Learning About Beer: Becoming a Certified Cicerone®

[Ed. note: Earlier this month I introduced you to the Beer Judge Certification Program and mentioned that Lindsay from Love Beer, Love Food would be covering the Certified Cicerone Program. If you enjoy her article here please follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog. I promise she's got loads of great beer & food info. - Tom]

Hey there! I’m Lindsay, and I write a website called Love Beer, Love Food which is all about beer, home brewing, and cooking. Since I am a Certified Cicerone®, Tom asked me to come onto his lovely site here and explain more about the Cicerone program. As Tom mentioned, there are actually two kinds of ‘beer experts’ out there – Certified Beer Judge, which Tom recently achieved (hooray!), and Certified Cicerone® (pronounced sis-uh-rohn).

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Certified Beer Server®

The Cicerone program was created by beer guru Ray Daniels in an effort to standardize beer education and knowledge. There are three levels of certification through the program, the first which is Certified Beer Server (CBS). Certified Beer Servers must pass an online exam of basic beer knowledge in a specified time frame. Most people who are really into beer and have good knowledge of beer styles and service should be able to pass the CBS exam with a few days of studying. In fact, I’d highly recommend anybody who works with beer in any capacity (bar tender, restaurant manager, salesman, brewery employee, even beer bloggers) to at a minimum take this level of certification. (You should ask if your employer will pay for it, since it benefits them.) It’s the foundational knowledge that I would hope my local beer-tender has.

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Certified Cicerone®

In order to move onto the Certified Cicerone level you have to first pass the CBS exam. Certified Cicerones are expected to have an extremely well rounded knowledge of beer, the key areas are:
  • Beer Storage, Sales and Service
  • Beer Styles and Culture
  • Beer Tasting and Flavors
  • Brewing Ingredients and Processes
  • Pairing Beer with Food
You can find the lengthy syllabus on their website. The exam consists of three parts: written, video taped demonstration, and tasting component.
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To pass the Certified Cicerone exam, you have to be extremely well prepared. To give you some context, I have considered myself a major beer nerd for some time now, and I studied hard for about 6 months to prepare for, and pass, the exam. I heard from an insider that only about 25% of people pass on the first round. Part of what makes the exam so tricky is that the written portion is almost entirely write-in, which means you really need to know what you’re talking about. No multiple choice here.

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Also, you MUST pass the tasting component of the exam, or you fail the whole exam. The tasting part is difficult, requiring the test taker to sample a variety of beers, then identify styles and key off flavors. I was most concerned about the off-flavor tasting portion, but luckily my friend Scott over at Blank Slate Brewing helped me prepare. You can also purchase kits which come with a DVD and walk you through the whole process. I recently sat in on an this off flavor seminar and thought the information was great. It’s worth the cost if you split it with a few other people studying or just people interested in off flavors (home brewers, beer nerds, etc.).
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Master Cicerone®

The final level in the Cicerone program is Master Cicerone®. If the Certified Cicerone exam sounds hard, the Master is, well, ridiculously hard. Master Cicerones must have an extremely sensitive palate as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of all things beer. There are only 7 Master Cicerones in the world. In order to even sit for the exam, you must have substantial pre-requisite knowledge and experience, plus recommendations from folks who can speak to your professional experience. The exam is a two day affair with blind taste testing, oral examinations, and advanced off flavor and beer service acceptance components. It is no joke. You must have many years of experience and a profound understanding of beer to pass this exam.

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So, why do people want to become a Certified Cicerone®, you ask?

As opposed to BJCP, which is great for folks who are judging beer competitions or are working in a brewery, Certified Cicerone® and Master Cicerone® are professional certifications for people who work in the beer industry. Those could be tap room or restaurant managers, beer distributors, brewery workers, etc. It gives you major credibility in the industry because people recognize the difficulty of the examination and the amount of beer knowledge you have. Personally, I wanted to become a Certified Cicerone mainly to boost my credibility as a writer, as well as give me the opportunity to consult and teach. Since passing the exam I’ve actually been able to network with some of my favorite local organizations and will be hosting my first official beer and food pairing event this Sunday May 25th at Findlay Market!

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Unlike BJCP, taking the Certified Cicerone exam is a substantial financial investment so I wanted to make sure I could use my skills and make the investment worthwhile. I’m extremely glad that I went for it – I feel confident about my beer knowledge and it has opened up doors that I never expected. If you work in the beer industry, I would highly recommend starting with CBS and working your way up to Certified Cicerone. Throughout the process of studying for the exams, I de-bunked beer myths that were entrenched in my head, as well as increased my own worth in the beer world. While the exams are a financial investment, I received my test results in just one month, as opposed to BJCP which can take much, much longer. If you want to be a beer judge though, then BJCP is the way to go. For folks wanting to work in the beer industry, I’d suggest the Cicerone program – of course you can always do both just for fun!
Cheers!
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