Beer Department: What is a Cicerone?

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In our day-to-day lives, everyone needs a little guidance from time to time. What car should I buy? Where should I go to dinner? How do I hang a door? Perhaps most importantly, we are often in need of guidance as to what beer or wine we might want to drink. In all of these instances, we lean on the knowledge and expertise of those with more experience than us. That, however, raises the question of how we certify that someone is an expert. In other words, how can we trust that the person who’s offering advice is truly qualified to offer said advice?

The wine world has several certification programs to demonstrate wine knowledge, most notably the Court of Master Sommeliers, which certifies wine professionals in four levels: Introductory Sommelier, Certified Sommelier, Advanced Sommelier, and the venerable Master Sommelier. Sommeliers are trained and tested on their understanding of winemaking regions, grapes, history, and viticultural practices as well as food pairings and components of proper wine storage and service.

For years, beer had no such equivalent. For years, no equivalent was really needed. Beer was fairly straightforward, utilitarian, approachable and easy to grasp. It would, however, be something of an understatement to say that the past decade has seen an explosion in the diversity and complexity of the beer world. Moreover, beer is increasingly finding a place at the table paired with fine food. The need for educated, trained beer professionals has never been more urgent. To fill this need, the Cicerone Certification Program was founded by industry veteran Ray Daniels in 2007. Much like the Court of Master Sommeliers, the program is divided into four ascending steps: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, Advanced Cicerone, and Master Cicerone. Only the top 3 levels may use the title of Cicerone. Like a Sommelier, a Cicerone (sis-uh-rohn) is an accredited expert on beer styles, ingredients and brewing processes, keeping and serving beer, beer flavor and evaluation, and pairing beer with food. Whereas the Court of Master Sommeliers conducts training and classroom work to help candidates prepare for their exams, the Cicerone Certification Program is a little more open-ended. Candidates are given a broad syllabus and some recommended resources, but there is no hard and fast way as to how potential Cicerones learn all they need to know to pass the tests. The top 3 levels of certification are conducted in person over the course of several hours and feature a tasting exam in which candidates must blindly identify potential off flavors and distinguish between related styles. Several years of industry experience and rigorous studying are recommended for anyone attempting these exams; the pass rate for level 2 is about 35%. Those crazy enough to attempt the Master Cicerone exam only pass about 10% of the time. There are currently only 16 Master Cicerones in the world.

Many people in the beer industry have already begun their Cicerone journey. Ferdinand Sneed at our Fairfield Store is a Certified Beer Server (level 1) and Eric Dunaway at our Eastgate store has just been awarded the status of Certified Cicerone (level 2). Both of these guys have years of industry experience and their achievement is a guarantee that their beer nerdiness and depth of knowledge is well-founded; if you need an opinion on beer, ask these guys! They’ve poured their hearts and souls into beer and they want to share that passion with all of you! 


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