The Growth of Cicerone As A Profession

Cicerone Certification

The industry of craft beer is growing by leaps and bounds, and with it the number of employments opportunity increases – and the cicerone is the hottest thing in the beer world right now.

With a spectacular number of new beer brands, brews, and even limited editions, flavors combinations are seemingly endless – unless you know how to best select and pair beer.

Additionally, as breweries are pushing the boundaries of beer making further and further and experimenting without much practical knowledge, brewing can often result in accidents and produce “off” flavors – and some artisans are not properly equipped to detect and correct it.

Mostly, beer is a delicate product that can be spoiled instantly if not handled right.

According to Jenny Pfäfflin, Certified Cicerone® and Regional Exam Manager at the Cicerone® Certification Program, “Once a beer leaves a brewery, a lot can go wrong. Cicerones help preserve the integrity of the craft by making sure that beers are properly stored and carbonated, draft lines are regularly cleaned .”

The beer equivalent to a sommelier, cicerones are the friendly face (and figure of authority!) that you will see more and more at trustworthy beer bars, breweries, shops, and even fine dining restaurants.

A title reserved to the crème de la crème in the beer industry, cicerone have a well-rounded knowledge of the malts, beer styles, characteristics, flavor attributes, and possible outcomes of successful beer and food, including pairing and cooking.

Their role is to ensure that your drinking experience is up to par with what the brewer had envisioned it, and their primary job responsibilities are to keep the standards of the industry in check, as well as educate and empower the sales team and staff, and to work the floor.

As beer drinkers grow more discerning than ever, cicerones have the unique ability to help educate the public and guide people through their exploration of craft beer.

They can help bars and restaurants with service issues, including pouring beer properly, presenting beer well and troubleshooting draught systems, and can assist breweries maintain world-class quality levels and promote their brews through an adequate terminology.

To claim the title of cicerone, one must first earn the coveted title of Certified Cicerone®, the standard in the industry.

Created in 2007 by veteran beer educator Ray Daniels, a member of the Senior Faculty of the Siebel Institute of Technology, America’s oldest brewing school, the Cicerone® Certification Program was created in order to elevate the beer experience for consumers and raise the standards of the beer industry.

The accrediting organization certifies the knowledge and tasting skills for beer professionals. Those with a basic level of expertise gain recognition by earning the first-level title Certified Beer Server, and then can earn higher certification titles, including Certified Cicerone®, Advanced Cicerone™, and Master Cicerone®.

The journey to becoming a Certified Cicerone® is long and arduous: all aspiring cicerone must first have passed the Certified Beer Server exam; the cicerone test itself includes an in-person evaluation with a tasting portion, and requires substantial preparation, including study materials, attendance at a range of independent classes, and flavor training using Cicerone’s Off-Flavor Course.

The program covers five areas of study: Serving beer; Beer styles; Beer flavor and evaluation; Brewing process and ingredients; and Beer and food pairing.

“Many people take six months to 2 years preparing for that exam. At the highest level, Master Cicerone®, there are candidates that have spent years studying. You may come in with 20 years of experience in the beer industry, with your education coming from many different areas,” said Pfäfflin.

To date, the Cicerone® Certification Program has certified more than 50,000 beer professionals worldwide, including 1,800 Certified Cicerones®.

Perhaps given its complexity, the majority of people taking the Cicerone® Certification exam already work within the industry. Servers and bartenders, bottle shop employees, beer distribution sales reps and brewery reps make up a majority of the people who tend to seek Cicerone® certification, although the exams are open to all.

However, those who have successfully passed the test warn that it is not an easy exam: “Many people think: Oh! I enjoy beer. How hard can it be?’ Those people will be in for a surprise,” notes Tracy Phillippi, who wrote the Cicerone® Certification exam.

A Certified Cicerone®, BJCP Judge, and blogger at ThatBeerLady, Phillippi recommends to acquire industry experience and hone your tasting skills before embracing this exciting profession.

“For anyone serious in beer tasting, I would recommend keeping a notebook with you and jotting down notes of the beers you are tasting. Everything you taste, smell, and experience from your beer is exactly right, and writing it down helps you develop the vocabulary and taste recognition needed to become a pro beer taster,” she adds.

While a good palate is important for being a good Certified Cicerone®, a passion for beer matters most. Being able to talk about beer with passion, describe the flavors in beer accurately, and convey that excitement to the sales staff and potential customers is what distinguishes the good from the best.

Certified Cicerones® are also in charge of elevating the industry as a whole, whether it is through a proper, ever-expanding lexicon or by exposing a greater number of customers to the beer drinking etiquette.

And it all starts with basics: “If I could teach everyone to drink their beer from a glass – and not from the bottle! – I would consider my career a success! You wouldn’t drink wine from a bottle, so beer should be no different,” argues Phillippi.

Above all, drinking beer is about the experience and the role of a cicerone is to make that perfect. “Beer should be easy for the beer drinker. They shouldn’t have to think about anything but enjoying their beer,” declares Pfäfflin.

For Phillippi, too, the social aspect of the beer culture makes the cicerone profession extremely gratifying: “I love how beer is historically an important part of nearly every culture on earth, how it brings people together in good and bad times, and how it helps drive the local economy. It’s such a fun industry to be involved in, and I can’t imagine doing anything else! When someone says: ‘I never knew beer could taste like that’ or ‘I only drink wine, but this is good,’ I am very happy”.

Eva du Monteil is a culinary trained food and wine critic living in NYC. When she is not exploring the country in search for the next hidden gem, she enjoys eating, drinking and cooking in the company of her friends, chefs and fine purveyors of epicurean experiences. While she loves NYC, she believes some of the most exciting food and drink scenes at the moment include Portland, Los Angeles, Austin, Miami, and Philadelphia.

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