Cicerones: Don’t Call Them Beer Sommeliers

A certification program creates a class of expert pourers
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“There are so many ways to ruin a beer, many of which have nothing to do with the brewer,” says Ray Daniels, founder and director of the Cicerone Certification Program.

It was this realization, way back in the mid-2000s, that inspired Daniels to create the cicerone program. Among the paths to ruination: beer served in the wrong glass, beer poured the wrong way, beer served at the wrong temperature, beer poured through dirty tap lines. The list goes on and depressingly on. But if there was a way to standardize the beer-serving process, Daniels hypothesized, perhaps not so many beers would be the victims of rube servers. Thus the Certified Cicerone Program was born in 2008.

Not to get all SAT vocabulary test, but cicerone is to beer as sommelier is to wine. Now promptly forget that analogy, because cicerones really don’t like being called beer sommeliers. “I heard a lot of feedback from the beer community. Universally, they didn’t want the name sommelier to be included. They didn’t want to be wine’s stepchild. To ride wine’s coattails,” Daniels says.

So in 2007, while developing the program, Daniels took a trip to thesaurus.com. He liked the idea of beer server as beer guide. He typed G-U-I-D-E in the search box, and bam! Cicerone popped up in the magic synonyms bubble. Seven years later, the cicerone organization is the preeminent beer certification program. Nearly 45,000 people have taken the first of three certification tests.

The first test is online and includes questions about proper glassware and the best way to change a keg. And if you pass, you’ll earn the title of certified beer server. If you want to graduate to Certified Cicerone, you’ll need to take an administered, in-person test that includes a tasting component. And finally, if you’d like to become the Bey or Jay of the beer world, you’ll have to take the Master Cicerone test. There are only nine Master Cicerones in the world. The latest to achieve the designation is right here in Southern California.

“I guess I just like to torture myself,” Patrick Rue says of the Master Cicerone test. Rue, founder of The Bruery in Orange County, says that you’re expected to have an encyclopedic knowledge of beer if you want to become a Master Cicerone. Obscure beer styles, beer chemistry, beer purchasing, beer-producing regions of the world, food pairings, beer economics, cooking with beer, etc.

“I like to put myself in the position to always be learning,” Rue says. By this fall, he’d learned enough to pass the test (his first attempt in 2012 was a bust). Of course, passing this ultimate test comes with a significant amount of awe from the craft beer community.

Even only passing the online test, though, has its benefits. Rue says he’s far more likely to hire a certified beer server or Certified Cicerone in his taproom than someone who hasn’t taken the test. “It just shows a basic commitment to the beer. There’s a certain level of trust that comes with that.”

 

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