Rich Higgins was recently certified as a master cicerone, just the third person in world with the title. His beer program is featured at San Francisco restaurants Starbelly and Delarosa. And he has his own place, Social Kitchen and Brewery, at 1326 Ninth Ave.
Who had the biggest influence on you in your life?
There are a lot of people who have had enormous influence on me, but my grandfather had great commitment, intelligence, a love of life and sense of humor that I’ve always tried to live up to.
Who do you turn to in tough times?
In tough times, I try to make sure I’m not too wrapped up in my own life that I’m forgetting my commitments to what’s important to me.
Where do you find inspiration?
There’s a ton of inspiration in a glass of beer. It can give me ideas for what to brew next or what food to pair with it, but it’s really great when it just silences me and reminds me that there’s some magical interplay among yeast, grains, water and the land that’s been going on for much longer than I’ll be around for.
How did you get started in the field of beer?
When I moved to San Francisco seven years ago, I spent my first couple months sitting around in brewpubs, loving all the fresh beer. I was looking for a career change, and then it hit me: Someone’s gotta brew all this beer!
What sort of training do you have?
Like most American brewers, I spent several years homebrewing. My first batches were pretty much undrinkable, but eventually they got better and better. That was the same time I got really into cooking, and pretty soon I was hooked on pairing beer with food. The rest of my brewing skills I learned on the job from working for some great — and patient — brewmasters.
How would you describe your job?
Fun. I’ve got a couple jobs, actually. As a brewmaster, I can flex both my creative and my nerdy sides because of the mix of art and science that goes into brewing. And as a master cicerone, I get to help people interpret beer and to help restaurants and chefs serve the right beer with their food.
What kind of work did you previously do?
I spent a couple of years right out of college as a city planner. I worked for an incredible couple that really took me under their wing and taught me the policy and technical side to planning. In the end, though, it was a little too much time behind a computer when all I was yearning for was a beer with a great meal.
With so many fine microbrews out there, is there ever a reason or occasion to drink Bud or PBR?
Nope. Those beers are industrial mockeries of some really great, approachable, thirst-quenching beer styles — styles with history and integrity. You don’t have to sacrifice flavor for drinkability. Those beers are brewed with a