What is a Cicerone? A Beer Sommelier Explained
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
What is a Cicerone?
When we first started JustBeer, 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 Cicerone, I was confused, as I didn’t know what that meant. 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.
How to become a Cicerone:
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. Unlike in the wine industry, you cannot just decide you love beer and you are a Cicerone. To become a Cicerone, there are tests and certifications one must pass. Currently, there are 4 levels:
This first level is perfect for any professional working in the hospitality industry. It requires completion of an online course and a 60-question multiple choice exam. No prerequisites are required to complete the Certified Beer Server program. The cost of the course is $69 (USD).
This certification is intended for professionals who work with beer, anyone from bartenders to brewery presidents. The four-hour exam includes written, tasting, and demonstration portions. You must have passed the Certified Beer Server exam in order to enrol in the Certified Cicerone course. The cost of this exam is $395 (USD).
Advanced Cicerone is the third level of certification in the Cicerone Certification Program. It requires a solid understanding and distinctive expertise of beer as well as an excellent ability to detect and describe beer flavors using both consumer and brewer vocabulary. You must already be a ‘Certified Cicerone’ in order to be a part of this course. Candidates for Advanced Cicerone will participate in a day-long examination that includes multiple written, oral, and tasting components. The written component will consist of questions in various formats from multiple choice to fill-in-the-blank and essays where extensive knowledge will be asked for. Two oral examinations will be conducted and will cover various aspects of the syllabus. Taste assessments will include a significant range of off flavors, blind assessment of beer styles, and descriptive analysis of blind samples. The cost to become an Advanced Cicerone is $795.
Master Cicerone is the fourth and highest level of the Cicerone Certification Program. It recognizes an exceptional understanding of brewing, beer, and pairing — combining outstanding tasting abilities with an encyclopedic knowledge of commercial beers. Master Cicerone exams are given once each year in Chicago. Candidates for Master Cicerone will participate in a two-day examination that includes multiple written, oral, and tasting components. The written component will consist of essay questions where candidates demonstrate the depth and breadth of their knowledge in each portion of the Master Syllabus. Oral examinations will be conducted by industry experts and often involve hands-on demonstrations of knowledge. Taste assessments will include an extensive range of off flavors, blind assessment of beer styles, and descriptive analysis of blind samples. This exam challenges individuals to master every technical and aesthetic aspect of beer. The test is priced at $995 (USD).
A local, Calgarian Cicerone; Rob Swiderski
Rob Swiderski 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. This eventually led him to become a Certified Beer Judge from the Beer Judging Certification Program, an amazing opportunity which has enabled Rob 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.”
Mirella Amato; the first woman and non-American Cicerone
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.
“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.” – Mirella Amato
3 Beer Tips from Cicerone, Rob Swiderski:
“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.”
Beer and wine should be fun and friendly. Bring people together and not tear them apart. Cheers!
Now that you know what a Cicerone is, check out these articles to keep on learning:
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