How To Become a Certified Cicerone

So, you’re a big fan of craft beer. You have an Untapped account, you write reviews on Beer Advocate and Rate Beer, you trade hard to get beer with your friends on the other side of the country, you brew your own beer and believe that the time is right to open your own brew pub. You have all the credentials in the world except for one: you’re not a certified Cicerone®. You can never really call yourself a beer geek until you have reached this level of beer expertise.

What Exactly is a Certified Cicerone® and How Do You Become One?

A Certified Cicerone® is a person who has passed a rigorous examination covering five areas of beer knowledge: brewing process and ingredients, beer and food pairing, beer styles, keeping and serving beer, and beer flavors and taste. “The exam consists of a written portion, a tasting portion, and a demonstration portion and has about a 40% overall pass rate,” says Certified Cicerone® Virginia Thomas. “We require the candidate get an 80% overall, and a 70% or higher on the tasting portion of the exam to pass.”

The process to become a Certified Cicerone® is not to be taken lightly. It’s a serious process and very time consuming. It can take up to two years to become certified. “It begins with the syllabus, which is an outline of the content we cover on the exam.” From there, they offer a list of recommended reading, their Road to Cicerone course book series, an off-flavor kit for tasting study, and a whole list of other resources (some from Cicerone, some not, some free, some at cost).

The Cicerone Certification Program has three levels in total. Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone®, and Master Cicerone®. Over 45,000 people have passed the Certified Beer Server Exam. So far, only nine people, including Brew Dog’s James Watt, have completed the Master Cicerone® program.

The program began in 2007. “We gave our first exams in January of 2008,” says Thomas. Brewing Investor and beer fanatic, Ray Daniels started the Cicerone® Certification Program with the goal of boosting and standardizing knowledge about how craft beer is handled and served. “The program was needed because beer should be easy.” But the reality is, once a beer leaves a brewery, a lot can go wrong. “With proper training and education, you can help ensure that the beer that makes it to the customer is tasted the way the brewer intended it to be tasted.”

Levels of Beer Certification

Certified Beer Server:

The first level of certification is the Certified Beer Server. There are no prerequisites for this certification. The exams consists of sixty multiple choice questions and it can be taken online at your leisure. Passing requires that the participant gets a grade of at least 75. On top of the Certified Beer Server exam, candidates must also pass a quiz on the Cicerone® program. When you pay for the exam ($69), you have two chances to pass it before you have to pay again. Participants are not to use reference materials or notes while completing this exam.

In order to pass, participants must have knowledge of the storage of beer, service issues associated with beer and reasonable grasp on the different styles of beer, the brewing process and have the ability to sample beer and understand the different flavors and ingredients.

Certified Cicerone®:

The second level of certification is the Certified Cicerone®. In order to start this program, you must have already completed the Certified Beer Server exam and must be at least twenty-one years old. The exam consists of a written exam and short answer and essay questions. There is also a beer tasting and a demonstration. You must get an overall grade of at least 80 and at least a 70 on the tasting part of the exam in order to receive a passing grade.

Certified Cicerone®’s need to have an expansive knowledge of beer storage, service issues and know almost all there is to know about contemporary beer styles and brewing history. They should also have the ability to tell if there is something wrong with a particular beer while understanding the flavors (good and bad) associated with beer. They should also know how to properly pair beer with food. This exam requires a lot of preparation, some of it learned in a book and some of it learned in a life spent around beer and brewing.

Master Cicerone®:

The highest level of certification is the Master Cicerone®. To take this exam, participants must have already completed the Certified Cicerone® program. Anyone even attempting this exam should have an almost photographic memory when it comes to everything related to beer. You’d have to be the biggest beer geek in the world to reach this level. On top of knowing everything there is to know about every style of beer, you also need to know how to taste beer. The level of knowledge required to pass this exam could only come from years of brewing, tasting, studying, reading and pretty much completely immersing yourself in the world of brewing.

It’s no surprise that many of the nine Master Cicerones® are brewers themselves. James Watt passed the exam this winter. He’s well known as one of the owners of Scotland’s famed Brew Dog along with Martin Dickie. Watt and Dickie are also the stars of the Esquire Network’s beer travel show Brew Dogs. The exam lasts for two full days and includes written, oral and beer tasting sections. Also, you better be serious about passing because the exam costs $895 and if you need to retake it, you will still be charged 80% of the original price.

If anyone is interested in becoming a Certified Beer Server, the first step is to visit the official website and take a look at the syllabus. “This is an outline of the content we test on at that level. That will help you decide whether you are ready to attempt the test or need additional study.” Click here for info.

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