I’m in the process of studying for my Certified Cicerone® exam. For those of you not familiar with the Cicerone program, it is a Certification Program for product, systems, and service knowledge (beer is the implied subject). There are three levels: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone®, and Master Cicerone®. As of October 23, 2014 there are only nine Master Cicerones® (2 passed in October). The program was established in 2007.
In all honesty, I took it in September and didn’t pass. I thought I was prepared. I was not. It’s HARD, as it should be. I was expecting hard but I completely underestimated the level of detail it would require. Official maximum alcohol by volume (by the standards of the Beer Judge Certification Program) of Schwarzbier to the nearest .1%. The exact SRM range of American Pale Ale. That kind of detail. It’s a little intimidating but now I know and I WILL crush it on the next go. (The answers are 5.6% and 5-14).
The other difficulty I have is that I possess a prejudiced palate. That’s right, my tongue prefers the hops. I know that’s cliché yet controversial but I also drink black coffee, Barolo, and Amari of all types. My chocolate? Dark, darker, darkest.
Now bitterness in beer can come from things other than hops. There’s black patent malt in there, delicious. Carbonic acid in the form of a nice rocky head on my brew and I’m a happy woman. And I do appreciate the quality and complexity of the beers less bitter, they just don’t hold my heart. So when I order a beer and I’m not specifically studying I drift to my beloved IPAs. It takes actual effort to order a Scottish Heavy ale or a Vienna lager. Once I do, I often enjoy them but…
So I practice blind tasting and style recognition, even of beers that are second to my heart. I try and identify flaws and memorize producers. I analyze my food and make imaginary beer pairings with detailed explanations. I read and re-read the technical requirements of beer styles. I review my draft systems notes and manuals, underlining and highlighting. I will pass my second time. I will crush it.