Friday, February 17, 2012


On February 14th, 2012, the number of Certified Beer Servers (CBS) reached 10,000. As a present to all of us, the next day the exam was $10 instead of the usual $69, which triggered something like an exam stampede as over 700 people took the 60-question multiple choice exam on all things beer. 

Backstory: the word Cicerone® means "guide" in Italian and becoming a Certified Cicerone® is vaguely analogous to being a sommelier, which translates to "wine steward" in French, but for beer. Certified Beer Servers are the first level of credentials handed out, the next being Certified Cicerone®. The final level earns one the title of Master Cicerone®, and the organization is notoriously stringent with its trademarks, which they are entitled to be.

I'm waiting for the final tally, but I know that February 15th was the busiest day ever for the website, which at times wasn't able to handle the traffic. The website allows one to view the number of CBSs by city, so we'll soon find out how DC stacked up among those 700, but an informal tally via twitter reveals that at least 26 people in the #dcbrews community took and passed the exam. Meridian Pint lead the way, as 6 of their staff joined the ranks of Certified Beer Servers. Coming in second as an institution was yours truly,, with 4 CBSs now on staff, including myself.

I took the exam over a period of about 10 minutes, and for the first third of it I was working with a staff member on scheduling, so it wasn't exactly taxing, though there were a few questions that genuinely stumped me. I think of it as a feather in the cap, a sign that my beer knowledge is up to snuff. Ten dollars isn't a lot to pay for that validation, but I am ambivalent about the Cicerone® program. I don't think this is something you need for external validation, and it saddens me when people think that way. Blind item relating to this point: once I interviewed a restaurateur who lied about being a Certified Cicerone®, the next level up. It's mystifying that someone I talked to for several hours, who clearly knew what they were talking about when it came to beer, would misrepresent themselves like that. When I asked this person about being a Certified Cicerone®, I was told
That’s a very interesting question. For me it was mostly a business decision. There are a lot of [redacted] companies in [redacted] and I thought this could really help with marketing and finding a niche, and it did. I think that some people will take you more seriously with these kind of credentials. At the same time, it’s nice to have this piece of paper that shows what I know, what I’ve been working on for a long time.
When I found out (this information is easily accessible on the website), this person confessed via twitter:

Ouch, had always used that as a means of conveying my expertise, never again. Self taught. IAdmire your thoroughness #lifeslessonsinhumility
We haven't spoken since.

There is a tension between making beer accessible to all - and I think most people agree that beer is more accessible than wine, which is one of its appeals - and acting as a gatekeeper to that knowledge, and that dichotomy is inherent in the program. I'm also surprised that Ray Daniels, who runs the organization, is the only person doing this. It strikes me that there's room for more than one of these operations, even though I'm not sure these operations need to exist outside of my, and our, need to validate and codify what we already know. 

What did you think of the exam, or of the Cicerone® program, or of the accreditation of craft beer? Does this make you more likely to sign up for a Certified Cicerone® exam, the next level up? Let me know in the comments, and if you were one of those who passed the exam, congrats!

[UPDATE: approximately 900 people took the CBS exam and passed on February 15th. Approximately 100 of them are from the DC-metro area. DCBeer has written about it. Also, please read JP's comment below, which could be a post on its own.]


  1. I too took the Cicerone Certified Beer Server and received a score of 85%. This score was achieved in 7 minutes while I was on the phone with a client. At $10, how could I not?

    Let it be known that I am a brewer with 10 years of experience and do not work in the service industry. I felt this was a test of common knowledge... to someone who deals with beer styles regularly.

    Personally, the exam was not challenging, but then again, I have the experience. To someone who is 18-25 with no craft beer experience, this exam could be daunting and they would probably need to do extensive studying.

    Honestly, I feel I could confidently pass the next level without studying, though I would need to brush up on my off flavors. If they offered this level at $10, I would jump at the opportunity. With that said, I have no reason to get the next level. It has no baring on how or what I brew. The only reason I took the server, honestly, was that it was $10 and all the other dudes in the crew were doing it. Bragging rights.

    DC is a proud community of beer enthusiasts with varying palates, knowledge base, and opinions.I will still challenge the resident Cicerone on this years Hop Slam v. Double Trouble. My palate still thinks, stylistically, DT wins this year. But that is the thing, beer is mainly opinion based.

    From a brewers perspective, I feel the Certified Cicerone is a necessary, if one is going to tout their establishment as the place to go for great beer with knowledgeable staff... which is necessary to help bring outside palates in and undo the brain washing that is Bud Light Platinum. It shows that there is a standardization of education, to be passed on to the consumers within the service industry. Better beer demands better service.

    As for dudes that will read this article, or even comment on it, the Cicerone is not necessary. I do respect our Cicerone's in town. Their passion is proof in that certificate. Bragging rights? Yes. Proof to the service industry of their knowledge? Yes. Respectable? Hell yes. For me? No.


    1. I agree with the "bragging rights" part, but not with the necessity of being a Certified Cicerone® at the retail level. If you have a good tap and bottle list, maintain your lines, and can recommend me a beer, I'm happy. You don't need to pass an exam to do that. In addition, passing an exam is no guarantee that I'm going to enjoy your establishment.