You may have heard the term "Cicerone" thrown around in the beer world. But what does it really mean?
A Cicerone is like a sommelier of beer. The program got its start in 2007 by Ray Daniels, a Chicago brewer. From their mission statement: “The Cicerone Certification Program certifies and educates beer professionals in order to elevate the beer experience for consumers.” Portland-based craft brewer Widmer Brothers has gone a step further: they pay for exams and set up study programs, and even require the basic level for certain employees by the end of the year.
There are three levels of certification for Cicerone: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, and Master Cicerone.
If you work for a distributor that services large retail stores and restaurants you will probably be required to be certified to properly service your customers. If you are a server in a restaurant or brewpub you might want to for the sake of possible promotion, to obtain your Beer Server Certification. This might also be a condition of employment and be mandate by your employer. If all that you are serving is Budweiser Coors Miller of Pabst, this certification will be of little or no use to you.
You will need to know about the appropriate glassware to serve with what type of beer. You will be able to recommend, if asked, the best beer to pair with food. You will be able to explain the difference between 2 similar craft brews using the ABV percentage (Alcohol By Volume) and the PB (Perceived Bitterness) versus the actual IBU rating (International Bitterness Units). You will be able to change kegs, and know how long they need to be in the cooler to prevent foaming prior to use. You will learn how often and how to clean out keg lines and what temperature the kegs must be stored. Lastly you will need to explain, if asked the different types of beer and each of the flavor profiles.
This is a written supervised exam given by cicerone.org. It is $199, which includes the interactive material needed to study and prepare for the test. The test by itself is $69, and it consists of 60 questions and requires a score of 75% to pass. Each payment allows for two retakes. According to Julia Hertz of craftbeer.com, there were more than 1,000 Certified Beer Servers in the U.S. As of Aug 24, 2013, an additional 27,000 have become Certified Beer Servers.
A very basic online free program on Beer Savvy is offered on cicerone.org. This is the program included in the $199 fee. If you are already a beer drinking enthusiast you might just want to bolster your beer knowledge and skip the study material. If you are a relatively newcomer to beer brewing you might want to review the Beer Savvy program. The free demo gives sample questions and videos of subjects that are on the test.
This certification will allow you to educate servers to help them pass their Server Certification or get them to a level of knowledge that is acceptable to their employer. The certification test is comprised of two parts, a written and a tasting portion. It costs $395 for the first attempt of both tests, and $175 for the 2nd written attempt and $100 for the second tasting exam attempt.There were estimated 120 Certified Cicerones as of July, 2010. As of Aug 24, 2013, about 900 have passed the Certified Cicerone exam.
The cost for the Master Cicerone for initial test is $795. Retakes will be charged 80% of the current Master exam price. This requires a two-day examination that includes multiple written, oral and tasting components. The written portion consists of essay questions that demonstrate knowledge in each portion of the Master Syllabus. Oral examinations will be conducted by industry experts and often involve hands-on demonstrations of knowledge. Off-flavors and blind assessment of beer styles are part of the taste assessments. An overall grade of 85% or better is required to pass the Master Cicerone exam. One existed as of July 2010 named Andrew Van Til. As of Aug 24, 2013, only seven people have achieved the top level of Master Cicerone.
I'm currently studying for my Cicerone. I have watched a couple cicerone videos, worked from the syllabus, and talked with others who are studying or have passed. My goal is to pass the Certified Cicerone exam, to improve my credibility when writing about beer.
Jim St. Germain is president of St. Germain Cellars and the resident hops enthusiast. When he isn't evangelizing IPAs (75+ IBUs!), he enjoys a nice glass of pinot noir or good whiskey, neat.