IS BEER CICERONE CERTIFICATION RIGHT FOR ME?
Getting certified feels good.
It sounds official and important, because it’s basically bragging rights distilled into a paper form. It fills gaping, empty spaces on your walls, all while being cheaper than that abstract painting everyone’s crazy about. You can point on that wall and say “look mum, I made it!”.
What if we told you that you can get certified for knowing a ton of things about beer, and possibly open up some career opportunities in a new and growing profession?
Becoming a Beer Cicerone is a great way to get your knowledge about beer assessed and recognized. We’ll go over the perks, exam details, and compare different levels of the Beer Cicerone exam so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
CICERONE PRONUNCIATION AND A BIT OF HISTORY
Just so you know, pronouncing Cicerone is not a tongue-twister like it seems to be at first. It’s sis-uh-rohn.
This old term has historically been assigned to guides, but not “some old building here, let’s move on, I have a provision in this tourist trap” kind of guide. Cicerones were the cream of the crop, rigorously tested antiquarians that guided visitors and sightseers through places of great importance.
And for the history fans out there – yes, it IS based on Marcus Tullius Cicero, the famous Roman orator and philosopher known for his eloquence!
WHAT’S A BEER CICERONE CERTIFICATION, AND WHO IS IT FOR?
Beer Cicerone is an official, industry-standard certification process that shows that you not only know a lot about beer, but you also know how to serve beer in a beautiful, tv-commercial-ready way. It’s pretty much like being a sommelier for beer.
This program kicked off pretty recently (in 2007), and with the craft beer revolution that has been happening for the last five years…the demand is higher than ever! This is an emerging part of this ancient-but-young industry. There have been many localized attempts, such as komornik in Czech Republic and cervesario in Poland, but being a Cicerone has an international appeal.
The later stages are where it’s truly at. Advanced and Master Cicerone exams are definitely the hardest of their kind, and they cement your place as THE expert on the fizzy goodness we all love and adore.
FOR BEER ESTABLISHMENT OWNERS
Even the first level of a Beer Cicerone exam is a great and cost-efficient way to make sure your staff talks the talk and walks the walk. It’s a way to ward off any components of a bad review for your place of business: ignorance about the styles you’re serving, bad pours, and undesirable phenols from improper hygiene are just some of the ways it can go downhill.
Too often, a reputation of a pub (or any beer-driven place) is ruined by improper handling and bad service, and having a badass, certified staff will make your place a go-to for people of all walks of life that are serious about beer, whether it’s young padawans looking to learn or veterans looking to geek out over a cold one.
In this time and age when everyone and their mother can leave a scathing Ratebeer, Yelp or Tripadvisor review, staying on top of your game at all times is more important than ever.
Same goes if you find yourself on the other side of the coin as a beer server. You’ll be able to delve into deep discussions about beer and connect with your customers in a better way, while also commanding better salary and hefty tips for ice-cold, perfectly served beer.
Whether you’re motivated by moving up to managerial positions ($$$), or you want to get involved in the booming craft beer industry, a Beer Cicerone certification can be a piece of paper that makes all the difference.
If you’ve learned anything from being a brewer…it’s that you never stop learning. The higher levels of Cicerone certification will prove to be a feat that’s as rewarding as it is challenging. The process of preparing for a Cicerone exam will make you think about a lot of things that might fundamentally change and freshen up your approach to brewing.
Like a musician expanding his arsenal by learning a new scale or getting a firmer grasp on theory, your next batch will be inspired by the theoretical and historical context that you get out of preparation that’s required of you.
- If you ever said “hell, I’m quitting my job and starting a beer tour”
- If you already educate people about beer as a speaker or a blogger (*cough*)
- If you rated so many beers that you’re either making it into a career or joining a 12 step program
- If you’re a beer judge and your only criteria to go by is “eeny, meeny, miny, moe”
- If you’re out of toilet paper and you’ve already used your business school diploma
…the Cicerone certification might just be the thing for you.
5 AREAS OF KNOWLEDGE TESTED IN BEER CICERONE EXAMS
Regardless of the level of your knowledge and Cicerone exam you’ll be applying for, there are five areas that cover the “knowledge about beer” thing pretty well, and where you will be tested. Having a firm grasp of these concepts will make your pass a reality.
Brewing process and ingredients
You don’t go blank when someone points at a beer bottle and asks “How is this made? What sorcery is this?”. You know what goes into the brewing process, and you don’t even have to be bored out of your mind to read the beer labels (They use CORN in this? What a deal breaker…). In fact, you might be someone who brewed a batch or two (thousands) on your own.
Beer and food pairing
Much like pairing wines with food, pairing beer with food is an art form in itself. This area tests your knowledge about this. You are no stranger to this, pairing smelly cheeses with belgian tripels, and creamy desserts with lambics.
This is a chance to wow your friends and colleagues with the perfect pairing the next time they come to your place for a round of drinks and appetizers, and show them that Coors Lite and Cheetos are not the only match made in heaven.
Beer styles are the lingo that’s the foundation of this industry – the lagers, the ales, the barleywines. This is a chance to delve deeper into the family tree of beer and familiarize yourself with the history so that you’re ready for any curve balls this exam might throw at you.
Keeping and serving beer
Having an exquisite, tasty brew means nothing if you can’t store and serve it right. We’ve already written an article so that you’re sure you won’t mess up the storing part. This area tests you, so that you can be the go-to person for keeping the funk out of the beer, and at the only place it belongs to: on the dancefloor.
Beer flavors and taste
This area goes hand-in-hand with the beer styles part – knowing the names is not enough. You also have to know how they TASTE. Taste as much beer as possible within styles you know less about.
That means knowing whether they’ve done a hefeweizen right with the bubblegum and banana.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
In case you forgot that life is just a big RPG game, there are multiple Beer Cicerone levels requiring wildly different levels of knowledge.
This is hardly a one-size-fits-all process.
Again, for the purpose of not turning this article into a book, let’s say that…
- You have a firm grasp on the most common beer styles
- You know what to look for in a beer, and know your way around a beer review. Bonus points if they number into hundreds or thousands, but not obligatory.
- Oh, you’re our reader? In that case, you know your stuff. Let’s go!
BEER CICERONE LEVELS
Here is a quick breakdown of each certification you might want to go through.
LEVEL 1: CERTIFIED BEER SERVER
Cost: 69$ (both the initial test and the retakes)
The exam: 30 minutes, 60 multiple choice questions, 75% correct answers to get a pass
# of people who passed: about 80 000
This is the entry-level exam into the Cicerone world.
Being the first in the row, it’s also the most accessible – it’s by far the cheapest, and is administered entirely online (provided you don’t have any external help, of course). We already mentioned the benefits of investing into this program for your staff.
If you feel like spending an extra buck (199$) and having an easy to use, informative course to go along with the certification, you can take a BeerSavvy® interactive program. It’s designed to teach you everything you’ll need for this exam in a visual manner at your own pace.
Computers scare you and/or you feel like you learn best with a human touch? There are multiple Beersavvy live workshops, too. Check out the dates and places, they might be in your town!
LEVEL 2: CERTIFIED CICERONE
Cost: 395$ for the initial test, 100$ for tasting retake, 175$ for written retake
The exam: 4 hours, tasting/written/oral portion
Pass: 80% overall and at least 75% on the tasting portion
# of people who passed: about 2500 (it’s getting a bit exclusive, is it?)
This is where it gets a bit more serious, and past the serving aspect of the beer culture. Becoming a Certified Cicerone requires some serious preparation in order to join the big boys of the beer certification world. Just the fact of holding your concentration for 4 hours in an exam is a feat in itself.
It should take you about a year of concentrated, part-time effort, two years if you’re taking it slow. At this level, you’re also introduced to the tasting part of the exam, which means that you’ll have to become well versed in the practical aspect as well (also known as: tasting a ton of beer).
LEVEL 3: ADVANCED CICERONE
Cost: 795$ for the initial test, 250$ for tasting retake, 375$ for written retake
The exam: day-long examination on the testing site, including multiple tasting, written and oral components
Pass: 80% overall and at least 75% on the tasting portion
# of people who passed: 28 (it was introduced pretty recently, though)
This is the newest entry in the Cicerone line. It was designed in 2015 as a way of bridging the gap between the decently knowledgeable Certified Cicerone, and a godly, encyclopedic status of Master Cicerone.
Getting away with a part-time effort doesn’t cut it at this level. Being a Certified Cicerone establishes your foothold in the beer industry…but Advanced Cicerone cements it. It sets you apart as an expert, and makes the difference of being one of the many voices in the industry…to the one people listen to and cherish.
Beginning in 2018, every hopeful Master Cicerone will have to go through the day-long ordeal of passing the Advanced Cicerone exam, too.
LEVEL 4: MASTER CICERONE
Cost: 995$ for the initial test, $796 for retakes
The exam: two-day examination with written/oral/tasting components, conducted only once or twice per year in Chicago
Pass: 85% overall
# of people who passed: 13
If an Advanced Cicerone is a cherished voice in the beer world, master cicerone is a mythical creature. Depending on your favorite franchise, he’s like a Yoda or a Gandalf of beer. At certain points, there has been only ONE master cicerone IN THE WORLD (how crazy is that?).
Master Cicerone is a walking beer encyclopedia. At this point, NOT getting a job in the beer industry at a consulting, guru-like or thought leader level is probably the hardest feat.
BrewDog’s own Rob McKay and James Watt are proud Master Cicerones, but this pursuit of knowledge and excellence extends to their own staff, too. BrewDog as a company offers pay bonuses corresponding to the Cicerone level you successfully pass.
CICERONE EXAM PREPARATION TIPS
#1 DIVE DEEP INTO YOUR NOTES.
If you’ve been into beer for some time, you are probably familiar with taking notes on new brews. You’re badass enough not to be concerned by the public perception of you for frantically scribbling into a notebook. In fact, if there is a shortage of tables…you’ll use human backs.
Start trying beers. Go further than “the usual” – amber colour, medium carbonization, and the likes. Delve deeper than you ever did before, preferably with a buddy that’s more experienced than you, and turn every beer into a lesson you’ll remember.
You are the average of 5 people you spend the most time with, and this is no exception. If you’re feeling alone, there are many beer tasting events and meetups. This is a loving and open community, and the fact that it’s based around a social lubricant makes it that much easier to discuss, learn and grow
#2 JOIN A STUDY GROUP
There are many people that have been there before and are studying to get to the higher level, or people that are going in the same direction as you. In this hyperconnected world, there are bazillions of groups of like-minded people.
Joining a group will motivate you, push you harder…and most importantly, it will make you feel like you’re not alone, as saying “I’m studying about beer” may still result in a scoff from a regular person.
#3 GET INVOLVED IN THE BREWING PROCESS
Experience is the mother of all knowledge. If you haven’t been down and dirty in a homebrewing operation so far, what are you waiting for?
It doesn’t need to be fancy. Even that rinky dink setup in your friend’s garage will make you look at the process you’ve been reading about in an entirely new light, not to mention a fresh change of scenery.
#4 PRACTICE PAIRINGS BY HOSTING A PAIRING PARTY
Studying for an exam while giving your friends an experience they will never forget is the best application of the old “work hard, play hard” adage.
It’s a way to spice up the regular beer tasting gathering, and Joe probably won’t get drunk as quickly as everyone in your company is already used to. Also, you will expand your knowledge about smelly cheeses, which is an erudite treat.
Flashcards are not only a college student thing. They are a great way to step up your memory game.
Whether you prefer to cover your entire room in post-it notes like a madman, or you prefer a more high-tech solution like Cram.com or Memrise.com (great for brushing up on the things you’re learning on the go!), this is a deadly addition to your learning arsenal.
#6 OFF-FLAVOR TESTING
Did you know that you can order a kit that can spike your beer with all kinds of nasties?
If there’s one excuse in the world where it’s perfectly fine to do this to yourself, it’s in order to pass the Beer Cicerone exam. This enables you to expose beer to phenols, esters, and similar anomalies. Additionally, with your newfound superhuman palate, you might also be able to spot whether the staff has been skimping on hygiene.
Blessing or a curse?
BOOKS & STUDY MATERIALS
Other than the official study materials on the Cicerone site, you might enjoy many other sources of information on the internet *cough* shameless plug for this site *cough*.
Here are just some that we enjoyed during our quest to become knowledgeable about beer:
BJCP Style Guidelines
BA Draught Quality Manual
Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer (and pretty much anything by Randy Mosher)
Garrett Oliver’s The Oxford Companion To Beer
Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing
OTHER BEER CERTIFICATION PROGRAMS
Even though the Cicerone program is the most intense of known programs, that doesn’t mean it’s the only one. Depending on your needs, you might get great value from some of the other courses. Also, there are numerous courses for preparing for the Cicerone exam. Courseception?
This list is constantly expanding, so if we missed some of them – give us a shout!
Draught Beer Training – BetterBeer
Beer & Food Course – craftbeer.com
Homebrewing Course – Homebrew Academy
BJCP Beer Judge Program
By this time, you probably decided whether you or your employees should go for the Beer Cicerone certification.
Whether you’ll take our word for it or not, we can both agree that this is a wonderful time to be participating in this thriving industry. Many beers out there. Many customers. Many courses where you can learn and take shortcuts that are not scammy, but smart.
A lot of business opportunities are opening up, and educating yourself might give you that extra edge you need to work with beer that kicks ass – whether you’re creating recipes, mixing hops, or doing accounting.
If you decided to become a Cicerone (or a similar kind of a beer jedi), make this known to the whole world in the comments below!