How to Get Certified as a Beer Expert

What you need to do to become a cicerone.

Photo: © dschnarrs / Getty Images

How To Get is a new series where we look into sought after items and designations in the food world and just what it takes to get them.

The great American craft beer boom of the last couple decades has brought with it many a boon for hopheads—thousands more breweries, dozens of new or resurrected styles, an American beer tourism industry that never existed before and an official beer expert designation: Cicerone.

What Is A Cicerone Certification?

For those totally unfamiliar with the term, Cicerone is to beer what sommelier is to wine. They are experts in beer styles, quality and service. Think about your biggest beer nerd friend. Now multiply that person by 10. That’s a cicerone.

According to the Craft Brewer’s Association, cicerones have only really been around since 2007. Still, in just under a decade, over 2500 people have become Certified Cicerones (the second of four levels of certification).

Why Would You Want One?

While it’s true that most Cicerones work with beer in some fashion—as brewers, bartenders, distributors or even writers—some passionate home brewers and other beer enthusiasts elect to get certified to verify their brew bonafides.

How Do You Get One

The first thing you have to do is set up an account with the Cicerone program at shell out $69 to take a 60-question, multiple-choice online test. Score a 75 or above (C+) and you become a Certified Beer Server. CBS is the first level in the Cicerone program and a prerequisite for all the rest. The syllabus for the test is available online and covers everything from beer styles and their origins to beer glasses to draft maintenance. Food & Wine contributor and Certified Cicerone Ethan Fixell told me that when it comes to the written tests, free study materials provided by the Cicerone program contain more or less every answer you’ll encounter, although supplementary materials are sold by the program or found in books like Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer. So with a little reading, passing this portion should be very doable for most beer enthusiasts.

Moving from Certified Beer Server to Certified Cicerone though, gets a little more challenging as well as a little more expensive. The Certified Cicerone test, offered constantly throughout the year in breweries, bars and beer distributors around the country, includes both a written and tasting portion and costs $395 to take. The written section includes fill in the blank questions as well as essays on topics as narrow and specific as beer packaging and handling that could bring back some unpleasant English AP test memories. But again, if you read through the provided materials, Fixell suggests you should be in pretty good shape.

The most challenging part, he said, is the tasting. The 12 sample tasting section is done in three sets of four samples. First applicants must not identify beer styles by taste. Next they have to identify off flavors like diacetyl and acetic acid. Finally they have to determine whether or not a beer is fit to serve, scoring a 70 percent or higher on the whole thing. Unless you spend a lot of time drinking spoiled beer there’s not a great way to practice this portion of the test besides purchasing the flavor tasting kit from either the Cicerone organization or another reputable beer outfit like the Siebel Institute. Fixell emphasized that in his preparation for the certification using a flavor kit was essential. Although, you should know that a tasting kit for six people costs another $149.

Assuming you ace your tests you’ll be added to the Cicerone directory, have another qualification to stick on your resume and you can prove to everyone that you are the beer expert you’ve always claimed to be.

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