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Sarah Ward

Certified Beer Server: How to Get a Cicerone Certification

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You’re probably familiar with what a Sommelier is.

But you may not be familiar with its lesser-known beer counterpart, the Cicerone.

They’re similar in many ways: four levels, beverage mastery, an excruciatingly difficult final exam (see our post about the master sommelier exam), a relatively accessible first level.

Here, then, is all you need to know about the Cicerone Certification Program.

What Is a Cicerone? Cicerone Definition and Meaning

A Cicerone (pronounced sis-uh-roan) is a designation for hospitality workers that indicates proven knowledge and experience in choosing, buying, and serving beer. They also know all about beer expiration.

Cicerones are widely referred to as “beer sommeliers,” though Cicerone certification has no affiliation with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Like sommelier certification levels, there are four Cicerone certification levels.

And, like sommeliers, the word Cicerone is reserved only for those who’ve completed the Cicerone certification program. It’s not a word that should be used synonymously with “beer expert.” The Cicerone definition is quite precise about who fits under the Cicerone certified beer server umbrella.

What Is the Cicerone Certification Program?

The Cicerone Certification Program offers independent assessment and certification for beverage industry professionals to be recognized as experts in beer flavors, styles, sales, and service.

The Chicago-based program was founded in 2007 by brewer and beer guru Ray Daniels. At present, it consists of 12 beer experts who create and review all the exams and assessments.

Much like the sommelier designation, the Cicerone designation is meant to lend recognizable credibility (and compensation: see sommelier salary) to top beer professionals—all through a series of increasingly more demanding levels they must pass.

Cicerone Levels: How Many Cicerone Certification Levels Are There?

There are four Cicerone levels, each one more demanding than the last. That’s also how many sommelier levels there are. Let’s look into each Cicerone level to get a feel for what’s required.

Cicerone Level 1: Certified Beer Server

Cicerone level 1 is the Certified Beer Server designation. This level focuses on providing outstanding beer service. That means having a solid understanding of all beer styles and flavors and being able to leverage that knowledge to provide superior beer sales and service.

The Cicerone level 1 syllabus consists of:

  • Keeping and serving beer. This section includes purchasing and acquiring beer, serving alcohol, beer storage, draft system operation, glasswear, serving bottled beer (see how to pour a beer), and serving draft beer (see how many beers in a keg).
  • Beer styles. An overview of beer styles and parameters.
  • Beer flavor and evaluation. Identifying beer tastes and flavors, including normal flavors and off flavors and their sources.
  • Beer ingredients and brewing processes. Overview of ingredients and basic brewing processes.
  • Pairing beer with food. Introduction to pairing and flavor profiles. While only tangentially related, here’s some good information about creating a food and wine pairing menu.

The desired outcomes from the Cicerone level 1 exam completion is generally being conversant in the language beer, mastering beer service, and understanding how and why beer flavors fall flat.

The closed-book exam consists of 60 multiple choice questions with a 75% score needed to bass.

Cicerone Level 2: Certified Cicerone

The next level is Cicerone level 2, also known as the Certified Cicerone. This level designates a professional level of beer knowledge and tasting skills. It also gets individuals placed in the Cicerone certification directory.

The Cicerone Level 2 certification covers:

  • Keeping and serving beer. Extensive knowledge of purchasing and acquisition, advanced service and storage, advanced draft systems, beer keg tracking, beer keg sizing, and draft principles. Deep understanding of glassware. 25% of the exam.
  • Beer styles. Extensive study of European and U.S. beer styles and parameters. 25% of the exam.
  • Beer flavor and evaluation. Extensive flavor evaluation with tasting exam. 25% of the exam.
  • Beer ingredients and brewing processes. Deeper dive into unique ingredients and craft brewing techniques. 15% of the exam.
  • Pairing beer with food. Pairing concepts, common beer and food interactions, creating a pairing menu, designing a meal, classing pairings, and cooking with beer. 10% of the exam.

To sit for the Cicerone Level 2 exam, participants must pass the Cicerone Level 1 exam. To pass the Cicerone Level 2 exam, participants must score at least 80% overall across the written and tasting portions, and at least a 70% on the tasting portion.

BinWise resources page

Cicerone Level 3: Advanced Cicerone

The Cicerone Level 3 is also known as the Advanced Cicerone. This certification designates individuals with deeply developed style knowledge, hands-on experience managing service, exposure to brewing processes and ingredients, and extensive experience with beer and food pairing.

The Cicerone Level 3 syllabus consists of:

  • Keeping and serving beer. Assessing age and condition of shipments, alcohol’s physiological effects, rotating inventory, storage protection, mastery of draft systems and principles, beer pricing, glassware maintenance, serving unique beers. 20% of the exam.
  • Beer styles. Advanced knowledge of domestic and international style evaluation. 22.5% of the exam.
  • Beer flavor and evaluation. Aroma, taste, mouthfeel, finish, and variations in taste and color. Chemical compounds and their effects, how flavor is perceived. 22.5% of the exam.
  • Beer ingredients and brewing processes. Advanced knowledge of ingredients, growing regions, fermentation, brewing, carbonation, pasteurization, and packaging. 20% of the exam.
  • Pairing beer with food. Advanced knowledge of pairing concepts, interactions, intensities, accentuations, effects, and pairing creation. 15% of the exam.

The Level 3 Cicerone exam is a one-day event that requires numerous written, oral, and tasting components. Taste assessments include a significant range of off-flavors, blind assessments, and description analyses of blind tastings. A grade of 80% overall and at least 75% on the tasting portion is required to pass.

Cicerone Level 4: Master Cicerone

The Cicerone Level 4 mints Master Cicerones, the most accomplished of the beer professionals. It’s the fourth and highest Cicerone level and designates a supreme mastery over the subject matter and principles the other 3 levels cover.

At this level, candidates and awardees are expected to be able to converse with industry-leading brewers and chefs as a peer—while also helping make beer more accessible to consumers. This requires an expert grasp of knowledge, vocabulary, and leadership skills.

The Cicerone level 4 syllabus is too long to adequately summarize in a blog post of this scope. The topics remain the same: keeping and serving, styles, flavors and evaluation, ingredients and brewing, and pairing, with each section representing 20% of the final exam. But the level of mastery that a Master Cicerone demonstrates in these is world-class.

Candidates for the Master Cicerone achievement participate in a 2-day examination in Chicago that’s offered once a year. It consists of multiple oral, written, and tasting sections. An overall grade of at least 85% is required to pass.

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How Many Level 4 Cicerones Are There?

There are presently 19 Master Cicerones in the world. Pretty rare air. 17 are based in the U.S. and 2 are based in the U.K.

To put that in context, 269 individuals have earned the Master Sommelier title, worldwide, since its inception. See our master sommelier list for more information.

One thing that Cicerones and Sommeliers have in common is the emphasis on service and utility. How to become a sommelier is similar to that of a Cicerone. These aren’t academic degrees. Cicerones are working professionals that interact with the beer-drinking public. To be a good Cicerone means to understand how to run a beverage program.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Cicerone Certification

Beyond this breakdown of the Cicerone program and the levels under the Cicerone definition, there are a few other things you may want to know. A few of these common questions are:

How long does it take to become a Cicerone?

The Cicerone definition of the training means that there is not a set amount of time you can expect it to take to become a Cicerone. It depends on how you study for the exams, and how well you do. Some people take as little as six months. For some it can take years.

How hard is it to become a Cicerone?

To be frank, it's not exactly easy to become a Cicerone certified beer server. The amount of education you have ahead of you when you choose to pursue the certification is daunting. That said, if you apply yourself, and you truly enjoy the work of the certification and future work of being a Cicerone, it'll be well worth it.

What can you do with a Cicerone?

Being a Cicerone certified beer server gives you the same job advantage as that of a Sommelier. You can work as a highly-trained expert in bars and restaurants. Not every bar or restaurant will be looking for a Cicerone, but there's a booming job market out there for people with the Cicerone certification none the less.

For the vast majority of bars and restaurants, successfully running a beverage program is about smart inventory management. BinWise Pro helps businesses across the world automate inventory with a perpetual inventory system. That, in turn, makes collecting and analyzing data a simple, ongoing process. At the click of a button, variance reports, sales forecasting, and recipe costing is available.

If you’re not using bar inventory software, it’s time to make the leap.

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