caught up.
Have we hit peak beer? How many more breweries can Dallas sustain?
The thing I worry about is differentiation. When you look at that wall of cans at Central Market, they all kind of look alike. They all have the bright colors and interesting packaging. In this wall of local cans, how do I decide what I’m going to buy, when there’s, like, 40-plus local breweries vying now for that shelf space?
You’re not a large person. Given your job, how do you stay sober?
I don’t drink as much as people think I do. When I’m out, I taste a lot of stuff, but I don’t actually consume that much. But, believe me, it hits me when it does. The other night I came back from a race in Tulsa and went to Goodfriend. They had one of my favorite breweries on tap, Jolly Pumpkin, from Michigan. I had, like, two beers and was like, “Oh, no! I need to walk home!”