Cicerone Certification

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Azzy, Aug 29, 2012.

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  1. Azzy

    Azzy Initiate (0) Jul 16, 2012 Texas

    What do you guys think about the Cicerone program? Im not talking about the first level server certificate but the more advanced levels and the master cicerone Level.

    I am currently in school at the University of Houston for Hotel and Restaurant Management. I plan to be working in the hospitality industry and more specifically in the Bar/Restaurant side of things. I do have a place in the city where I am planning to open a Craft beer and wine bar, the location has already been purchased and is in a great area in the city. I want to focus on both beer in wine because there are either great beer bars that serve little or no wine, or great wine bars that serve little or no beer. People who love wine are just as enthusiastic about their wine as we are about our beer. I will be placing great emphasis on both beer and wine, having a cellar for both the beer and wine that will be visible to the guests to some extent. I also plan to have to different rooms for kegs at two different temperatures and will also be cellaring kegs I believe will get better with age. Sorry to get sidetracked but I guess it's the reason for me wanting to pursue a Cicerone Certification.

    This is my last semester in school and I am taking wine appreciation class and am going to take my first level sommelier test in November. I do plan to keep on studying and expanding my wine knowledge in the future.

    I enjoy beer and after I get my first level sommelier certification, I will begin studying for the first level Cicerone test and the the advanced levels as well. Now the question I was trying to get at, what do you guys think about this program? Is it credible? How hard are the tests? I have heard the first level server Cicerone certificate is fairly easy but what about the second level and the Master Cicerone level?
  2. WynnO

    WynnO Defender (664) Oct 24, 2003 Florida

    This is first-hand information. Take it for what it's worth from an unknown person.

    An acquaintance of mine, a brewmaster for Shipyard (who subsequently went to greener pastures) who I met on a trip to Belgium this year took the Certified Cicerone test and passed it. He did it mainly for the personal satisfaction of having the credential, but get this: He said it was harder than the hardest tests he took at College. I recall him saying that in one exercise, they gave him a pile of parts; his job, with time constraints, was to construct a fully operating tap system.

    What was his major? It was in the field of chemistry---a BS degree! Like others he fell in love with brewing and changed his direction.

    I would like to see comments from some in the know as this subject is very intriguing.

    Best of luck to you! Let us know if you become a Master Cicerone immediately please. Last I heard there were only four of these on the planet! No joking.
  3. stupac2

    stupac2 Zealot (539) Feb 22, 2011 California

    There is no replacement for experience. A course may be helpful in guiding the process of gaining experience.
    VncentLIFE and jtmartino like this.
  4. Azzy

    Azzy Initiate (0) Jul 16, 2012 Texas

    I mean, Ive worked in restaurants for years but now I am barely getting into craft beer and wine. Im sure I will be tasting my great share of wines this semester and well tasting beer on my own also. Drinking is fun but tasting is work...
  5. lemongelo

    lemongelo Initiate (0) Jan 14, 2008 North Carolina

    I haven't entered the program, but am in the same situation as you somewhat. I already have my 1st level with the Guild Of Sommeliers and have gravitated towards beer. I have thought about doing the Cicerone program as well. The 1st level, from what I have heard, is very easy. Most people on this forum should be able to pass it. The 2nd is very hard and Master...well there are 5 in the world lol. I work at one of the top 100 restaurants in the US and in my position, wine matters more. I want to do the Cicerone program for me and wear the pin proudly. The bottom line is if you are going to do it and want it to matter on your resume, you need to get to the 2nd level. Being a Certified Sommelier through the Guild though would do much more for your resume. I do recommend listening to "The Home Brewed Chef" podcast on iTunes to get more education. There is an episode called "white table cloth service" I believe. It is Sean Paxton, that writes for beer advocate. I gotta get to bed bro. I can answer any questions you have though. I have worked in restaurants for 12 years, wear a suit when I wait tables and know the difference in sound between a spoon hitting the floor and a fork. :slight_smile:
  6. Mebuzzard

    Mebuzzard Poo-Bah (3,842) May 19, 2005 Colorado
    Society Trader

    The first test is easy(er), as this is my level. I haven't done the next level b/c I don't have the money, but those tests look pretty darn difficult and intricate. The program itself is legit, the concern I have is, what does it mean? For wine, a sommelier is a well known term, and some places will pay a pretty penny to maintain one on staff.
    If it's your restaurant/bar/pub, then there's no need to impress HR.

    However, the certification might lend prestige in the eyes of your patrons. But chances are they won't know what Cicerone is. They'll be impressed with your knowledge even though they won't know the depths that a Master Cicerone maintains (chemistry stuff and such). So, as far a professionally, the Cicerone notoriety isn't there yet.
    But, on a personal level studying for these tests will help you understand a lot about beer.

    Of course, drinking a bunch of different beers, joining a beer club and attending/hosting tastings is a great way to learn, too. Give it time...
  7. azorie

    azorie Champion (884) Mar 18, 2006 Florida

    The bigger question of any education is ROI. Of course in my 3rd career or 4th I lose track I got Cisco networking stuff, it payed off in the long run. Lucky for you the beer field does not change that much on the tech side. I know new recipes are poping everyday but the way folks drink beer has not changed much. BTW not saying its not hard road, but saying will it get you a job? Will it matter in most bars not likely. High end places that can afford to pay more sure/maybe. Depending on the profit markups, wine does well, beer not so least I not paying 25 for a bottle of Chimay blue...
  8. MacNCheese

    MacNCheese Initiate (0) Dec 10, 2011 California

    The Cicerone doesn't carry the recognition or prestige of a least not yet. If you're interested in doing it, do it. Knowledge won't hurt you, learning about the history of beer, regions where it's made and why classic styles come from certain areas is all valuable. I hope there is some sort of sensory training...and that will be what's most valuable. The ability to describe a beer, to understand what a person wants, then to point them in the direction of another great beer they've never had. If you have the time and you want to make a career out of it, sure, it won't hurt.
    dianimal likes this.
  9. mazerock

    mazerock Initiate (0) Jun 13, 2012 Colorado

    Also another besides the Cicerone is the BJCP will help as well... The Cicerone helps with all aspects of beer draft,distribution,styles,food pairing.. The BJCP helps with the tasting portion they both help immensely with beer to help further your knowledge.... I'm taking the Certified Cicerone in October and also taking BJCP classes it's fun to learn so much about beer..Good luck to you.. Cheers.
  10. afrokaze

    afrokaze Zealot (549) Jun 12, 2009 Arizona

    I passed the first test easily and I'm planning on taking the second level next year if things work out. Like others said, I don't think the Cicerone program means enough to most people yet to quite justify the cost, but part of that is time and those in the craft beer industry will pay attention to it. I'm looking to get into the biz and I can say that it will get you noticed at a beer bar over other applicants that don't have it, because the employer can assume that you have some pretty decent knowledge of beer styles and serving standards - the first test isn't too hard but covers a surprising range of topics. I originally took the test for fun but I know it'll pay off one day if I take it seriously. Good luck, cheers!
  11. palmdalethriller

    palmdalethriller Initiate (196) Dec 26, 2007 California

    As far as the program being legit and knowledgeable, it is that and then some. If you want to learn more about the beers you plan to serve, this is a great way. Experience is essential to understanding beers, it's why I won't ever call myself a beer expert, but education to supplement that experience is great.

    I know a handful of certified Cicerones (not master cicerones) and they are definitely among the most knowledgeable people (beer-wise) that I know. I also know a lot of brewers that are not cicerones, and they are also very knowledgeable.

    My suggestion - get the first step - the certified beer server. That stuff is relevant for a bar owner. I'd suggest having your employees taking that step as well. To really know the beer you're serving, go to the brewery and talk to the brewer. They know their beer best (at least, they should)
  12. Mavajo

    Mavajo Initiate (0) Feb 10, 2007 Georgia

    I've never understood this whole Cicerone thing. What practical benefit does it confer, other than being able to say "I'm Cicerone certified"? It seems like any active long-time member on BeerAdvocate or RateBeer would be more than qualified for virtually any beer job in the restaurant industry -- from a beer-knowledge standpoint, at least.

    Of course, this is coming from someone that thinks college and most post-secondary education is basically a racket, so I'm a bit biased against this kind of thing.
  13. azorie

    azorie Champion (884) Mar 18, 2006 Florida

    I know 3 folks who passed the 1 test and to be honest I am not noticing anything different in the beer pours and serving at the local brewery pub tap. meaning its nice they got a piece of paper but I doubt it got them a raise.
    Not to say its worthless, maybe in the next job they get, but its funny they are college students once hopes really they get a job paying more that a bar tender gets if they graduate. Of course some bar's have killer biz and they do alright but no health insurance etc.
  14. mhenson42

    mhenson42 Devotee (499) Nov 20, 2011 Texas

    ^Agreed with the above....If you aren't going to get paid more, why bother, unless it is for personal fulfillment.
    NoSignsOfPain, azorie and Mavajo like this.
  15. jtmartino

    jtmartino Disciple (317) Dec 11, 2010 California

    I have yet to meet a person who was able to get a raise or a better job due to their Cicerone Certification. I do know multiple brewmasters and brewery owners who think a formal education is far more valuable, as well as experience.

    The true value in the Cicerone Certification is what you do to study for it. You are self-administering an education to take a test that, for most, will have little or no value in the real world, other than for personal satisfaction.

    I will stand by my view that Ray Daniels is the only person truly benefiting from the Cicerone Certification program at this point in time. The other people who may benefit are those who work in the bartending/serving position, but I have yet to see the proof. Being a Cicerone will likely not help you get a job at a brewery, distribution company, etc. but it may eventually help you if the culture of beer continues to change.

    For someone planning on opening a beer and wine bar, the Cicerone certification won't help you as much as the studying will.
    jimmy666, azorie and Mavajo like this.
  16. Siggy125

    Siggy125 Disciple (370) Nov 10, 2006 California

    Great work setting goals and pursuing your dreams. I began to follow a similar path with the beer and wine joint but became disenchanted after seriously digging into the misgivings of trying to run a business in California. I'm not a young man anymore and cannot risk all I saved for retirement at this point in my life.

    I too am heavily into beer AND wine and feel they have a place together depending on a business plan. As for the Cicerone, I think it would be a great feather in your cap if you have the time and resources to pull it off. Even if just the first level. I know someone that just took the exam and started celebrating. There's a lot behind the certificate and the more real life experience you can pair with the piece of paper, the better.

    Drop me a bm later on and let me know how things are going. I have a soft spot for this post.
  17. omnigrits

    omnigrits Initiate (0) Jun 1, 2006 Texas

    I found this post from sierranevadabill enlightening. The first level is easy, at least for anyone who has worked in the industry for more than six months and takes an interest in more than just their paycheque, and probably for a significant proportion of BAs too. My employer decided last month that they want me (and a handful of others) to take the Certified Cicerone test in September but I know we're going to need far more time to prepare. I plan to go for it next year though.
  18. teal

    teal Initiate (92) May 3, 2012 Wisconsin

    Local beer distributor requires at least the first step to be a salesman. Talking to those working there - you need to be working serious on level 2 to be considered for more senior leadership.

    We have 2 breweries in town and from what I understand - the servers in their pubs do better if they at the least have level 1 down.
  19. IceAce

    IceAce Champion (884) Jan 8, 2004 California

    There seem to be a lot of naysayers regarding the program, but attaining the Certified Cicerone level (#2) was the first step in allowing me to rise above the 'glass ceiling' after 17 years with my beer wholesaler.

    My qualifications to conduct beer dinners (over 60 at this point) and beer seminars (including over 70 one-hour sessions for Disney's Food & Wine Festival) not resulted in a raise, but an entirely new position for which I wrote the job description.

    In addition, I have a column in a beer publication, co-founded an all-craft beer festival and do guest-lectures at a local college in their Beer & Culture course.

    Please do not view the examples listed above as chest-thumping, but as an unsolicited, real-world example of how the Cicerone Certification works. For me (and the fellow Certified Cicerones I know), acheiving certification is not an end to a means, but a beginning in which we possess the validation of competence for which some exclusive employers require.

    All I want at the end of the day is a beer which makes me think about its unique flavor and ingredients...and hopefully will make me a better beer guide.
  20. lemongelo

    lemongelo Initiate (0) Jan 14, 2008 North Carolina

    I know a guy who is a Certified of five in North Carolina. He manages World Of Beer. His distributors know he has that title for sure. Patrons have no idea, unless they ask. I work with one of five Advanced Sommeliers in North Carolina and I can tell you that title carries weight. The thing is, I am much more into beer. I think if you plan to be the owner then go for the Certified Cicerone...if its for your resume, become a Certified Sommelier and strive for Advanced...but I will warn you, the Assistant Sommelier I work with, who is certified...she studied for the advanced for a full year 5+ hours everyday and did not pass. My head sommelier, went for his masters and passed 2 of 3 areas, but you need 3 and he did not pass. There are about 200 masters in the world. The Cicerone Master program is relatively young. There are only 5.
  21. Mavajo

    Mavajo Initiate (0) Feb 10, 2007 Georgia

    This annoys me to no end. Companies put far too much emphasis on little pieces of paper (certifications, diplomas). The only value these things have is what people decide to place on them. There's no diploma for having a good work ethic or having common sense. You can teach knowledge on-the-job -- you can't teach someone to care.

    I know the thought process is "Well, if they got their diploma, then they must be a dedicated, hard worker." C'mon. That's a nice thought, but we all know better.
  22. Mavajo

    Mavajo Initiate (0) Feb 10, 2007 Georgia

    But did it make you better at your job and/or expand your kowledge base in a relevant and applicable way? I think that's what the point is here. The only real value of the Cicerone program appears to be whatever arbitrary value your employer decides to place on it.
    azorie likes this.
  23. jbertsch

    jbertsch Meyvn (1,184) Dec 14, 2008 Massachusetts

    I don't want to completely side track the thread but I'd like to hear more about the main difference between Cicerone and BJCP... does it really come down to Cicerone having a hefty focus on serving, draught dispension, in addition to style knowledge etc,. while BJCP is only about tasting, knowledge of styles, etc? I was looking for this insight online a few weeks ago and had a hard time finding a comparison between the two.
  24. azorie

    azorie Champion (884) Mar 18, 2006 Florida

    I bet you have a college degree first right? Not saying any cert is not going to help you if your employer values it, of course it will. be nice to have standards of knowledge be even more nice if you got paid for it though.
  25. azorie

    azorie Champion (884) Mar 18, 2006 Florida

    sounds like its almost to hard, having to know all the beer and all that jazz, its hard work. It would take all the fun out of beer drinking for me.
  26. omnigrits

    omnigrits Initiate (0) Jun 1, 2006 Texas

    I doubt that many employers believe that having a qualification automatically equals a hard worker, and there are plenty of people with a good work ethic who have no diplomas - that part of an employee's assessment comes from references from previous employers or observing the new employee on the job and doing evals, but having a qualification of some kind is a provable way of being sure the prospective employee has the knowledge they claim to have, as long as they haven't forged the qualification somehow. It's a benchmark of sorts.

    Do you have a driving licence? It's just a little piece of paper but when you get pulled over it proves to the cop that you've passed the test that allows you to drive on the roads. Having licence to drive a car on a public road is an abstract and an intangible - you've been given permission to do something, but over time we've come to call the piece of paper the licence. It's simply a piece of proof. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're a good driver, just that you've been tested to a certain standard and passed. If we lived in a world where everyone knew each other it wouldn't be necessary because the cop would know you and would know that you'd passed your driving test, but that's not the case so you need that piece of paper to show someone who doesn't know you. Same thing with diplomas and Cicerones and BJCPs.
    Danielbt, teal, alfrantzell and 2 others like this.
  27. StarRanger

    StarRanger Initiate (136) Nov 27, 2006 North Dakota

    It may be a personal goal to know a lot about beer or an employer's requirement that you know a lot about beer. The Certified Cicerone is a quantifiable goal for people to shoot for and a specific requirement an employer can tell staff that they need.

    People certainly have gained that knowlege level without taking the tests or studying specifically to be a Cicerone, but the certification may be the identifiable goal for them to shoot for. It also gives a guideline on what level of knowlege is needed and also what subjects should be covered. I personally know a good bit about brewing, beer styles, and food paring but I have never worked in a bar so I have very little knowledge in the areas of serving and draft operations - thus for me to say I know a lot about beer, those are areas I need to learn more about. Others who have worked in bars may ace those sections but need to work on the brewing process and pairing beer with food.

    Having a certificate that indicates you have completed a specific level of the Cicerone program does not make you a better worker, it just shows that you have proven that you know a good bit about beer and that may be a goal that someone had personally to prove to themselves that they know what they are talking abount. An employer who values beer knowledge can use that certification as a tool to see if the employee has the knowlege and/or has the drive to keep learning about the subject without having to do all that testing themseleves.
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  28. Mavajo

    Mavajo Initiate (0) Feb 10, 2007 Georgia

    I don't like the comparison. A driver's license is a minimum standard. I don't think that's comparable to a college degree.

    Regardless, seriously getting sidetracked here, which is my fault to begin with. Point is, I think the Cicerone crap is overrated and unnecessary, and I'm thoroughly disappointed to see that people are lending it credence.
  29. IceAce

    IceAce Champion (884) Jan 8, 2004 California

    ...and you are certainly allowed your opinion!

    Folks who are not in the business (especially those who have not made it a career) have little understanding of the inner workings of this industry...and your close mindedness and name-calling simply ensures that I will continue to do my best to see that you are, "thoroughly disappointed". :wink:

    Have a fresh and flavorful day, sir!
    GHC and teal like this.
  30. Mavajo

    Mavajo Initiate (0) Feb 10, 2007 Georgia

    Could you elaborate on your post a bit? What's the point you're trying to make regarding Cicerone and people not in the industry?
  31. RBassSFHOPit2ME

    RBassSFHOPit2ME Meyvn (1,056) Mar 1, 2009 California

    Playing Devil's advocate, once the highest level is achieved, I'm assuming it's not just so easy to kick back and enjoy beer anymore becuase you're too busy picking it apart in your mind.

  32. afrokaze

    afrokaze Zealot (549) Jun 12, 2009 Arizona

    So do you not think that there should be any sort of qualifications or standards for those who work in beer service? The point of the Cicerone program is to one day be the equivalent of the Sommelier certification for beer - it doesn't have that sort of recognition yet but I don't doubt it will soon. With the way craft beer is growing (3 new beer bars have popped up around me in the last few months,) there has to be a way to weed out those who don't have the knowledge that comes with serving a specialized product. Of course, this doesn't apply to all people, but beer fans tend to have higher expectations for service when they are paying good money. Wouldn't you like to know that your beertender has at least some standard of knowledge rather than just hoping they have been trained on the job? Even beer bar owners can improperly train their staff, and in the end that could hurt YOU, the consumer. It's easy to forget that the craft beer industry is still quite young in the state that it now is, and I think that the Cicerone program could lend it a lot of legitimacy if it becomes more widely accepted.
  33. Mavajo

    Mavajo Initiate (0) Feb 10, 2007 Georgia

    It seems completely unnecessary, in my opinion. Craft beer is a passion thing. I'd rather hire someone with the passion and no Cicerone, than a person with Cicerone and no passion.

    And if they have the passion, then what really is the point of Cicerone? They're going to have more beer knowledge than 99% of their customers already. This Cicerone is just superfluous at that point, and serves as little more than an artifical barrier for entry.

    I contend that Cicerone is bad for beer culture.
    azorie likes this.
  34. moju

    moju Initiate (0) Jan 18, 2011 Illinois

    Customers at bars are more informed than ever before, and will ask their bartenders legitimate questions about malt bills, IBUs, processes, etc. that most bartenders simply aren't able to answer. The idea that simply being passionate about craft beer qualifies one to answer any question that might be fielded, and that Cicerone is unnecessary, is true for the individual bartender but not to the industry as a whole. I manage a brewpub, and hire servers and bartenders...every application I've ever received states that they're passionate about craft beer, but it's the ones with certification that go to the top of the pile.
  35. Mavajo

    Mavajo Initiate (0) Feb 10, 2007 Georgia

    No, craft beer is a passion. Most people opening breweries aren't doing it because they think it's a smart business investment -- they're doing it because they love beer and want to make it for a living. Hence, it's a passion project. And I would think you'd want to staff your business with similarly-minded individuals.
  36. Mavajo

    Mavajo Initiate (0) Feb 10, 2007 Georgia

    Lol, are you kidding me? This is completely untrue.
  37. afrokaze

    afrokaze Zealot (549) Jun 12, 2009 Arizona

    Craft beer certainly takes passion first and foremost, but it is also a business and a growing one at that. What IceAce was mentioning was that there are plenty of people who are passionate about craft but that doesn't translate to being a good beer server directly. I was super passionate when I first started working at a beer bar but the reality of the job kicked my ass for the first month or so. I think employers like the certification because it shows not only passion for beer but also for professionalism, which is sorely lacking in many beer bars unfortunately (and the industry as a whole, some might argue.) I'm not trying to put down your opinion, just realize that the concerns are different from a consumer standpoint and that of a businessperson. You're certainly right that it can seem like it can detract from the "homegrown" feel of the culture that drew me in, but it's going through some serious growing pains right now and attitudes will have to change if we want it to keep thriving. Unfortunately I think we're going to see a second round of breweries and bars pushed out of the business soon, and those that strive for better service and professionalism will likely survive. So what I'm saying is, agree to disagree :wink:
    bum732 and moju like this.
  38. moju

    moju Initiate (0) Jan 18, 2011 Illinois

    Nope, not kidding. I live in Chicago where the Cicerone program was launched, specifically to answer that growing need for an educated bar staff. In a metropolitan area there are a lot more bar/serving positions than there are beer geeks, certification is essential if you want the good jobs.
    JimmyW, MarcatGSB and IceAce like this.
  39. jtmartino

    jtmartino Disciple (317) Dec 11, 2010 California

    As I stated earlier, I know multiple people in the industry (both brewmasters and brewery owners) who put little stock in the Cicerone program. If I wanted to go get a job at one of their breweries, Cicerone certification rates lower than being an avid homebrewer. And it definitely rates lower than work experience, formal education and the ability to interview well.

    To people in the production side of the industry, Cicerone means very little. I really don't know how your employer would find it more valuable than work experience, since it is NOT a training program.

    And are you saying that your new position at the beer wholesaler requires Cicerone certification? Because it seems to me all the things you do associated with your profession (your column, the beer festival, guest lectures, etc.) could have been done without your Cicerone achievement.

    I'm just having a hard time buying it. We have something similar in my profession - a certification program. But at least it's coursework-driven, not simply an online test run by a private company without any kind of accreditation. But even then, it's not a substitute for work experience or interview ability.

    Perhaps if Ray were to team up with a true educational institution and offer coursework to go along with the test, I would give it more credit. But who knows? Maybe in 10 years people will actually give more credit to the program, and it may truly be a job requirement for the customer-facing side of things.

    Edit: I think moju nailed it. Cicerone is great if you want to be a bartender or server. I see no reason to get it otherwise. You are better off applying for an educational program and spending your time going to school.
  40. cmannes

    cmannes Defender (618) Mar 15, 2009 Minnesota

    Knowing someone is a Cicerone provides a baseline. If I'm working/talking with a Cicerone, I can assume a lot of basic things, including a common language. They're going to have a specific "jargon" in relationship to their knowledge of beer.

    A BA'er, who has a similar passion, and honestly has a similar level of knowledge, may have a different set of 'jargon/language.' It's not wrong. It's just how they learned about beer.

    If I'm hiring for a Beer Establishment (Distributor/Brewer/Resturant/Bar/etc), a commonality of language and communication is going to facilitate collaboration, and minimize mistakes due to assumptions and misunderstandings.

    Perhaps this means I only hire BAs. Or only BJCPers. Or only Cicerones. And of those three, Cicerone appears to be the most formalized. If someone tells me they're a BA'er, I have to make assumptions as to what that means. If someone says they're a Level 2 Cicerone, I know exactly what that means.
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