In the last two decades, craft beer has skyrocketed in popularity.
It’s hard to believe that beer used to be considered downmarket, a monolithic product that – in most cases, at least here in North America – referred to watery, straw-colored American lagers and little else. Like vintners before them, craft beer manufacturers weren’t content with such a narrow definition, and kickstarted a decades-long project to reclaim beer’s good name – brewing the beverage with renewed attention to detail and continual innovation.
Enter the Cicerone
Alongside this craft beer revolution sits the cicerone. The cicerone wears a few different hats: beer ambassador, beer guide, beer server, and appreciator. The demand for these certified connoisseurs is high, as cities continue to fill with microbreweries, restopubs and fine dining establishments looking to add a little hop to their beverage menu.
You can think of cicerones as the equivalent of sommeliers (wine experts employed to explain, sell, serve and choose wine for establishments). Like sommeliers, cicerones are certified via rigorous training courses and exacting tests.
Taking the Certified Cicerone Test
If you’re interested in becoming a cicerone, you need two fundamental certifications to your name: cicerone certification, and responsible beverage serving certification (more on that below) from a sommelier school.
Cicerone certification involves working your way through levels corresponding with education and beer mastery. Level 1 certifies you as a “Beer Server,” teaching you core styles, proper pouring, flavor profiles and more. Levels 2 and 3 (“Certified Cicerone” and “Advanced Cicerone,” respectively) expand on this knowledge, covering myriad styles, preparation techniques and tasting notes. Finally, level 4 certifies you as a “Master Cicerone,” a world-class expert in all things beer (there are only 18 people who have achieved this!)
Level 2 is generally accepted as the baseline for cicerones hoping to take their passion from a hobby to profession. If you want to be taught by instructors with a national certification you can choose bartending schools.
Getting Your RBS or Equivalent Certification
To become a working cicerone – that is, a knowledgeable beer server – you also need a certificate in serving alcohol responsibly. As of July 1st, this means undergoing RBS training in California, a relatively quick regimen of courses that teach you the social/physical impacts of alcohol, laws and regulations around alcohol, prevention of overservice, and prevention of service to minors. You can easily apply for these courses online, earmarking an evening to complete your certification. The training is available in English or Spanish and costs roughly $20, a fraction of the cost of cicerone courses.
If you don’t live in California (or plan to apply out-of-state), consult your local authority for certification standards for alcohol service.
Applying for Jobs as a Cicerone
Per popular recruitment sites, the most common jobs for a certified cicerone are taproom server, brewery guide, fine-dining bartender, and sales representative. Once you are a certified cicerone, and having completed your RBS certification, consider where you’d feel most comfortable. Are you “in your element” educating patrons on tours, or do you prefer the (relatively) solitary task of bar service and inventory ordering?
The craft beer explosion shows no signs of abating. If you want to take your love of beer from a pastime to a money-making opportunity, consider cicerone and RBS certification.