Six Questions on Becoming a Certified Cicerone

The word Cicerone (pronounced sis-uh-rohn) has been chosen to designate those with proven expertise in selecting, acquiring and serving today’s wide range of beers … Only those who have passed the requisite test of knowledge and tasting skill can call themselves a Cicerone.

Tomorrow is another round of the Certified Cicerone® exam in Southern California and we look forward to supporting this organization by offering up our conference room to host the testing. Our very own Patrick Rue and Director of Marketing Benjamin Weiss are both Certified Cicerones® so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to ask Ben a couple questions about becoming a Cicy!

Why did you want to take the exam?
I wanted to take the exam for a few reasons. For one thing, it was a way to force myself to read and study about beer and fill some of the gaps in my beer knowledge. I’ve been a homebrewer as well as a professional brewer and my mom would probably say I’m a professional beer drinker, but there is always more to learn. I’m the type of person who needs a bit of motivation to pick up that book and study the things that I don’t already know or crack open a beer that I otherwise wouldn’t be interested in so that I can get to understand the ingredients and technique that goes into it.

Secondly, and perhaps for a more egocentric reason, as the marketing guy at The Bruery, I felt like I needed the Cicerone certification to prove my knowledge and worth when speaking at a beer pairing dinner or any of our educational events. I wanted people to know that I’m not just a guy who went to business school and ended up working at a brewery, I’m not just spewing some memorized marketing hogwash at you. I’m a guy who loves, lives and knows craft beer.

What was the most challenging part of the exam?
The most challenging part of the exam for me, by far, was the draft maintenance component. This is for one simple reason: I’ve never worked at a bar. Beyond tapping kegs at a festival or a frat party, I’ve never had to clean lines, take apart faucets or set CO2 pressure on a long draw system. I really had to study up on this and work with The Bruery’s Tasting Room employees to understand the ins and outs of a large draft system and how to care for it.

Do you feel you been able to help teach others more about beer (or the exam) with the certification under your belt?
I’ve 100% been able to teach people more about beer now that I am a Certified Cicerone®. I’m far more well versed in telling people the story behind their beer and I think that helps people understand the preciousness of what is in front of them. It isn’t just a light colored beer that tastes like pine needles. It’s a beer that has a history and an evolution and a story that makes it what it is today. It also isn’t just about teaching people, but showing people. Knowing proper glassware and proper food pairings and proper temperatures can all elevate a person’s experience with a beer. If you can learn to give someone their first sip of a beer in the perfect setting, it can change everything that they ever thought about beer without saying a word.

Do you think you will go for Master Cicerone® one day?
I’d love to one day go for the Master certification, but I have to be honest with myself about my level of knowledge. I’d need to do A LOT of studying to get to that level and there are only so many hours in the day. To be quite honest, I think I’d like to study first for the Sommelier exam to help diversify my knowledge and learn about wine – something that I know far too little about.

How do you stay sharp on your beer knowledge now?I stay sharp by living it every day. I read books when I have time, but ultimately I just ask questions when I drink a new beer or when The Bruery brews a new beer. It’s easy to continue to learn when it’s something you love.

Any advice for those about to take the exam?
Use a book like Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer as a guide, but go beyond it each and everytime that you feel engaged. Read through the book while sitting beside your computer so that you can quickly search for more information and dive further into each subject matter. If you aren’t excited enough about beer to read more than necessary, you probably shouldn’t be taking the exam.

Find a way to do off-flavor sensory tasting. I’m lucky enough to work for a brewery that does extensive lab work and sensory analysis so I’ve been trained in off-flavors for many years at this point, but for those who don’t have this opportunity, ask around and find a way to do it. If need be, collect a group of other people who are studying for the exam and buy an off flavor kit online. It’s not cheap, but it’s well worth it to be able to understand the things that can go wrong in a beer and then be able to describe the problem intelligently.

Ben has been a Certified Cicerone® since September 2011 and spends his days showing the public what The Bruery is all about (when he is not photoshopping unicorn art).

To see what tomorrow’s test-takers are in for, or if you’re just curious about starting the process to become one yourself, check out the Certified Cicerone® syllabus here.

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