Many people are familiar with the term sommelier, and people generally associate the term with wine. However, this term can also be applied to people with knowledge about beer, called beer sommeliers. The issue with the title of beer sommelier is that it requires no official, specific training. Technically, the two of us on this show could be called beer sommeliers, which shows just how little the term currently can mean. While there are plenty of beer sommeliers that have good training and are very knowledgeable, the lack of a certification and defined background to acquire the title places its legitimacy at times in question.
This issue was addressed in 2008 when Ray Daniels, a brewer from the Chicago area, started the Cicerone Certification Program, which replaced the term beer sommelier with Cicerone. The word Cicerone is defined as “one who conducts visitors and sightseers to museums and explains matters of archaeological, antiquarian, historic or artistic interest.” This term was selected by Daniels to show that while the certified Cicerone is of course knowledgeable about the beer itself, they are also qualified to speak about the historic and artistic aspects of beer as well.
Through Daniels program, a Cicerone will become fluid in five key areas:
- Keeping and Serving Beer
- Beer Styles
- Beer Flavor and Evaluation
- Beer Ingredients and Brewing Processes
- Pairing Beer with Food
The entire program may be too much for some, therefore it offers 4 different levels of certification:
- Certified Beer Server
- Certified Cicerone®
- Advanced Cicerone TM
- Master Cicerone®
As of 2013, only seven people have achieved the top level of Master Cicerone. But about 900 have passed the regular exam, and an additional 27,000 have become Certified Beer Servers. In order to become a Cicerone, you must complete a course at the Craft Beer Institute, as it currently holds the trademark for the use of the word Cicerone as it relates to the beer community.
As the craft beer community continues to grow, experts in the field become more desired. Widmer Brothers for example will now pay employees to complete this exam, and requires employees to complete the basic level exam by the end of their first year of employment. The advantage of having an employee who can communicate well with a customer about all aspects of their craft beer experience is crucial to assist breweries in standing out amongst their many peers. Getting the right beer into the customer’s hand is something every craft beer consumer and brewery can cheer.