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That time we took the Cicerone Exam

The past two weeks have been a blur.

This past Monday, we took the Certified Cicerone Exam in Washington, DC. An immense amount of research-and-study drinking up to that point (followed by a good helping of dear-lord-it’s-finally-over drinking thereafter) certainly contributed to the aforementioned blur, but most of it was due to our total immersion study strategy. The exam’s difficulty is not due to its depth, but rather its breadth – the sheer volume of topics covered makes it significantly more difficult than having to learn one topic in great detail.

You need to know what separates a Czech Pilsener from the younger German variety. You need to know how to disassemble, clean, and rebuild a draft system. You need to know what parts of Europe have hard water, and how it influenced the region’s brewing methods. You need to know what beers would pair well with a number of specific dishes, and be able to thoroughly explain why. You need to know what common off-flavors taste like, and what causes them. The list goes on.

But let me rewind a bit and give a brief explanation of the Cicerone Certification Program. To oversimplify, a Cicerone is a sommelier for beer. It is a voluntary certification, assessing one’s knowledge of everything from the brewing process to beer styles, from food pairing to proper service and draft maintenance. There are three levels of Cicerone certification, each with it’s own exam: the Certified Beer Server, a fairly straightforward online test; the Certified Cicerone (what most people are talking about to when referring to “Cicerones”, and the level we’ve been shooting for), an incredibly intense four-hour exam with a written portion, a tasting portion, and a demonstration portion; and the Master Cicerone, a title only held by a select few people with an encyclopedic knowledge of beer.




So if it’s not only voluntary but ridiculously difficult, and is predominantly helpful in a job-acquisition scenario (which we’re kind of alright on at the moment), why would we want to become Certified Cicerones?

  1. We’re really young. We can’t rely on years of experience to prove that we know what we’re talking about, so we have to be as professional as possible to make up for that. Becoming Certified Cicerones means that according to an well-established standard, we really know our shit.
  2. It forces us to brush up on everything we already know, and learn a good deal of new things. Before preparing for the exam, we were pretty rusty on a few different beer styles, mostly German and British – now we’re much more confident in those areas. This is especially good for us at the present date, now that we’re right on the verge of opening the brewery after nearly three years of laying the groundwork.
  3. It sets a precedent for the future of our company. We’d like to have 100% staff here at The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. be certified, be they Certified Beer Servers or Certified Cicerones depending on their job descriptions. Having a knowledgeable staff is extremely important to us.
  4. There are currently only four Certified Cicerones in Pittsburgh, and only one of those four works for a local brewery (Chase Saraiva of East End Brewing Co.). We’d like to think that more Certified Cicerones means an increase, however small, in the overall credibility of Pittsburgh’s beer scene.

So all in all, it made a lot of sense for us to nut up and go for it. And, as expected, it was a beast of an exam, and the tasting portion was extremely subtle. But overall, we have a good feeling about it. For everyone that helped an encouraged us, we couldn’t have done it without you.

And now come the long few weeks until we receive our results.

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