To Be a Cicerone

When I grow up I want to be a cicerone.

Sigh. The above statement is true.

A cicerone is the sommelier of the beer world. A lucky soul who gets to order beer for fine restaurants, recommend parings to chefs, write lengthy articles for beer connoisseur magazines and work in specialty beer stores giving wonderful advice to the general public.

As the interest in craft beer continues to gain momentum internationally, the need for these halo-toting folk is on the rise.

The Latin-originating term “cicerone” (SIS-uh-rohn) refers to a guide, historically one who shows you around museums/antiques and the like, or some other ‘landscape’ you don’t know.

Romanticized? Potentially. But also an incredibly useful way to think about both the world of beer and the world’s beer.

The sheer quantity of craft beers now available can frequently leave an interested consumer not knowing where to begin, or unable to keep up with the – literally – daily updates from the beer community.

There’s so much information to weigh, from history to pairings to serving considerations, that it was logical and inevitable that a group of experts form. Enter the cicerone.

The term is old (1726 old) but, as applied to beer, quite recent. Certification programs, such as the Cicerone Certification Program, only began popping up in 2007.

Run by Chicago-based Ray Daniels, the program is rooted in an admirable goal: “I never again want to be served a bad beer in a bar,” says Daniels.

The Cicerone Certification Program’s objective is to “ensure that consumers receive the best possible beer and enjoy its flavours to the greatest extent possible”.

To accomplish this feat, they have developed their curriculum around the following broad subjects:

· Beer Storage, Sales and Service

· Beer Styles and Culture

· Beer Tasting and Flavours

· Brewing Ingredients and Processes

· Pairing Beer with Food

This is a field of study that entices both men and women the world over. Mirella Amato, one of seven Certified Cicerones in Canada, mentions that the four-hour exam is challenging, but that without the legwork, the certification would lack credibility.

The written and hands-on components are bolstered by a 12-beer sampling section to evaluate tasting skills. In 2008, only one of three sitters accomplished a passing score.

And thank god they did, because we can’t say enough good things about these wonderful people.

In chatting with Canada’s first cicerone, the incredibly amicable Chester Carey, we were encouraged to try two recommendations that would become two of our favorite beers of 2010: Southern Tier’s Imperial Oatmeal Stout and Ballast Point’s Big Eye IPA.

We can’t finish without noting that there is a wee bit of debate amongst wine and beer enthusiasts with regard to the terms beer sommelier, beer director, and cicerone.

Many people with years and years of study in the field of specialty beers are widely noted as either beer sommeliers or beer directors – or both – yet do not have, and do not feel the need to get, cicerone certification.

This discussion is very much like the difference between being a genius, and being a genius who has passed the right tests and belongs to Mensa.

Speaking of Mensa, why don’t you try your hand at a mock quiz designed to give you an idea of the real cicerone exam? Visit to see if you know your SRMs from your IBUs.

Please enjoy this article responsibly.

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