Tap Into a Career in Beer With This Cicerone Certification Program

hand pouring beer into a glass from a tap
Whether you’re looking to expand your beer knowledge or thinking about a career in the industry, the Cicerone Certification Program could give you an edge. Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder
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When you ask Ray Daniels, the founder and director of the Cicerone Certification Program, about what inspired him to create the program, he gives a pretty simple answer.

“In short, bad beer,” Daniels says. “As a long-time beer lover, I had grown tired of being served beer that didn’t taste the way it should by people who knew nothing about them.”

Since its inception in 2007, the program’s aim has been to educate professionals on beer styles, brewing, storing and serving to ensure consumers are going to get the best possible product.

“With so many breweries and the way the market has grown, it’s important to know that the person serving your beer or the person making your beer knows what they’re doing,”  says Neil Callaghan, an advanced cicerone and El Lector at Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida.

The Cicerone Certification Program

There are four levels in the program, but don’t expect to breeze right through them; it took Callaghan about seven years to reach the advanced level, and there’s still one more to go!

Level One: Certified Beer Server

This entry-level certification is all about the fundamentals. You’ll be tested on proper beer service, such as pouring and handling, as well as basic beer style history.

The exam consists of 60 multiple choice questions, and you have a 30-minute time limit. Each exam fee gives you two attempts to pass.

  • Exam Fee: $69
  • Retake Fee: $69
  • Passing Grade: 75%

Level Two: Certified Cicerone

While the beer server certification is perfect for your average bartender or beer sales rep, it doesn’t grant you the actual title of cicerone. If you want to claim those bragging rights, you must pass a three-part, four-hour exam to become an official Certified Cicerone.

You’ll take a written test and a tasting portion to identify styles and flavors. You will also have to perform a demonstration pertaining to keeping and serving beer.

This test is no cake walk — it’s suggested that unless you are already an experienced professional, you spend at least a year preparing for this exam.

  • Exam Fee: $395
  • Retake Fee: $100 for tasting, $175 for written
  • Passing Grade: 80% overall, 70% on tasting portion

Level Three: Advanced Cicerone

This level is a fairly new addition, introduced in 2015 as a way to bridge the huge gap from Certified Cicerone to Master Cicerone. In order to pass the Advanced Cicerone exam, a candidate must have expert knowledge on all issues relating to beer, from food pairing to brewing techniques.

The exam is only given eight to 12 times a year in select locations. It lasts a full day and features multiple written, oral and tasting portions.

Think it sounds tough? You aren’t wrong, seeing as there currently are only 80 Advanced Cicerones in the world — including Callaghan, of course.

  • Exam Fee: $795
  • Retake Fee: $250 for tasting, $375 for written
  • Passing Grade: 80% overall, 75% on tasting portion

Level Four: Master Cicerone

OK, y’all: This is the big one. If you thought the last one sounded hard, prepare yourselves.

The Master Cicerone exam is only given once a year in Chicago, and it lasts two days. That’s right, two full days of essays, oral exams and tasting tests. Not only do you need encyclopedic knowledge about beer to pass this test, but also years of extensive industry experience.

Just how many people have passed this grueling test? Currently, only 16.

  • Exam Fee: $995
  • Retake Fee: $795
  • Passing Grade: 85% overall

How Do You Prepare for the Exams?

hand presenting small glass of beer
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

You drink a lot of beer. That’s it.

Just kidding. While you do need to drink a lot of beer in order to familiarize yourself with styles and flavors, you’re also going to have to hit the books.

Each exam has a free accompanying syllabus that outlines all the knowledge you will be tested on. Daniels suggests you familiarize yourself with this syllabus and then consult the program’s available educational resources.

These include in-person classes, course books, flash cards, visual aids and tasting kits. Keep in mind these aren’t free, but they also aren’t necessary to succeed in this program.

Callaghan’s method? Good old-fashioned note taking and beer drinking.

“I turned my kitchen table in my house into a desk, essentially,” he says. “It was a lot of going through books, writing, underlining, taking the underlines and putting them in a notebook, sorting all of the notebooks into different notebooks, making flashcards… and then a lot of drinking beer.”

On top of burying himself in books, Callaghan recruited some work friends to help him with taste tests.

He sent someone down to the liquor store armed with $200 and instructions to buy an assortment of beers. He then had someone blindly pour these so he could taste for styles and flavors and identify whether or not anything was wrong with them.

One book that both Callaghan and Daniels recommend is “Tasting Beer” by Randy Mosher. Callaghan says it’s a great resource to start with because it touches on all the different aspects you’ll be tested on.

Using Your Certification

If you’re interested in getting a career in the beer industry, starting with the Cicerone Certification Program could be a good choice.

Not only will it give you well-rounded, extensive knowledge on all things beer, it could give you an edge over the competition when you apply for a job. It’s not your ultimate key to entry, but it helps.

Don’t believe me?

Daniels says many people have approached him with success stories about how their certification landed them a job, and Callaghan is living proof that becoming a cicerone is beneficial.

Check this out if you want to read more about his personal experience as a cicerone in the beer world.

And at the end of the day, one more person with a certification means one less person being served bad beer. I think that makes it all worth it, don’t you?

Kaitlyn Blount is a junior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.