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An Amalgamation of Beer

Pat Fahey

Master Cicerone® & Content Director, Cicerone® Certification Programme

The Cicerone® Certification Programme offers independent assessment and certification so that industry professionals—as well as consumers—can be sure of the knowledge and skills possessed by current and prospective beer servers. To facilitate this, those who sell and serve beer need to acquire knowledge in five areas: Keeping & Serving Beer, Beer Styles, Beer Flavour & Evaluation, Beer Ingredients & Brewing Processes, and Pairing Beer with Food.

From how a beer is poured to what glassware is best suited to bring out its characteristics, there is always some interesting technical know-how that goes into these beautiful brews. There is no denying that brewing beer requires diverse knowledge of microbiology, food science, and fermentation, as well as technical know-how about which ingredients create different flavours & aromas, recipe formulation, and so on. However, this kind of education isn’t just limited to brewmasters—individuals known as “Cicerones” have passed rigorous examinations to demonstrate their knowledge about beer.

What is a Cicerone, you ask?

The word Cicerone (pronounced sis-uh-rohn) designates hospitality professionals with proven experience in selecting, acquiring, and serving today’s wide range of beers. To claim the title of Cicerone, one must earn the trademarked title of Certified Cicerone® or hold a higher certification. (The Craft Beer Institute holds registered trademarks on the use of the word ‘Cicerone.’)

Launched in 2008, The Cicerone Certification Programme is the brainchild of Ray Daniels, renowned for his 1996 publication ‘Designing Great Beers.’ Daniels once stated in an interview, “you know what a sommelier is for wine? OK, we do that for beer.” The Cicerone Certification Programme offers independent assessment and certification so that industry professionals—as well as consumers—can be sure of the knowledge and skills possessed by current and prospective beer servers.

To facilitate this, those who sell and serve beer need to acquire knowledge in five areas: Keeping and Serving Beer, Beer Styles, Beer Flavour and Evaluation, Beer Ingredients and Brewing Processes, and Pairing Beer with Food. To encourage participation by those with various interests and ambitions, the program offers four levels of certification beginning with the simplest and building to the most complex and demanding:

  • Certified Beer Server: This first-level exam is held online and consists of 60 multiple-choice questions and must be completed within a 30 minute time limit. Those who achieve this certification have a fundamental understanding of beer styles, flavours, and service, and can guide consumers confidently
  • Certified Cicerone®: Certified Cicerone® is the second level of certification. Those who achieve this certification have a solid and well-rounded knowledge of beer and beer service as well as basic competence in assessing beer quality and identity by taste. The four-hour exam includes written, tasting, and demonstration portions.
  • Advanced Cicerone®: Advanced Cicerone® is the third level of certification in the Cicerone® Certification Program. It requires a solid understanding and distinctive expertise of beer as well as an excellent ability to detect and describe beer flavours using both consumer and brewer vocabulary.
  • Master Cicerone®: Master Cicerone® is the fourth and highest level of the Cicerone Certification Program. It recognizes an exceptional understanding of brewing, beer, and pairing — combining outstanding tasting abilities with an encyclopaedic knowledge of commercial beers.

Sneha Nair in conversation with Pat Fahey, Master Cicerone® and Content Director for the Cicerone® Certification Programme.

 Why is education so important in the world of beer?

Craft beer today is a predominantly known market. When Ray Daniels started the Cicerone® Certification Programme, it was after years of tasting bad beers, and that doesn’t necessarily reflect on how the beer was brewed, but how so many other aspects need to be taken into consideration. Beer is more than how it is brewed. Various steps in the brewing and serving processes can impact a consumer’s experience. By educating people on how a beer style should taste, how it should be served, and in what style of glassware is a way of setting a general benchmark for what one should expect from their beer.

Why did the Cicerone® Certification Programme get started?

Ray Daniels decided to put into action an idea that had been batting around his brain for a while: a training program for everyone standing between a brewery and its consumers. The term Cicerone has been around for a long time and historically means “a guide who gives information.” The Cicerone® Certification Programme helps as a guide to all things beer. Cicerone is primarily is a certification body, and the contents of the exams encapsulate 5 important areas of study:

  • Keeping and Serving Beer
  • Beer Styles
  • Beer Flavour & Evaluation
  • Beer Ingredients & Brewing Processes
  • Pairing Beer with Food

How is it different from similar programmes offering the same certifications?

When the Cicerone® Certification Programme was created, it was aimed at being a functional and egalitarian body. We wanted to create a programme that didn’t limit the people interested in the certification. One thing that sets us apart is that we don’t require classes–once a person creates an account on the Cicerone website, they can access the syllabus electronically, making it more accessible. The Programme also doesn’t have a set time schedule to take the certification exams. Once a student is ready to take an exam, they can pay for the same accordingly, whether that’s 3 months later or a year after they began studying. We also use other resources, like the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines and the Brewers Association’s Draught Beer Quality Manual, to set the syllabi for the exams. The Cicerone® Certification Programme exams are more rigourous and encompass more beer-centric knowledge pertaining to service, style, ingredients, etc. Our exams test people on their competency of beer, certifying their knowledge in the same.

Does the Cicerone® Certification Programme, provide any financial aid/ scholarships to enroll for the same?

Currently, we haven’t entered a market which would require a financial aid programme, but we do have limited scholarship programmes, one such example is offered by the Brewers Guild in Canada. When it comes to the first level of the Cicerone® Certification Programme, Certified Beer Server, many employers at brewpubs offer to pay for their staff to take the exam. The programme is also supported by a number of large breweries that cover the payment for their employees to take the upper-level exams. It really varies from market to market.

Could you give us a brief insight to how the grading process takes place? Who conducts these exams and verifies the answers?

Cicerone® Certification Programme supports a large network of graders who’ve already passed the level they’re grading. We complete close to 120 exams per year. We try to ensure that no one grader has too much influence over the marking process, so each exam is graded by 2 or 3 various graders. One of the biggest challenges we were faced with is whether we could incorporate testing centres, but unfortunately they work out to be too expensive and we don’t want to tax our students by making them pay for the same. As we grow, we’re learning more and more every day and recognising our various challenges in different markets.

Cicerone recently introduced the 3rd level of certification- Advanced Cicerone®. Could you tell us the difference between the Advanced Cicerone® & Master Cicerone® programmes?

Advanced Cicerone was introduced recently, in 2015. We were able to identify that the amount of information and study one has to get from Certified Cicerone to Master Cicerone was proving to be pretty difficult. Advanced Cicerone was created because of that tremendous jump in expected knowledge. It covers similar topics as the Master Cicerone syllabus, but with a more managed depth of study.

Since establishing the Cicerone® Certification Programme, today we have over 100,000 Certified Beer Servers, 3,600 Certified Cicerones, 100 Advanced Cicerones, and 16 Master Cicerones. More than 76% of candidates pass the first level of the programme, while we typically see a 40% success rate at the second level.

If someone achieves Cicerone certification, does that also qualify them to be a beer judge?

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), which launched in 1985, focuses on styles and the science behind brewing and is targeted toward people who want to judge competitions. The Cicerone® Certification Programme encompasses more general knowledge of beer and is applicable in numerous beer-centric roles and jobs. So, yes someone who is a Certified Cicerone is more than capable of judging a beer for a competition.

Is the programme easily accessible for people to take the exams from anywhere in the world?

The first level of the Cicerone® Certification Programme, Certified Beer Server, is completely online. Anyone from anywhere with an interest in beer can take the first exam. The remaining three levels however include an oral examination and tasting exams. If we see growth or a demand for the programme in a particular country, then we try to set up in-person exam dates. We began holding exams in the UK around 5 years ago, since then we have held Certified Cicerone exams in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and South Korea.

A recent article stated the Programme is now looking into the Chinese beer market and working alongside the same to set up the Certification programme? Any insights into the India beer markets?

Yes, we started operation in China almost a year and a half ago. It has a rapidly evolving craft beer market, and we’ve been getting a lot of students from that region. We recently began some initial Chinese translations of our study materials. The India market is also a dynamic young craft beer market and as soon as more interest for the Cicerone® Certification Programme arises, we’ll look into the same as well. Maybe in the next few years, who knows!

We’ve recently introduced an eBook into the market titled “An Introduction to Beer,” a brief synopsis to how beer is made, how we perceive flavour, basic beer parameters, and beer styles. It’s available on the Cicerone® website and on Amazon for Kindle readers.

What is the future of the Cicerone Certification Programme?

Our immediate plans for the future include encouraging candidates to take the next step from Certified Beer Server to Certified Cicerone, and how we can make the Master Cicerone level more accessible and functional.

We’re also working on making our study material more manageable from a translations standpoint, which will increase our support to other parts of the world.

We currently have a colleague based in Costa Rica who manages our presence in Latin America, and we will soon be looking into doing the same in China to serve Asian markets.