Wine education has been a longstanding tradition. The name sommelier, when used properly, carries a lot of weight in the wine world. In the beer world, there has never really been an equivalent. The term beer sommelier is used often but without any real authenticity attached. Fret no more, beer aficionados! There is finally a beer equivalent to the benevolent sommelier name: Cicerone.
Cicerone beer certification is an in-depth learning experience, meant to teach those in the beer industry the ins and outs of beer, down to the last hoppy detail. The program consists of three levels to achieve: Certified Server, Certified Cicerone, and Master Cicerone. The Cicerone program covers five key areas of beer management: Beer Storage, Sales and Service, Beer Styles and Culture, Beer Tasting and Flavors, Brewing Ingredients and Processes and Pairing Beer with Food.
The program is intense but the end result is becoming well-known and sought after. On Tap spoke with several recently certified employees, of various levels, from the beer industry. They offer their thoughts on the fast-growing Cicerone Program.
Job Title: Guiffre Distributing, Director of Marketing
Year certified: 2010
Cicerone Level: Certified Server
How has the knowledge you gained through the Cicerone program helped you in your job? The Cicerone program has opened my eyes up to a subcategory that has double digit growth year-after-year. Customers look to us to help them understand the entire beer landscape. You need to know how each category, and in this case the craft beer category, contributes. I have been able to talk to customers about craft beer brands we sell in a way that I was never able to before. It has allowed me to enjoy some great conversation with people in the craft beer world. It has also been a lot fun; I can’t stress that aspect enough.
Do you think it is helpful to “standardize” knowledge or does that run counter to the “art” of brewing and serving? There is a need for basic or standardized knowledge. If you are going to be in the craft beer business in one way or another you do need to know the basic ingredients of beer, the difference between ales and lagers and what style of beer is either ale or a lager. You need to know how to store beer, pour beer, as well as understand the importance of glassware. If you are a manager or owner then you would want to understand how many beers you can get out of a keg so you can manage your cost. After that it is a moving target. Brewers are always coming up with new variations and inventing new styles.
What advice would you give someone who is getting ready to start the program? Don’t be overwhelmed by all the styles you may see on a website or guide. Try different beers and identify their styles in your mind so you can make a mental note. Study the sample test and don’t be afraid to retake if you don’t get through the first time. We’re talking about beer, what can be better than that?
Job Title: Guiffre Distributing Company, Vice President – Sales and Marketing
Year certified: 2009
Cicerone Level: Certified Server
Which of the Cicerone subject areas was the most challenging or new to you and why? Brewing ingredients and processes have always been a challenge. I have so much respect for brewers and their scientific knowledge. I’m not a patient person, so it would be hard for me to spend the time it takes to perfect a brew. I love selling it! And I love drinking it. Hopefully one day I’ll slow down enough to try brewing it.
How does one prepare for an exam like this? To study, I developed many great relationships with beer gurus, which includes the retail side as well as the brewing side of the business. I love visiting breweries and picking up tidbits of knowledge as I travel. I also research endless websites and have read many books. I’m humbled every time I encounter a new brewer or pick up a new book. It’s important to continually develop the knowledge base.
What advice would you give someone who is getting ready to start the program? For someone getting ready to start the program, it’s kind of like the Nike slogan: Just do it! Jump in with both feet by researching the Cicerone website and the hundreds of other helpful websites available.
Job Title: The Boston Beer Company – District Sales Manager
Year certified: 2011
Cicerone Level: Certified Cicerone
How does one prepare for an exam like this? Utilize all of the resources that are out there. Cicerone offers plenty of information on the material that you need to master, including recommended reading materials. Reaching out to individuals who have a broad knowledge on beer is another great avenue. Talk to brewers, wholesaler/supplier reps, or anyone who has a vast knowledge of the many areas of the test. A brewer will be able to fill you in on the ins and outs of brewing and ingredients. A wholesaler/supplier rep should be able to walk you through a draft system, beer storage, and servicing beer. Heck, I’m sure you could learn quite a bit from the best local beer or homebrew shop.
What is the greatest difference that you found between the Certified Server and Cicerone Certified subject matter? Having a full understanding of the different beer styles – history, flavor profiles, commercial examples, etc. For the Certified Beer Server exam, you mainly focus on the basics of each style.
Do you think it is helpful to “standardize” knowledge or does that run counter to the “art” of brewing and serving? I think it’s helpful to standardize everyone’s knowledge up to a certain point. Teaching people the basics builds a strong foundation for the art of brewing and serving beer. Once you have that foundation, you are able to take that information and create your own approach.
What advice would you give someone who is getting ready to start the program? Drink a bunch of beer – pretty cool, huh? Simply reading about the different areas of beer and taking a test is not the purpose of the program. Drinking the different styles provides a better understanding of the material, helps you remember different aspects of the beer that you cannot get out of a book, and is a tasty form of studying that very few subjects can match. Also, drinking and teaching this information to others is a great exercise (your friends will thank you).
Job Title: Premium Distributors of Virginia
Year Certified: 2012
Cicerone Level: Certified Cicerone
Which of the Cicerone subject areas was the most challenging to you and why? Beer Styles and Culture was the most difficult for me, probably because beer nerds don’t talk about the history and evolution of classic beer styles. The focus these days is on what’s new and right around the corner, not why Ireland makes dark beers and the Czech Republic makes light beers (it’s the water). So if you’re not really talking or hearing about the depth of beer styles, you don’t pick up that knowledge without studying it specifically. On the flipside, knowing the background of different classic beer styles and cultures can really set you apart.
How does one practice for an exam like this? With a study group! A bunch of beer drinkers won’t help, you need a group who are really trying to learn this stuff. Have a different person in the group make a mini presentation every week, and pool your money to buy various classic examples of styles, especially ones you don’t usually drink (Altbiers? Scottish ales? Sours?).
How has the knowledge you gained through the Cicerone program helped you in your job? The knowledge gained through studying for the exam helped round out my beer knowledge in general, but specifically in food & beer pairing. Most beer geeks can talk the talk, but actually putting in some time to study gives you greater understanding and confidence in the beer industry. As for the actual certification, it’s just a level of accreditation that only has as much value as people give it. As more and more people, restaurants, retailers, and breweries learn about the Cicerone program, it will only become more important to have.
Job Title: New Programs Manager, Customer Experience at Total Wine & More HQ in Potomac, MD
Year certified: 2012
Cicerone Level: Certified Cicerone
What is the greatest difference that you found between the certified server and Cicerone Certified subject matter? Where the Certified Beer Server exam is 60 multiple choice questions administered online and completed within in a 30 minute time limit, the Certified Cicerone exam is a four hour test administered at an on-site location encompassing 170 fill-in-the-blank questions, four essay questions, a hands-on sensory beer aroma and tasting test, plus a video-taped live demo and explanation of cleaning a piece of draught equipment. Suffice it to say, the Certified Cicerone exam is exponentially more wide-ranging in scope of subject matter and more demanding…there’s no guessing the correct answer from a list of multiple choices. It’s really a matter of ‘you know it or you don’t.’
The program is relatively new. What trends in the beer industry do you feel are driving its success? Trends driving its success include a greater acceptance of the fact that, like wine, beer has a rich history, character of color, aroma and flavor tied to a set of ingredients for which there are many varieties (hop and malt varietals akin to wine grape varietals), and the sheer range of choice/selection available to consumers today. A good restaurant can no longer have an itemized wine list and then just say, “beer too”. Consumers are becoming more and more educated in the world of better beer, and their expectation is that both on and off-premise retailers have beer-knowledgeable staff. The Cicerone program provides a means for obtaining a tested and certified level of beer knowledge.
How do you see programs like this changing people’s impression of beer and those who serve it? Those who pass the various Cicerone exam levels and have an opportunity to share their knowledge with others in a constructive way will undoubtedly contribute to a positive change in people’s overall impression of beer. Some people are just one particular beer away from having a beer epiphany – a beer with a certain aroma and flavor profile that just excites their senses like no beer has done before – that will open up their mind to the world of beer. Other people may require a little more guidance and help along their beer journey. Cicerone’s have the knowledge to provide the guidance and encouragement that’ll help open up more minds and get more people to their epiphany beer.
Interested in the Cicerone Certification Program? Visit www.cicerone.org for more information.