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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Certified Cicerone™ (Beer Sommelier) Speaks

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 3:30 PM

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With the ongoing boom in the craft-beer market, the once simple beer list (Bud? or Bud Light?) can seem as intimidating as the fustiest tome of Bordeaux verticals.

That's where a Cicerone -- or, if you like, a beer sommelier - can come in handy.

The Cicerone program is an independent (and trademarked, hence the capital C) service that certifies a small number of beer experts in three different levels: certified beer server, Certified Cicerone and Master Cicerone.

Local distributor Major Brands recently had three members of its staff complete the Certified Cicerone exam. Gut Check caught up with one of them, Mitch Turner, the director of training and development, to learn more about the program.

What did you have to do to become a Certified Cicerone?

It's a four hour exam, and the test is comprised of several different sections, the first being a 150+ question test that covers beer production, beer styles, glassware...all that kind of stuff. They're all short answer questions, but some of the questions are longer than others. After that, there are questions covering food and beer pairings along with draft-system maintenance, upkeep and setting up draft systems, and beer-brewing processes.

There are two final parts. One is a demonstration, which is video taped on how you do a question they ask, and then tasting. There are thirteen blind samples with one control sample. You go through the twelve samples and some of them are spiked with different flavor compounds, or served in a dirty glass, or an old beer that's been sitting out in storage for too long. Some of them are perfectly fine and there's nothing wrong with them.

The second section of the blind tasting is [differentiating between different styles]. The last section is [a scenario] where a customer sends a beer back, and you determine if anything is wrong with it and what to do with it at that point. It's the scariest test I've taken in my entire life.

That sounds pretty intense. What was the most difficult part of the exam?

I think it depends on your experience in the beer industry. I started out as a brewer and worked for breweries for my entire life. For me, the hardest part was the blind tasting exam and pairing.

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