Many have heard of a sommelier—a knowledgeable wine professional who specializes in aspects of wine making, judging, food pairing, etc., but have you ever heard of a Cicerone (sis-uh-rohn)? Basically it’s the equivalent of a sommelier but with regards to BEER*. Don’t get too cocky yet and call yourself a cicerone just because you’ve gone through a lot of craft beer and brewed a batch or two. A cicerone is no self-proclaimed title. There exists a certification program that is open to the public which officially gives recognition to those who have put their time in to explore, understand, and embrace the art and science of beer, from its production to the consumer. Thanks to a brilliant man by the name of Ray Daniels, creator of the Cicerone Certification Program and veteran to the craft beer industry, thousands of people are lining up to take this well constructed set of exams which many fine dining establishments and beer companies find useful, desirable and sometimes even necessary for their employees to attain.
The Breakdown: The Cicerone Certification Program was started by Ray Daniels in 2008 when the craft beer market was experiencing the beginning of what will be known as the craft beer renaissance of our time (that is, if this era of good beer ever ends to allow us to look back on it). The purpose of the program was in no way just a means to turn a profit. Ray Daniels says he had it in mind to make a program that was, first and foremost, useful to the beer community. With that in mind, there have been thousands of members of the beer community who have actively chosen to pursue the Certified Cicerone Program, and not the other way around (i.e.: a force-fed curriculum directed towards anyone wanting to work in the beer industry).
Level 1, Certified Beer Server: The Cicerone Certification Program means going beyond your capability to talk about beer at the table with your guest. More so, it requires knowing the prep work involved in order to deliver a good product. There are three levels of Cicerone that exist within in the program: Certified Beer Server (online multiple choice exam), Certified Cicerone (level 2) and Master Cicerone (level 3). For the record, there are only 4 Master cicerones in the world, in addition to Mr. Ray Daniels, so don’t feel too left out. The Beer Server exam can be taken online at any time for a small fee. Many corporate restaurants are requiring that their bartenders take the beer server exam so as to ensure both quality control of the product as well as maintain a well educated staff on the subject of serving beer. Practice tests and study guides are available online to prepare you for the exam(s). Passing this exam grants you the right to wear a special little pin that says “I’m a certified beer server”, or something like that (I’m not sure, I lost my pin). As of today, there are now more than 10,000 Certified Beer Servers. Good job beer community, we are well on our way to a beer savvy society
Level 2, Certified Cicerone: The areas of knowledge under the Certified Cicerone Level 2 exam apply to several aspects of beer including: proper storage of beer, the brewing process, serving beer, familiarity with historical as well as modern beer styles, the draft system, identification of spoiled or flawed beers, and recommendations of beer parings with different foods. This exam is much more involved (lasts about three hours with both a written/essay portion and a beer tasting portion) and usually takes place at a predetermined location. For Southern California beer geeks who are thirsty to get their chance at becoming a Certified Cicerone, look no further than San Diego this May to take the level 2 exam at the Craft Brewers Conference (I’ll be there!). As of today, about 350 people are Certified Cicerones.
Level 3, Master Cicerone: This is the highest level and most involved portion of the certification program. This exam lasts 2 full eight–hour days of both written and tasting portions. According to the Cicerone website, in order to become a Master Cicerone, “Candidates must demonstrate mastery of all knowledge areas and tasting capabilities outlined in the Master Syllabus.” Honestly, I’m afraid to even look at that syllabus.
Anyone can call themselves a beer sommelier, and quite frankly, you don’t even need to have brewed a beer in order to pass any one of the cicerone exams (although I feel it would help tremendously having had a visual experience with brewing beer); however, no one can argue the fact that one’s knowledge and experience with beer and all of its wonders can be officially recognized by this incredibly useful and beneficial assessment.
This year's Certified Cicerone exam locations include: Boston, MA - Thursday, March 1, Time TBA Boston Beer Co. / Phillipsburg, NJ - Thursday, March 15th - Hunterdon Distributing / Asheville, NC - Friday, April 6, 11am to 3pm - Elaine's Dueling Piano Bar at Grove Park Inn / Washington, D.C. - Thursday, June 7th , 11am to 3pm - Meridian Pint
Follow this link to visit the Cicerone website*
To Learn more about the west coast beer scene, visit my blog: