What the heck is a Cicerone?
This is a question I get a lot, and for good reason. It’s a silly name that not many people (especially outside of the beverage industry) have heard before. The Cicerone (pronounced sis-uh-rohn) website states that Cicerone is an English word referring to “one who conducts visitors and sightseers to museums and explains matters of archaeological, antiquarian, historic or artistic interest.”
A Certified Cicerone possesses the knowledge and skills to guide those interested in beer culture- including its historic and artistic aspects. These titles now designate a person with demonstrated expertise in beer who can guide consumers to enjoyable and high-quality experiences with great beer.
In short, it’s someone who has spent many months and years reading as much as possible on all things beer to be able to educate and guide folks through the world of beer – and believe me, there’s still a lot more to read!
There are 4 levels of Cicerone designations: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, Advanced Cicerone, and Master Cicerone – but for this post, and my own experience, I’ll just talk about the first two.
How to become a Certified Cicerone:
The process begins with the “Certified Beer Server Exam”, which requires rudimentary knowledge of various aspects of beer. The exam takes about 30 minutes online and completion can be achieved by studying a few books and resources – notably “Tasting Beer” by Randy Mosher, an indispensable and fun read that I still reference every week! The CBS exam is a great place to build your foundation of beer knowledge and learn the basics on talking about beer, serving, and tasting.
The Certified Cicerone exam is a little more challenging! To prepare for this exam I studied (off and on) for over 2 years. I read almost every page in the great “Oxford Companion to Beer” by Garrett Oliver, as well as “Tasting Beer”, and many, many, MANY online articles and resources found through the Cicerone website. The Facebook group “Canadian Cicerone Study Group” run by The Beer Sisters in Toronto was also essential.
The Certified Cicerone exam took about 4 hours to complete. It included a blind beer tasting exam with 16 glasses, where we would have to guess certain beer styles, identify off flavours, and describe serving acceptability. There was also a video-taped service demonstration exam and then the written portion, which included over 140 short answer questions, pairing questions, and 3 full-page essay questions! Everyone must score over 80% to pass the exam.
When Do The Exams Happen?
The downside of living in a smaller city like Halifax is that the Certified Cicerone exam doesn’t come to town every year. As they send a proctor to conduct the exam, there has to be enough interest for them to schedule an exam. So, you’ll have to ask around if there is a group preparing to write in your area (check that Facebook group I mentioned above) and tell your friends so that you can have a study group. This course doesn’t have classes in Halifax so any studying you do will have to be solo, or with a group.
A couple closing thoughts:
People from all over the world write the Certified Cicerone exam. My class had brewery owners, beer reps, bartenders, bottle shop employees, and even a couple die-hard beer fans.
If you’re someone who loves beer, and all that comes with it, and you want to continue learn and spread the word about good beer, this might be something for you. Taste beer, learn more and get to know like-minded people- what could be better?