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Cicerone Certification Program Celebrates 10 Years

As craft beer has become more and more entrenched in modern cuisine, the way in which craft beer is served and presented in fine establishments has also become something of an art form.

With that mission in mind, the Cicerone Certification Program was founded 10 years ago by Ray Daniels in order to create the craft beer equivalent of a wine sommelier – a popular term in the wine world that conveys a person’s encyclopedic knowledge of selecting, acquiring and serving fine wine.

For the Cicerone (pronounced “sis-uh-rohn”) Certification Program, the expertise and prestige that comes with being a wine sommelier was something that Ray Daniels and company wanted to export to the craft beer world, with a few key components highlighted.

Cicerone is a trademarked title, which designates “hospitality professionals with proven experience in selecting, acquiring and serving today’s wide range of beers.” To become a Cicerone is a painstaking process that involves knowledge of many different beer-related subjects, such as: Keeping & Serving Beer, Beer Styles, Beer Flavor and Evaluation, Beer Ingredients & Brewing Processes and Pairing Beer with Food.

Becoming a Cicerone is a thoroughly prestigious title, as it entails an almost complete understanding of beer from the moment it enters a fermentation tank to its final destination in your vacant tummy.

According to the Cicerone Certification Program’s website, the program encourages continued participation by offering four levels of certification “beginning with the simplest and building to the most complex and demanding.” The four tiers of the Cicerone Certification Program are: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, Advanced Cicerone (a fairly new tier created in 2015) and Master Cicerone.

We spoke with CCP founder Ray Daniels about the continued success and importance of the program, as well as what the future holds for the organization in 2018 and beyond.

What led you to create the Cicerone Certification Program?
In short, bad beer. In the years before I started working on this idea, I'd been working as Director of Craft Beer Marketing for the Brewers Association. (Julia Herz took over from me and still holds that position.)

In that role, I traveled a lot and drank American craft beer in many different places. What I noticed was that many places didn't know a thing about the beers they were pouring and worse yet, many places were ruining those beers with improper storage, poor draft system operation or inadequate line cleaning.

At one point I thought, "Somebody should do something to improve the quality of beer and beer service that consumers receive.” That was the ultimate goal when I started, and it played a big role in how I designed the program.

Even in 2007, the whole idea of a "beer sommelier" program was not rocket science. Anyone who had been around the hospitality industry or had any familiarity with the wine world and then saw what was going on with beer could have thought of creating such a thing. Indeed, when I started the program there were many people already using the term beer sommelier.

A couple of things made my vision for the Cicerone program unique. First, when I asked people in the industry what we should call a "beer sommelier" program, a lot of them told me that they didn't care just as long as it wasn't "beer sommelier"! These folks didn't want beer experts to be known by a wine term. They really wanted beer experts to have a unique title. And one of the problems with that term (beer sommelier) is that it leads you down a path of treating beer service the same way that sommeliers treat wine service. That, I knew from early on, was not going to work.

Beer was its own beverage and it needed to be attended to and served in ways that were unique to, and appropriate for, beer. As a result, I purposely avoided looking at the wine sommelier program during development of the Cicerone program. I didn't even go look at their website until we'd been in business for six or seven years.

When did you realize that the CCP was a success?
It came in steps, of course, but I’d say there were two key times. In August of 2009, I remember flipping through my calendar and when I looked at the page for January of 2010 – just four months away – I said to myself, "Well, I wonder who I'll be working for then." After 20 months of operation and despite a lot of positive feedback, I'd just about reached the end of my ability to fund the program without an outside job. I had no intention of giving up on the program, but I did think that it might have to take a back seat to some other work. But that autumn, things took off.

Brewers and distributors began to participate in the program at a growing pace. By the time January rolled around things had changed completely: Instead of looking for a job, I hired my first part-time employee. By August of 2010, that employee was full-time and we had moved operations from my condo to rented office space a few blocks away. What a difference a year makes!

The second big milestone for me came a few years later. We were in our second, larger office quarters and the employee group had grown to four full-time folks (including me). In February 2012, we passed an important milestone when we reached 10,000 Certified Beer Servers. That number felt substantial, and honestly, very special. At that point, I figured that Cicerone had earned a place in the beer industry and that it was unlikely to go away any time soon.

To become a Cicerone is a painstaking process that involves knowledge of many different beer-related subjects, such as: Keeping & Serving Beer, Beer Styles, Beer Flavor and Evaluation, Beer Ingredients & Brewing Processes and Pairing Beer with Food.

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