Meet Jennifer Balik: Cicerone Certified and an Expert in All Things Beer

Cicerone Beer Certification

Jennifer Balik — who works at Mims Distributing, a family-owned, Raleigh, NC-based beer and wine distributor – is one of few women in the country who is Cicerone-certified. Jenn is an expert in all things beer, even co-hosting a podcast, Tales From the Cask.

We talked to Balik about what it means to be a woman in the world of brewing and how becoming Cicerone certified had an impact in her career.

Q: Why do you think brewing is still such a male-dominated industry? Is that slowly changing?

JB: I think most people still think of beer as a guy’s drink but that is definitely changing! Marketing and branding have always been female dominated but now women are making their mark in the sales and brewing side of the business too. Since my market is pretty craft forward, I think we are also ahead of the game on the number of women in the industry as well.

Q: Do you think being a woman makes it harder or easier to get a footing in this industry? Any special challenges or fun stories you’d like to share?

JB: I think it is a little bit of both. Sometimes I think people may be less inclined to get in touch with me or consider me a buddy, but once you gain relationships and show that you know what you are doing being a women can make you stand out in the crowd of beards and plaid shirts. It’s always funny to me when I’m at an event and people assume I have just been paid to go hang out and hand out swag but then someone asks a question about the beer and they are surprised I know what I’m talking about.

Q: How did you get started in brewing and how did that lead to your involvement with Mims?

JB: I actually don’t have a background in brewing at all, I worked in event planning and marketing, which was how I started at Mims as a promotional assistant and then heading the marketing department for several years before getting into Brand Management.

Q: Can you tell our readers about your experience becoming Cicerone-certified?

JB: I got my Cicerone Server certification (first level) back in 2009. At the time, I was one of the first 800 people to get this certification; there are now thousands of cicerone servers worldwide. I took my Certified Cicerone test in July 2013 and it was definitely difficult. I prepared for a good month and managed to pass the first time but it was stressful!

In North Carolina, at the time I got my certification, there were only five females in the state who were Cicerones and I knew three of them. I think that speaks to how close knit the craft beer community is in our state. Now being a certified Cicerone is pretty much the standard if you want to sell craft in NC.

Q: Any particular projects or beer-related activities you’re working on right now?

JB: We grow Cascade hops on our property at Mims Distributing and have collaborated with a local brewery to brew beer with them for the last two years. This year we are actually building a small brewery on site to educate our staff and customers and hope to make use of our hops in house next fall.

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Diana Bocco is a writer and author who writes for Yahoo!, the Discovery Channel website, Marie Claire, Poplar Mechanics, and more. You can find more about her work on her website dianabocco.com.

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