What is a Certified Beer Cicerone?

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When owning a craft beer bar, it’s important to know all of the ins-and-outs of the business; which moves far beyond just serving different styles of beer. Since craft beer is such a young industry, it’s generally been up to those inside of it, to educate each other on new trends.

Wine has always had their experts known as “sommeliers,” and often craft beer experts have lumped themselves into that label. That is until 9 years ago, when the Cicerone program was born, specifically for the craft beer industry. So, who is this beer expert? What do they do? And, how can you get one in your bar?

What is a Certified Beer Cicerone?

Developing an expertise on beer requires constant attention in the ever changing landscape of flavor profiles. Just knowing the history and taste of a beer, is no longer sufficient. A beer expert should be staying on top of new brands, styles, and special beers.

Anyone can call themselves an expert on beer, but what makes someone a Cicerone? The term is derived form an old English word meaning:

“one who conducts visitors and sightseers to museums and explains matters of archaeological, antiquarian, historic or artistic interest.”

This describes the duties of a Cicerone, in the sense that they must possess the knowledge and skills to guide those interested in the beer culture, on the history and artistic aspects of every craft beer. Cicerones aren’t just experts, but guides; leading patrons to a memorable and enjoyable experience with craft beer.

A Cicerone can only earn the title after a rigorous round of testing, through the most advanced and difficult beer education program in the world. Although beer sommeliers have received excellent training, their programs vary, and anyone can call themselves a sommelier. The Cicerone title holds trademark status in many parts of the world, including US, Canada, and Europe.

A Brief History

Ray Daniels is the brainchild behind the Cicerone Certification test and title. He first created the test in 2007, and was met with some criticism. Many people in the industry asked the obvious question, “What gives this guy the right to judge a person’s beer expertise?” Well, he has certainly proven himself of this right, from both his former experience, education, and careful mentoring and guidance.

Originally a biochemistry major at Texas A&M, Daniels went on to graduate from the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago (i.e. the best beer-making school in the country). He has traveled the world tasting and judging beers, written the best-selling book “Designing Great Beers,” and served as the president of the Chicago Beer Society. In other words, the man knows his beer, and everyone seems to agree.

Daniels finally decided on the term “Cicerone,” rather than “Sommelier,” because he loved beer so much, he felt it deserved it’s own identity. He correctly guessed there would be a hunger for standards in the craft beer industry, and he has humbly made it his mission to install them.

The Course

The Cicerone exam consists of a variety of exhausting tests, that in addition to tasting, include short answer and essay questions on everything “craft beer,” like: brewing, serving, storing, and pairing.

The program’s general mission is to ensure consumers receive the best quality beer, served in the finest way, on every occasion. In order to maintain this standard, the program demands anyone who serves and sells beer should know the following:

  • Beer Flavor and Temperature
  • Beer Styles
  • Storing and Serving Beer
  • Ingredients and Brewing Process
  • Pairing

The Cicerone Certification program is incredibly demanding, and because of this, it features a variety of levels, for both training and certification. The following are the courses they offer, and the certifications acquired from each:

  • Certified Beer Server – First-level certification for those who work with beer. 
  • Certified Cicerone® – Certification of knowledge and tasting skills for professionals dedicated to beer.
  • Advanced CiceroneTM – The next level of Cicerone, more advanced than just a certification.
  • Master Cicerone® – The ultimate test of beer expertise.


The Champs

Although there are thousands of Certified Cicerones in the country, there are currently only 11 Master Cicerones. Andrew Van Til, 33, a salesman for Elite Brands in Kalamazoo, Michigan was the first person to pass the grueling 2 day exam. As he stated about his experience:

“It was probably the most mentally exhausting two days of my life. It was a long time to write and think about beer.–Now, I can walk into a room of people who have never met me, and they believe what I say about beer. The whole status of beer is elevated when you have people recognized as experts who can drive education.”

So what does this mean for your business as a craft beer bar owner? Breweries and distributors have been lining up to take the exam since 2007, and bars are quickly catching on. The Publican, in Chicago, began demanding all front-of-house employees at least pass the certification program.

Consumers want an entire beer experience these days, not just “a cold one.” The Cicerone program is no better way to ensure your staff (as well as yourself) are the utmost educated on the product you’re selling.

Once you have staff certified, TapHunter is a great software program that can help announce these accomplishments to all of your guests. Whether it is on your printed menus, a digital drink menu, or a blast out to all of your social media channels, people will know you are staffing craft beer experts at your bar.

For more information on how you and your staff can reach Cicerone status today, check out their program. It’s a great way to be taken seriously in the craft beer industry.