By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The craft beer universe continues to expand with an ever-larger array of new beers in assorted colors, flavors, strengths and potency. So many brews. But which one to choose?
A certified Cicerone can help with that decision. Cicerone certification is a trademarked program, introduced in 2008, that identifies people with significant knowledge and skills in beer sales and service.
Ray Daniels, a longtime beer expert from Chicago who worked for the Brewers Association as a magazine editor, book publisher, and promoter of craft beer, created the certification program. “It’s not a unique concept for people familiar with the hospitality and restaurant industry,” he said.
Although a Cicerone is to beer like a sommelier is to wine, Daniels avoided examining the sommelier training program when developing his. “Beer people didn’t want certification to be a stepson to the wine program. They didn’t want it to be parallel in structure,” he explained.
He reviewed most of the content in the beer world and determined which portions were relevant to which jobs, such as front-line servers and consultants, then developed the tests.
There are three levels of expertise, beginning with Certified Beer Server, then Certified Cicerone and finally the Master Cicerone, the most difficult level achieved by fewer than ten people nationwide.
The online program is readily accessible. “It does not require you to take a class,” said Daniels. He compared the written exam for Certified Beer Server to taking the SAT exam for college. “It allows you to demonstrate knowledge you already possess. You can learn what you need in a variety of ways.” The web site cicerone.org lists numerous study resources, a syllabus and an optional study class.
The Certified Beer Server exam costs $69 and it’s completed online. The Certified and Master Cicerone exams are more expensive and extensive, involve written and tasting components and are scheduled at specific sites around the country.
Daniels said that the certification program didn’t really take off nationally until 2009. Stone Brewing in Southern California was one of the first to embrace it and was active about talking it up, especially with beer distributors. Oregon was slow to adopt it.
But that’s changing. Today, there are more than 800 Certified Beer Servers with Oregon addresses and 34 Certified Cicerones.
Deschutes, Widmer and Columbia Distributing are some of the larger companies that support and encourage their employees to complete at least the first level of certification. Since the certification is relatively affordable and accessible, many interested individuals, brewers and sales personnel are pursuing certification.
Pat Gerhart is the human resources director at Deschutes in charge of training and educational opportunities. She said that when Deschutes went to a stock-option program a few years ago and changed to partial employee ownership “we started planning for offering the Cicerone Certification.”
“We developed our own curriculum and organized study groups that could work together and go out for tastings. We used many of the references and resources from the Cicerone web site. We felt like people would be more successful with the group learning and we’re a pretty social company.”
About 60 percent of all employees are Certified Beer Servers, a distinction that covers proper beer storage, beer styles, beer tasting and flavors, brewing ingredients and processes and pairing beer with food. Two Deschutes employees are Certified Cicerones — 10 are working toward it — and two people are working towards the Master level.
Gerhart said, “The impetus for funding the certification came from our employees. As people were getting certified, more and more were interested. Now it’s an open invitation for all.”
Both experienced and novice beer drinkers appreciate the expertise and knowledge they can gain from Cicerones. “It’s important as people make the transition into craft beers and our beer in particular, that they get what they want,” said Gerhart. “We want to provide that for our friends and customers.”
For some, the certification and training represent a competitive advantage. For others, it’s background material necessary for a good beer ambassador. But most consider it a piece of their personal beer journey.
Would You Pass the Test to Become a Certified Beer Server?
Sample Quiz, Courtesy of the Cicerone Certification Program
(Answers After Question 10)
1. English hops are often associated with which flavor attributes?
A. Oaky, vanilla
B. Herbal, earthy
C. Citrus, resiny
D. Flowery, perfumey
2. Which of the following is most likely to help preserve the freshness and flavor of bottled beer?
A. Fluorescent light
B. Room temperature storage
C. Carrying it around in the trunk of your car
D. Refrigerated storage
3. What role does “choker line” play in a draft system?
A. Prevent too much beer from flowing to the tap when it is first opened
B. Make the tap system look more attractive
C. Provides resistance to bring the system into balance
D. Reduces bitterness of beers by “choking back” the bitter components
4. Compared to a Bohemian (Czech) pilsner, a German pilsner will usually be:
A. Lighter bodied
B. Much darker in colo
C. One percent ABV higher in alcohol
D. None of the above
5. Which beer style is likely to have the highest alcohol content?
A. Scottish Ale
B. Scotch Ale
C. Dry Stout
D. English Bitter
6. A normal-strength beer that has been stored at room temperature for nine months would most likely exhibit what off-flavor?
7. How much beer is contained in a standard half-barrel U.S. keg?
A. 10 gallons
B. 13.25 gallons
C. 15.5 gallons
D. 31 gallons
8. In which of the following beers would haze be a sign of a likely problem with the beer?
A. Bavarian hefeweizen
B. German pilsner
C. Belgian wit
D. American wheat
9. The clove or nutmeg flavors associated with four-vinyl guaiacol (a phenol) are typically found in what style of beer?
D. American wheat
10. Which of the following is an off-flavor commonly associated with over-sparging?
1. Herbal, earthy
2. Refrigerated storage
3. Provides resistance to bring the system into balance
4. Lighter bodied
5. Scotch Ale
7. 15.5 gallons
8. German Pilsner
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.