Cicerones Are Experts at What?

By Julia Herz

Ever hear of the Cicerone Certification Program? It’s similar to a wine Sommelier, but is for experts who love and are passionate about beer. Based on everything I’ve seen in the craft beer world, it is the most advanced and difficult beer education program in existence. Specifically, Cicerone is an incredibly difficult series of tests created by a mentor of mine, Ray Daniels.

Josh Noel of the Chicago Tribune, also a beer lover, recently featured Ray and the Cicerone program in an article titled Beer’s buddy-Ray Daniels created the Cicerone program to bring beer the respect he thinks it deserves. I love that title.

So, what is a Cicerone? From the program website, “a Cicerone will possess the knowledge and skills to guide those interested in beer culture, including its historic and artistic aspects.” That sounded so good to me that I became a student of the program back in September 2008, but more on that a minute.

The three levels in the program, and three tests, increase in difficulty and increase in need for a command of all things beer as you progress. Trust me, I know because I failed my first attempt at the Certified Cicerone™ test (2nd level) but I did pass on my second try. When I say it’s a good thing there is review course one can take for the certified level, I mean it.

So, if you have not heard of Cicerone, you’re not alone. The program really got its start in 2007 and even the master level test has only been given one time. But, with more than 1,000 Certified Beer Servers already on the books, this certification is taking off rapidly. Also, while writing this post, I was just tipped off that even celebrity chefs have the program on their radar. Chris Spradley, a contestant on ‘Master Chef’, chef Gordon Ramsey’s new show, is a student of the program.

The program covers five areas of study. Serving beer, Beer styles, beer flavor and evaluation, brewing process and ingredients, and finally, beer and food pairing.

Cicerone LogoThree Cicerone levels

Level 1: Certified Beer Server Exam

  • There are more than 1,000 in the U.S. right now
  • Test available online and takes about 30 minutes

Level 2: Certified Cicerone™

  • There are an estimated 120 as of July, 2010
  • Test must be taken in person at one of the test locations.
  • 3 hour written exam, short answer, essay questions plus tasting and a demonstration component

Level 3: Master Cicerone™

  • One exists as of July 2010. Yes one. Andrew Van Til, I hope to meet you in person one day!
  • In person exam, with two days of testing. Yes two days. 8 hours of written exam, 2 hours of oral exam and 2 hours of beer tasting and evaluation.

Yes, that sounds fun to me, in a weird, off handed and crazy kind of way.

Each syllabus in itself is an amazing document showing just how complex beer is as a beverage:

Want to become a fellow Cicerone? Test your knowledge at the free online 10 question sample exam from the Cicerone website. Interested in the personal journey? Follow me as I endeavor to become a Master Cicerone, one day and one craft beer at a time: Craft Beer Muses and Twitter.

Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, is a homebrewer, BJCP beer judge and Certified Cicerone®. Despite her extensive experience, she will always consider herself a beer beginner on an unending journey to learn more about craft beer.

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