Ask any gourmand who a restaurant's resident wine geek is and they'll point towards the sommelier. It's a nice touch for fine dining establishments to have an expert on hand to demystify the beverage list and make thoughtful recommendations as wine service can be complicated. But with beer fast becoming as diverse and complex as wine, what about a comparable role for suds aficionados?
Enter the Cicerone Certification Program: With the advent of the cicerone, or beer expert (Italian, from cicero, or guide), the sommelier now has a brewskie-guru counterpart. A cicerone is an educated beer enthusiast who knows the ins and outs of the explosion of new breweries, releases, styles, and trends and, after demonstrating different levels of expertise, has earned professional certification.
As a cicerone, one is expected to know the parameters of color, bitterness, and strength for each style of beer and there are well over 100 styles. Being able to describe every aspect of the beer to a customer is crucial as well. How is the beer brewed? What ingredients are used? Where is the beer from and what cultural aspects of that place are apparent? All good questions.
A cicerone must know what foods pair best with what beers. For example, classic food and beer pairings from the Old World are easy to find. One that seems a perfect marriage in the Lowcountry is the pairing of oysters and stout. In fact, several local breweries here have produced an oyster stout. Knowing the classics is a great way to get started. Soon, a cicerone can develop pairing philosophies that can take beer into culinary trips where other beverages rarely go.
Beer-Clean glassware is a must. Beer-Clean just refers to the glass being completely free of dirt, oil, and soap residue. Proper pouring and glass-shape selection plays a vital role in the customer's perception and enjoyment of the drink. Making sure that your draft system (beers on tap) is properly cleaned and balanced so that off-flavors and aromas are not imparted to the beer is important too.
A quick trip to cicerone.org will present you with a syllabus and a list of books and study guides. While the program offers flashcards and online tutorials, the bulk of the studying is an individual pursuit. In fact, passion and a willingness to try new things will fuel the drive to read more and taste more.
There are three levels of professional certification for the program. Naturally, the expectations of the candidate become more difficult as you move up.
1. Certified Beer Server: Achieved after passing a timed online quiz that briefly touches on all areas of knowledge in beer and service.
2. Certified Cicerone: Consists of a three-hour written exam and one-hour tasting exam, much of it blind. Plus, some form of demonstration usually involving service or draft equipment.
3. Master Cicerone: Two-day test. Multiple hours of written, tasting, and oral exams. Currently there are only seven Master Cicerones in the world.
This summer Edmund's Oast continues their Beer School with, "Women's Work: Exploring the Female Role in the History of Beer Brewing." For more info, visit edmundsoast.com.