This Saturday, I passed the Beer Server Exam by the Cicerone Certification Program. This is a multiple choice exam that covers everything from beer styles to the effects of alcohol on the human body. Now that I have passed, I could go on to take the Certified Cicerone Test. This has a short answer portion, and a tasting and demonstration portion.
The beer server exam is a multiple choice exam which isn’t incredibly difficult for somebody familiar with beer. I figured I probably could pass the test after I started this blog and found I could write large parts of my posts without researching (don’t get me wrong, I still research every blog post I write, including this one). I had previously read about draught systems when I finally found out about the program last year and decided I could possibly pass this. I obviously didn’t follow through then.
There are really two certifications in the beer world that seem to matter. There is the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) and the much newer Cicerone Certification program. To explain the differences between the two, it might be better to compare them to the more well known versions in the wine world. These are the Wine Judge Certification Program and the Certified Sommelier Examination. Each of these programs has multiple levels.
The Wine and Beer Judging Certification programs as the names indicate are around for the sole purpose of training qualified judges to work at both amateur and professional Beer and Wine tasting competitions. The program primarily covers styles, tastes, aromas, mouthfeel, appearance, and off flavors.
The more common title is the Sommelier. Most people know these as the person who comes to your table at fancy restaurants and suggests different wines to go with your meal. Their jobs really goes much further. Besides, suggesting wine pairings, they may be in charge of the entire wine list, and they may train the wait staff. They may also be in charge of procurement and proper storage of the wine. Of course, a restaurants would not be the only one. A liquor store with a large wine section might employ one, a liquor distributor would probably employ one, and a vintner themselves might employ one.
When I decided I could do take this test, I basically read up on the effects of alcohol on the body and started to read through some of the BCJP descriptions of styles where listed as possibilities on the exam. I planned on reading about draught systems some more, but I forgot and before getting through half the styles just took the test. I got a 91% and actually German/Czech beer styles were my weakness. This makes sense as beer styles were the largest section, the most specific, and lower central European beers are probably my least favorite styles (not to say I don’t like them, but there has to be a least favorite).
Up until a few years ago, the beer world lacked any kind of certification program on the level of sommelier. They had the BJCP, but just because you know about taste and styles, doesn’t mean you know how to keep a draught system clean and in proper working order, or how to properly store and rotate beer so off flavors don’t develop. A lot of times when you get a draft beer from a bar and it has off flavors, it’s not the brewers fault, it’s because the bar hasn’t cleaned the draught lines in over a month and some nasty germs have taken up residence within.
With the craft brew explosion, people actually started caring about the taste of this perishable product, and how is an employer to know if somebody really knows anything about beer? Well, here comes the Cicerone Certification Program. A Sommelier is a word from middle French that referred to a person in charge of supplies. Over the centuries, it came to be somebody only in charge of wine. A Cicerone is a guide. An interesting choice of words, since a Cicerone’s job would be to guide a customer to a good beer that goes with their food and that hasn’t developed off flavors under their care.
The first level is the Certified Beer Server. There is an increasing number of bars and brewpubs that require the waiters and bartenders to at least pass this test. There are now over 13,000 people who have passed the test. That’s a pretty good start for a program that has only existed for a small number of years. The next level is a Certified Cicerone, which could theoretically one day be a job description in itself. A restaurant who takes beer seriously could employ one to be in charge of beer storage, the beer menu, and beer pairings.
The last level is Master Cicerone. So far there are 3 people who can claim the title. It is a two day test in front of a panel of industry experts which includes essay question, taste tests, and oral examinations. These people should be highly sought after in the beer industry.
Where do I go from now? I don’t currently work in the beer industry, so that requirement for Certified Cicerone may be hard to get. I can get a recommendation from somebody in the beer industry. If I do manage to get one, then I may take the next step. And of course, it helps with another career option if my current one doesn’t work out too well.