Skip to main content

News and Media

Open Main MenuClose Main Menu
Patrick Combs stands in front of barrels.

Crafting Success: The unconventional journey of an OSU alumnus

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Media Contact: Page Mindedahl | Communications Specialist | 405-744-9782 |

Amidst the clinking glasses and laughter of friends, Patrick Combs had a sip that sparked a revolution in his career.

Combs never had a traditional route to success. He bounced around schools, majors and careers most of his life, looking for the right path. 

But once he took that sip, it all came together for him. He realized every change led him to this point and it was something better than he ever imagined. 

Originally from Flagstaff, Arizona, Combs moved to Oklahoma with his parents when he was 16. After graduating high school, he elected to attend Oklahoma City Community College. Following his time at OCCC, Combs spent a year at the University of Oklahoma before he moved 80 miles north to Oklahoma State University 

“I really liked what I found in Stillwater,” Combs said, “OSU became this magical place where everybody was family.” 

The Pivotal Pour

Today, it might seem odd to hear Combs say that at one point he was not a beer guy. 

In fact, his parents were wine people. He grew up tasting and smelling red wines that had flavor notes of chocolate, red fruits and florals. It was not until after his 21st birthday that Combs even began tasting beer. 

A late night at Louie’s on Main Street changed his life forever. Combs calls it his “Pivotal Pour,” a simple sip of a friend’s Sierra Nevada Pale Ale got his mind spinning and yearning for more. 

“It was the first time that I had a beer that made me stop and go, ‘Wow, this is really different.’” Combs said. 

That one moment shared with a few friends, pizza and beer was a catalyst for Combs’ career. He began taking an interest in the craft brewing industry, even conducting his capstone project on a popular Oregon craft brewery. Although he was skeptical at first, his capstone professor, Don Mitchell, became a huge advocate for him and his passion for the beer industry. 

Mitchell put Combs in contact with the CEO of that popular craft brewery in Oregon so he could present his capstone project directly

Patrick at OSU after presenting his capstone 2013
Patrick at OSU after presenting his capstone 2013

to the person in charge. Combs pitched ideas which suggested the company reposition itself in the Midwest and presented a plan that would bring the company into college bars. To add to the pressure pitch, there was an entry-level marketing position open with the company. Not only was Combs presenting his ideas to the CEO, but he was hoping to be considered for the position as well. 

“She hated all my ideas and basically told me everything that I had in my proposal was not doable,” Combs said.

After his presentation, Combs felt that working in the beer industry professionally was wishful thinking. He ended up taking a job at Cerner in Kansas City, Missouri, working as a consultant, but he still maintained a heavy interest in beer. 

Becoming a Master in Craft

While working at Cerner, Combs traveled Monday-Thursday, leaving him with a lot of free time in airports and hotels. 

This is where Combs discovered an obsession with studying beer. For three years, he spent his free time gleaning everything he could find about beer, taking up homebrewing simultaneously. It’s also when Combs stumbled upon the Cicerone program.

The Cicerone program began in 2007 after founder Ray Daniels learned the beer industry was not understood as well as the wine industry. In an interview with Brewer World in 2021, Daniels said, “I had become aware of just how often bars and restaurants knew utterly nothing about the beer they served — or how to care for it. From this, the idea of a ‘beer sommelier’ emerged and I started to think about what that might look like.” 

Thus, the Cicerone program was born.

Combs began his path in the Cicerone program late at night in a hotel room. He passed the first level certification , “Certified Beer Server,” followed by the second level, “Certified Cicerone,” all while still working at Cerner and brewing at home.

Patrick home brewing in Kansas City, 2013
Patrick home brewing in Kansas City, 2013

The next certification Combs looked to tackle was the newly added level three, “Advanced Certification.” The Cicerone program describes it as a means to “distinguish those individuals who had advanced their knowledge to an expert level.” It meant Combs needed to learn and understand new levels of beer tasting, including off-flavors. 

He began to find that this portion of the certification would become a costly venture, estimating that he would need to spend anywhere from $800-$1,000 every time he performed a tasting session. 

His solution? Entering the uncharted territory of starting his own business. With the tools and confidence he gained from the Spears School of Business at OSU, Combs founded a company that would train breweries and servers on the off-flavors of beer, offering classes in the Kansas City area. Not only did it allow Combs to study and practice for his “Advanced Cicerone” exam, but it also improved the craft brewing industry he fell in love with.

After taking his first try at the “Advanced Cicerone” exam and learning he hadn’t passed, Combs’ wife, Megan, learned that her career would be taking her to Denver, a major brewing city. 

At that point, Combs had applied to hundreds of beer-related jobs but was always told he lacked any professional industry experience — until he found a job listing for a “Sensory Scientist” at Avery Brewing in Boulder, Colorado. Combs sent out another resume hoping to finally get his chance in the beer industry. Avery Brewing replied, requesting an interview the following day. The problem? Combs was still home in Kansas City, more than 600 miles away. 

“I said I just happened to be in town … which was a total lie,” Combs said. “Because I knew they weren't going to fly me out there. So, I drove all night and showed up the next day and I interviewed.”

Avery Brewing told Combs that out of the hundreds of applicants and the 20 people they had interviewed, none of them had the sensory training that Combs possessed. Combs’ business had elevated his resume to the top of their pile, and he was offered the job on the spot.

Combs worked at Avery Brewing for two years where he earned his Advanced Cicerone certification in 2017 before becoming a production manager for Cerebral Brewing.

While Combs was at Cerebral, he took his first shot at the fourth and final level of certification with the Cicerone program, “Master Cicerone.” 

A Passing Grade

In the 17 years the program has been in place, only 28 people have passed the Master Cicerone exam.

It is not unusual for only one person to pass; up to 20 can take it annually.. The two-day exam includes 12 interviews, eight tasting panels and 16 essays. Only two people have ever passed on their first attempt. 

“I had never fought as hard as I did when I took that test,” Combs said.

Combs took his first Master Cicerone exam in 2019, missing the passing grade by just 10 points. 

Combs knew where he had left points on the table, and he felt more motivated than ever to achieve this goal. He buckled down on his preparation for his second attempt. Any free moment he had was spent flipping through flashcards. He started hosting dinners that included seven to nine-course meals, which allowed him to practice his beer pairings. For four years, Combs did everything he could to learn more about the industry and studied relentlessly for that second try. 

In 2023, Combs made the all-too-familiar trip to Kansas City for the Master Cicerone exam. After two days of testing, Combs left the exam feeling just as he had four years prior. 

“By the end of it, you're just done. You're just glad to be finished,” Combs said, “You don't even really care if you pass and I don't think there's anybody that leaves that test thinking ‘I crushed it.’”

After a grueling eight weeks, Combs learned that he and five others had passed the Master Cicerone exam. His class marked a record number of graduates. Of the six, none had passed on their first attempt.

Patrick, his wife Megan, and their daughter Charlotte after finishing the Master Cicerone exam in October 2023
Patrick, his wife Megan, and their daughter Charlotte after finishing the Master Cicerone exam in October 2023

Over 157,000 people have achieved a level of Cicerone certification in our program and hundreds of experienced beer professionals have sat for the Master Cicerone exam,” said Dan Imdieke, master cicerone and president of the Cicerone Certification Program. “... It’s a huge accomplishment for Patrick. We couldn’t be more excited to have him as a part of the Master Cicerone ranks. He did well across the board with particularly impressive scores on the blind tasting portion of the exam.”

Combs more than represents what it means to live out the Cowboy Code. His career has taken turns and been unpredictable at times, but his dreams were as big as the sky, which eventually led him to a job in his dream industry.  

 “I just put one foot in front of the other for a long time and it got me to where I wanted to go,” he said.

Back To Top
SVG directory not found.