By Sonia Motisca, Maple Leaf Editing
The word “Cicerone” (sis-uh-rohn) is a reference to the Roman statesman, writer, philosopher, and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero’s eloquence and love for learning. More recently, the term has been adopted to denote a person with vast knowledge and expertise about all things beer. As a sommelier is an expert of the wine world, a Cicerone® is an expert of the beer world. To make this distinction official, the Cicerone® Certification Program was founded in 2007.
The program offers four levels of certification, each with rigorous standards and thorough examinations designed and conducted by some of the beer industry’s top professionals. The first level is a basic certification that results in the designation of Certified Beer Server. The next three levels result in official, trademarked Cicerone® titles: Certified Cicerone®, Advanced Cicerone®, and Master Cicerone®. All four levels provide an opportunity for beer fans and those working in the industry to legitimise their qualifications in the evolving world of beer.
There are currently 2,944 Certified Beer Servers across the country. In addition, 155 Canadians have reached Certified Cicerone® status. Canada has 11 Advanced Cicerones®, and only one Master Cicerone®, Mirella Amato, who is based in Toronto and has built an impressive career in beer that spans over a decade. Victoria is lucky to have 13 Certified Cicerones® among its craft brewing ranks, and only one Advanced Cicerone®, Stephane Turcotte, co-founder and brewer of Île Sauvage Brewing Company.
Level 1: Certified Beer Server
The Certified Beer Server level covers many of the basics of working with beer. It is a great starting point for people interested in craft beer on a more general level, but also for people interested in getting into the industry.
Level 2: Certified Cicerone®
A Certified Cicerone® requires a solid, well-rounded understanding of beer and proper beer service, as well as competence in assessing beer quality and identity by taste. It is particularly useful for professionals working in the industry and would be equivalent to a sommelier position in the world of wine. The exam is four hours long and must be registered for well in advance.
Level 3: Advanced Cicerone®
The Advanced level is the newest addition to the Cicerone® Certification Program, introduced in 2015 as a bridge between the Certified and Master levels. An expert knowledge of beer and excellent tasting ability is necessary, and successful candidates should have profound style knowledge, hands-on experience managing beer service, direct familiarity with the brewing process and ingredients, and frequent experience in beer and food pairing.
Stephane Turcotte can attest to just how difficult the exam is at this level. Even after brewing beer for several years and receiving the first two levels of certification, it still took him five months of nightly study (several hours each evening) to prepare for the Advanced level in his own certification journey, which started about four years ago.
“It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Turcotte admits. “I’d been living and breathing beer for seven years so I didn’t start from nothing. There’s a pretty big body of knowledge that you need to be able to draw from. It actually encapsulated everything from the brewing of the beer to how it comes out of a draught system.”
Figuring out ways to direct self-study is a critical aspect of successfully passing the exams. Stephane did as many blind tastings of beer as possible, and also made an effort to cook and eat various world foods to assess their flavour profiles and compatibility as part of his study process.
For someone in the industry, getting certified makes a lot of sense. Turcotte says he uses the knowledge he’s gained through his certification daily.
Level 4: Master Cicerone®
The Master Cicerone® examination is taken alongside a dozen or so industry experts to ensure thorough and accurate assessment of candidates. With a pass rate of around 10%, it’s evident that successful candidates will require a lot of study, experience, and determination to achieve this still extremely rare title in the realm of beer. As Canada’s only Master Cicerone® and one of only 18 in the world, Mirella Amato has been a champion of craft beer for over a decade. When she wrote her exam in 2012, she was the fifth person to ever pass and earn the prestigious title.
Starting the Cicerone® journey
Since studying for the various levels is all self-directed, candidates need to really prepare themselves and build upon their own personal experience and foundational knowledge within the field of beer. There are some study resources to rely on, beyond the syllabi and study materials offered on the cicerone.org website.
Victoria Beer Week’s 2019 Beer School curriculum features several classes that would be useful to people who are interested in the Cicerone® Certification Program, including three classes at Île Sauvage Brewing. Check our schedule the full details of available classes.