In the world of wine there have been sommeliers for years and many people are familiar with them. Back in 2007 Ray Daniels a beer expert and certified beer judge decided that it was time for beer to stand out more and have its own group of experts and created the Cicerone® Certification Program. This was a great step in my eyes for the craft beer movement in America and worldwide as it allows beer to step out more into the spotlight as a beverage that is versatile and pairs with food just as well as, if not better than wine.
Now some of you may have been to places with a “beer sommelier” which is great but those are self proclaimed experts that have not gone through any formal training. Not to beat down the “Beer Sommeliers” as I know some and they truly know their stuff its just the lack of a credible program behind the title. The Cicerone® program carries three levels of training and certification that one must pass in order to hold the title at a given level.
First, there is the “Certified Beer Server” this is the entry level of the Cicerone program. The Certified Beer Server requires competent knowledge of beer storage and service issues as well as modest knowledge of currently popular beer styles and culture and basic familiarity with beer tasting and flavors as well as brewing process and ingredients.
Next, there is the “Certified Cicerone®” which requires that you have already passed the “Certified Beer Server” exam. To become a Certified Cicerone one must have detailed knowledge of retail beer storage and service issues, excellent knowledge of modern beers and styles with some familiarity for historical styles, competence in identifying flawed beers and recognizing appropriate and in-appropriate flavors in modern beer styles, good understanding of the beer ingredients and familiarity with the brewing process and its common variations plus the ability to recommend reasonable beer pairings for common foods.
Lastly there is the “Master Cicerone®” in which one must demonstrate mastery of all knowledge areas and tasting capabilities as determined by the Cicerone program. This is the highest level of achievement and currently only 4 people have earned this distinguished title.
Personally, I love the whole idea behind the Cicerone program and the intent it holds. Having knowledgeable people serve and sell beer that have been tested and proven helps with the growth of the industry. Also, for a good establishment it can add some prestige to the pairings and suggestions they offer.
However, I have a few issues as the program goes boasting about numbers they have achieved, they have some less then desirable record keeping. Currently there are over 15,000 “Certified Beer Servers” now in order to sign-up for this one simply needs to register on the site, do some studying and take the test. I was curious recently as to how many of the 15,000 Certified Beer Servers worked in a bar or in the beer industry, actually serving beer not as bloggers, and the response I got was that they don’t keep track. For me this makes the program lose some credibility as how can you say you are putting more educated inviduals into bars and stuff without having accurate records.
However, the program has gained credibility as brewers and distributors have gotten on board and some require staff to be trained. I think that is a wonderful thing because the more educated a brewer or a sales person is about beer the better they can do their job.
My main and only issue currently remains with the sheer number of Certified Beer Servers and the fact that there is no record of how many of them are actually doing the craft beer community a service by pouring beer in a local tavern or pub. I would love to see them rectify this and make proof of employment at a bar or tavern part of the requirements and to try to keep track of the whereabouts of all these beer servers.
Lastly, I would like to see another level added the “Cicerone Certified Bar/Beer Store”. Now this one would be hard but I liken it a bit to the Good Beer Seal program in NYC but taking a different approach. There would be a lot of similarities but a bar wouldn’t have to be active in the craft community or do events if they didn’t want or need to for their business. So what would I consider the requirements of such a place to be?
- At least one Certified Cicerone on staff as a manger or owner.
- At least one Certified Beer Server working all shifts (not all bartenders needed to be certified)
- A focus on craft beer and education of customers to ensure the highest level of enjoyment.
- Properly maintained draft systems including pressure, cleaning and serving temp.
- Proper beer glassware used for serving.
Now I know this idea has some issues cause there are easily over 15000 bars in the United States if I had to guess and how would one choose which ones and how do you ensure the requirements are current. Well I am not sure at this point, like I said its an idea and I think a damn good one (hell it is my idea of course I think its good).
All in all I love the Cicerone Program and what it has done for craft beer and what it is continuing to do for the community. I just would like to see it get even stronger to the point that everyone knows what a Cicerone is and doesn’t look all confused when they hear the term. I want it to be on par with sommeliers.
And that’s … From My Mellin!