The Role of the Cicerone
What is a Cicerone? Learn more about what it is, how to become one and how are they expanding the world of Beer.
By Shira Kogut on Jun. 03, 2016
Based on an article originally published on our sister site Just Wine on March 11, 2016, as Sommeliers of Another Kind.
When we first started Just Beer, we were treated to some wonderful beer tastings. I considered myself a pretty knowledgeable person, but when Rob Swiderski from Craft Beer Market introduced himself as a Certified Cicerone, I was like “OMG! I don’t know what that means.” Luckily, he went on to explain that a Cicerone is the Beer World’s equivalent to a Sommelier. He led us through tastings, explained the different flavours and qualities of the beers and really opened my eyes to a whole new world. It peaked my interest to learn more about the fascinating world of craft beer and Cicerones.
The word Cicerone is an old English word for a guide on tours, in museums, galleries, archaeological sites or any form of educational guiding. It is a choice word because it distances them from the term Beer Sommelier (which many of them do not like) and associates them more with the guidance they provide into the world of beer. Like in the wine industry, you cannot just decide you love beer and you are a Cicerone, far from it. There are tests and certifications one must pass. Currently, there are 3 levels:
- Certified Beer Server
- Certified Cicerone
- Master Cicerone
The first level only requires taking an online course and exam. The second is more rigorous. It is a 4-hour, 3 part exam, including a tasting portion which requires the identification of beer styles, flaws, and service problems. A written portion which covers knowledge about beer service, draft systems, beer styles, brewing, and pairing beer with food. Candidates must also perform a demonstration involving an aspect of beer service. After achieving Certified Cicerone status most work in the field, travel to classic beer producing areas and get experience so they can gain a more in-depth and varied knowledge of brewing, ingredients and beer and food pairing. People who become Master Cicerones must possess an encyclopedic knowledge of beer and highly refined tasting abilities. The Master Cicerone exam is a 2-day exam with written, oral and tasting components.
Rob got his start as a Cicerone when he was chosen from all the owners of CRAFT Beer Market (with four locations across Canada) to take the course. Little did he know that lucky lottery would change his life. It led him to become a member of the Cowtown Yeast Wranglers which eventually led him to become a Certified Beer Judge from the Beer Judging Certification Program. An amazing opportunity which has enabled him to travel all over Canada. According to Rob to be a great Cicerone you need: “A passion for beer and brewing, commitment, perseverance, openness to being taught, inquisitiveness, and not be afraid to work hard.”
One of the first women in Canada to become a certified Cicerone was Mirella Amato, author of the book Beerology: Everything You Need To Know To Enjoy Beer… Even More. She is also the first non-American to become a Master Cicerone. Mirella guides beer tastings around the world and is also a Certified Beer Judge. She views her role as Cicerone similar to that of a teacher. She explains:
“My goal with BeerologyTM is not to make beer recommendations based on my taste, but rather to share the tools necessary for each participant to zero in on their own personal favourites. I aim to get people excited about beer and point them in the right direction so that they can confidently continue exploring on their own. I also like to provide the context for each beer, including historical tidbits as well as anecdotes on brands, breweries and styles.”
Which is exactly how I felt after the first tasting we had with Rob. A whole new world had been opened up to me and I felt excited to try more, learn about what I liked and didn’t like. Here are some tips from Rob, as we delve into our new Just Beer adventure:
“A couple of things I always try to imprint on people when I talk about craft beer:
- Don’t talk badly about a beer – it might not be right for you, but someone else might love it.
- If someone offers you a beer and it’s not really what you would drink, accept it and appreciate the fact that it was that beverage that brought you and that person (the one that offered it to you) an opportunity to enjoy each other’s company.
- Don’t be a beer snob – don’t snub someone because of their beer style preference or lack of knowledge around beer take it as an opportunity to teach them something new.”
Another misconception Rob said should be put to rest once and for all is: “Wine is not more ‘classy’ than beer. Minutes, hours, months and sometimes years of dedication and fine tuning are poured into the creation of both of these wonderful liquids, and craft beer should be treated the same way as wine—correct glassware, serving temperature, tasting technique, pairings.”
So I guess it is pretty similar to our approach at Just Wine and our approach to beer on Just Beer. Beer and wine should be fun and friendly. Bring people together and not tear them apart. Cheers!
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