by Kevin Wise

Along with the craft beer craze sweeping the nation is the need for more people who are considered trained authorities in the field of beer. While a sommelier is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, until recently there was no standard for trained beer professionals. Ray Daniels, well-known beer aficionado and author of the staple homebrew book entitled Designing Great Beers launched the Cicerone program in 2007 to provide training for professionals in the craft of beer. The Cicerone program now offers the beer industry guidelines and standards for beer serving and tasting skills.

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Only nine people in the world can call themselves a Master Cicerone (pronounced “sis-uh-rohn”). To earn the title of Master Cicerone one must demonstrate an encyclopedic knowledge of beer. There are just nine Master Cicerones in the world, with seven being in the United States. There are three in California, two in Illinois, one in Missouri, and one in Michigan. There is James Watt from BrewDog in Scotland. And one Master Cicerone is located in Toronto, Mirella Amato.

The definition of cicerone is: a person who conducts sightseers; a guide. A cicerone is a guide thought to possess the knowledge and eloquence of Cicero, widely considered one of the Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists. So what does it take to become a Master Cicerone? How does one become a master guide of beer tourists? The official certification program can be found at There are three levels of certification: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, and Master Cicerone.

Level 1: Certified Beer Server. There are 50 registered Certified Beer Servers located within the city of Buffalo in the Cicerone Certification database, with another 20 or so registered in the surrounding area. To be a Certified Beer Server, you must pay $69 and take a 60 question on-line test. A score of at least 75 percent is required to pass the exam. Don’t worry, if you fail the first time you can re-take the exam once. The exam topics cover a basic level of understanding of beer storage and equipment, beer styles, beer flavors, and the brewing process.

Level 2: Certified Cicerone. There are only 17 registered Certified Cicerones located in Buffalo. Ten of these people are affiliated with North American Breweries. The other seven are registered with Certo Brothers Distributing (1), Community Beer Works (1), Consumer’s Beverages (3), Premiere Gourmet (1), and one unaffiliated. To become a Certified Cicerone, you need to attend a scheduled exam and pay $395. The exam is a written exam with short answer and essay questions plus a tasting and demonstration component. You need a grade of 80 percent overall and at least 70 percent on the tasting portion. As part of the exam, candidates must be able to recognize beers spiked with off-flavors, including diacetyl, DMS, acetaldehyde, skunky, oxidized, and infection.

Level 3: Master Cicerone. There are no Master Cicerones located in Buffalo. The Master Cicerone exam is a grueling and challenging two day exam that includes 10 hours of written questions, two hours of oral questions and two hours of beer tasting and evaluation. Candidates need an overall score of 85 percent to claim the title of Master Cicerone. Master Cicerones need to possess a highly refined beer tasting palate and be able to discern nuances in diverse styles of beer. As part of their training, Master Cicerones may wish to travel to classic beer producing areas of the world to gain knowledge of traditional beer-making skills. Master Cicerones are experts in topics such as: keeping and serving beer, beer styles, beer flavor and evaluation, beer ingredients and the brewing process, and pairing beer with food.

Master Cicerone Pat Fahey prepped for the exam by “spending six months rotating between two or three bars a week where I knew the bartenders. I’d have them pour me five blind tastings and then I would write up style descriptions and profiles and discuss them.” Fahey made a “beer molecule of the week” on Twitter to study chemicals involved in beer.

What can you do as a certified Master Cicerone? In California, Master Cicerone Rich Higgins formed his company called Consultant à la Bière. He runs workshops on yeast, water, and minerality, conducts beer pairing events, and provides cicerone exam prep courses. In Toronto, Mirella Amato founded the company Beerology. She conducts guided beer tastings, industry training, food pairing ideas, and off-flavor tasting and workshops. One of the newest Master Cicerones, Patrick Rue, founded the popular brewery called The Bruery, maker of beers brewed in the Belgian tradition.

So do you think you have what it takes to be Buffalo’s first Master Cicerone? Start studying the 23-page Master Cicerone syllabus, reading textbooks, and sampling diverse beer styles. Maybe you could be the 10th Master Cicerone.