For most of my adult life, beer has been one of my major passions. The amount of time I am willing to spend in the beer aisle is seriously pushing the point of diminishing returns. In college, I was always the guy that had to show up to a party with some random, unheard of sixer of beer. The more obscure, the better. This curiosity and willingness to try new things and stretch my palette led me to a fairly advanced level of knowledge on the subject, or so I thought. When I finally dove headlong into brewing, I learned that I knew NOTHING. I didn't even really speak the language of the world I thought I was so entuned with. This was, disconcerting to say the least, but what to do about it? Enter the Cicerone program.
When I first heard about the program, the thought "how much could there really be to learn?" entered into my head. Well, as it turns out…A TON. There is a TON to learn. Everything from yeast health, hop selection, grain bill creation, global beer history, and so on and so on. Right down to the mathematical expression of pressure vs. resistance required to balance a beer line…and how/when to clean it! It is insane how much there is to learn and know about the world of beer. This can prove to be more than a little daunting to those who are looking to scale the walls of beer knowledge, but are still standing on the ground. I know it was to me. However, I have never shied away from a challenge in the academic world and certainly wasn’t going to here. So I started my research into what it would take to earn a "PhD in beer". Having achieved only a Masters in grad school, I figured why not go for the full on PhD in beer? This PhD is a Level 4 Master Cicerone. This can take years to achieve and isn't even based on your ability to learn…some people simply do not have the genetic disposition to be able to pass certain parts of the tasting portion of the test. It is highly exclusive but it is where I wanted to be, why not shoot for the top?
The Cicerone program is broken out into four levels. Level 1 is a Certified Beer Server, designed to increase the knowledge of the people working behind the bar and interfacing with customers on a regular basis. This covers a range of topics from beer styles and how to serve them to draft lines and how to balance them. It is a 40,000 foot view, though very helpful in grounding your knowledge of beer and the industry as a whole. Level 2 is more detailed in its information, including in-depth knowledge of certain beer styles (English/Irish, German and American) as well as the ingredients and processes used in creating beer. It is the first level with a proctored exam, as well as a tasting portion. Level one is like an Undergrad degree in beer. Level 3 is a Masters degree in beer. This level was only developed in 2015 to identify those in the industry who had pushed their knowledge even further down the path to complete understanding. With written, oral, tasting and blind tasting sections, the knowledge needed to successfully pass to this Advanced Cicerone level is significant. And then there is Level 4, Master Cicerone, the PhD of beer. This is a multi-day exam with hands on demonstrations of knowledge, blind tasting for off-flavors and an insane level of knowledge around commercial beers and the brewing/serving process. In short, those that pass to this level know their stuff…to put it lightly.
Level four. That is where I want to go. But wow, it seemed (and still does) so freakin far away. Like an impossible journey away. So I guess the only way to start is with the first step. As the old saying goes, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Keep showing up and putting out and you'll get there. That's what I have been doing over the last year. Learning, showing up and putting out effort. Dozens of books, every article I can get my hands on, all the study guides I can find through the Cicerone program itself. I am learning it all. And testing along the way. Last year I took and passed the Certified Beer Server program. Since then, with all the upheaval in our lives I have focused on studying for the Certified Cicerone exam, recently finishing three of the five courses on the "Road to Cicerone" program. Once I have finished all five, I plan to sit for the exam and earn my "Undergrad" in beer. As we continue through this journey of home to pro-brewing, new lessons will be learned and applied to my knowledge base, pushing me ever closer to that PhD, Level four, Master Cicerone. It's a long journey, but at the end of the day, its still beer. I can get behind that course syllabus.
Are you studying for the Cicerone program too? We'd gladly accept any tips, tricks or study brew recommendations you have to share! Share with us in the comments below or on Instagram!
Travis (beer nerd)