The national Cicerone Certification Program, created by the Craft Beer Institute in Chicago, has established three levels of beer expertise for professionals in the hospitality and beverage industries.
The first level is certified beer server—or someone who knows about proper beer storage and service and, to some degree, about beer styles and culture, tasting and flavor and the brewing process. Certification requires 75 percent or higher on a 60-question online exam.
The next level is certified Cicerone, defined (and trademarked) by the institute as someone who is capable of being a guide to beer culture. Like a sommelier in the wine world, a certified Cicerone has an in-depth knowledge of beer, including storage, service and history as well as the ability to determine a beer’s style and quality by taste. Certification requires a written exam and tasting test. “They give you samples of beer, and you have to pick out the style and tell them if it is ready to serve, or if something is wrong with it, what happened,” says Dana Russo, a certified Cicerone who works the taps at Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell.
The highest level of certification is Master Cicerone. Only a handful of people in the United States have achieved this level, which requires an “encyclopedic knowledge” of beer and a “highly refined” palate, according to the program’s website. Certification requires several years of experience and preparation for the two-day exam. “You really have to brew beer yourself to be able to pass,” says Russo. But learning more about beer, she says, is well worth it.