The Cicerone Certification Program traces its history back to 2007 when Ray Daniels founded the program to offer the beer industry something similar to a sommelier in the wine industry. There are now four levels in the program that cover beer serving, beer styles, beer flavor and evaluation, the brewing process and ingredients, and beer and food pairing. Level 1 is Certified Beer Server, Level 2 is Certified Cicerone, Level 3 that is new is Advanced Cicerone and Level 4 is Master Cicerone. To put some perspective on this there are 38 Certified Cicerone’s here in Portland, and Lucy is one of them. When it comes to the two highest levels, the number drops considerably for residents of Oregon. The only Advanced Cicerone in Oregon is Brewpublic contributor and Bailey’s Taproom Assistant Manger Ryan Spencer. Then when it comes to Master Cicerones no one in Oregon has yet to reach this level.
My Beer Year documents this journey that Lucy took to study and pass Level 2 – Certified Cicerone. This adventure took her to Europe; hop farms here in the Pacific Northwest and to speak with some of the most prominent experts in craft beer. It’s her story of what it took to become a Certified Cicerone.
We recently set out to learn more about what led Lucy to her decision to pen a follow up to Hop in the Saddle, her book about bicycling and craft beer in the Rose City that was released four years ago.
What made you decide to write My Beer Year?
Lucy: For years I’d been thinking about taking the Certified Cicerone exam because I wanted to deepen my beer knowledge in a quantifiable way, but I kept procrastinating on signing up for the test because it’s such a huge commitment. When I finally started studying, I wanted to write about my experiences because I thought readers would appreciate learning what I was learning. We could journey into some strange and exciting corners of the beer world together.
When studying for the Certified Cicerone exam, what would you change if you had to do it over again?
Lucy: I would take more time to study for the test. Ray Daniels, who founded the Cicerone program, recommends people who aren’t working in the beer industry take about 18 months to study. I compressed that time period to a year, and that ended up feeling like a very short amount of time.
From reading My Beer Year, it seems as if Bill Schneller was a great resource for you. In what ways did advice from Bill and others help you pass the Certificate Cicerone exam?
Lucy: Bill was such a great resource! He inspired me to pay closer attention to British and German beer styles, and he really opened my eyes to the joys of tasting beers with other people from diverse backgrounds. Bill helped me begin to put words to many of those flavors and aromas in beers I didn’t know how to name, and he did that by talking about the history of beer styles and how ingredients are used in the brewing process. That’s exactly the kind of stuff that shows up on the Cicerone exam, so his class was like gold.
I knew from the start I’d only pass this test by finding teachers and mentors who were willing to share their knowledge with me. I’m so grateful for everyone who helped me along the way (there were SO many people). John Harris let me stop by Ecliptic during brew days, and Ben Edmunds did the same at Breakside. Denver Bon at Hair of the Dog taught me how to clean draft lines. My friend and beer industry pro Sarah Jane Curran traveled with me in Belgium, and I learned so much from her.
Do you have any intentions on studying for and taking the Advance Cicerone exam?
Lucy: I have to say, I was a little bummed out when the Cicerone program announced that they were creating a new level, the Advanced Cicerone, right after I’d become certified. I felt like I was being demoted! But I understand the need for a stepping stone to the Master level. I *might* take the Advanced exam someday, but I’m not signing up any time soon. Again, it’s such a huge commitment. I’m just not ready.
Any advice for others that are thinking of taking the Certified Cicerone exam?
Lucy: Start studying right now! Cancel your Netflix subscription. Buy some flashcards. Be prepared for beer to become a little less fun for a while. But don’t worry, the fun returns and you’ll never look at beer in the same way again. In a good way!
D.J. is a Portland, Oregon based writer that spent his formative years in the Midwest. With over 25 years under his belt of drinking beer at festivals across America and the world, he has developed a strong appreciation and understanding of craft beer and the industry that surrounds it. He can be found in any of the great breweries or beer bars that make Portland the best beer city in the world. His writing can also be found in the archives of Northwest Brewing News and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram at @hopapalooza.