28 Jan 2011 @ 3:17 PM 

I am pleased to announce a springtime course in beer information and appreciation, timed specifically for use as a study group for the upcoming Cicerone® exam on April 8th at the Raleigh Times, but most certainly not limited to those interested in taking the exam.

What is covered in the course of the class?

The entirety of the Certified Cicerone® Course Syllabus (opens a PDF, all non-blue sections) and a few pieces of the Master Cicerone® topics, if they seem to show a full picture of any given topic. Each class will last 1.5 – 2 hours and will be split between a discussion section and a tasting session.

Here is a sample breakdown of how the course will run:

Week 1: Intro, Beer Ingredients, How to Taste Beer, Style history and tastings.
Week 2: Hot-side of Brewing (from milling through mashing, boiling and lautering), Off-flavor tasting.
Week 3: Cold-side of Brewing (yeast and fermentation), Style history and tastings.
Week 4: Post-fermentation brewery-side handling (clarification, filtration, souring, and conditioning). Style history and tastings.
Week 5: Beer packaging, shipment, storage, and aging. Off-flavor tastings.
Week 6: Serving beer: draft systems, casks, bottles, glassware, and the rest. Style history and tastings.
Week 7: Beer and food. Style history and tastings.
Week 8: Everything we’ve missed, questions, and review. Off-flavor tastings.

It’s not “how to brew” (though that’ll be covered), it’s not a drinking class, it’s “About Beer.” You’ll learn every step of the process between field and mouth, it’s history, and it’s care and handling. It might best be labeled “How to Enjoy Beer” or even “How to Help Others Enjoy Beer.”

When does this class happen?

Sunday evenings at 8PM, starting February 13th.

An astute observer will notice that there are fewer than 8 weeks between February 13th and April 8th, so there will be at least one week where we double-up somewhere and either have a long class or two classes; most likely the week of the exam. A full schedule will be posted on the first day.

Where does this class happen?

At the location of the soon-to-be Mystery Brewing Company.

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Who’s teaching this class?

Yours truly, Erik L. Myers of Mystery Brewing Company. Full disclosure: I am also studying for the Cicerone® exam and while I can teach most of this content off the top of my head, this class will also be a learning opportunity for me. It doesn’t mean that you’ll get any false or bad information, but it does mean you might catch me having to look up the answer to question now and again.

How do I sign up?

The class is $85 per person (+ Eventbrite fee). It covers off-flavor tasting supplies, style tasting supplies, other supplies (like paper, cups, etc.).

Note! I am not affiliated with the Cicerone program, I’m just working toward become certified, myself and so am using their syllabus as an overall guideline. Cicerone®, Certified Cicerone® and Master Cicerone® are registered trademarks of the Cicerone Certification Program.

Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 31 Jan 2011 @ 11:03 AM

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 20 Nov 2009 @ 3:09 PM 

Storytime. Flashback to my anniversary. My wife and I went out to dinner at our favorite local fancy-pants restaurant (fancy-pants because it’s fancy enough for me to feel like I should wear pants). It’s wonderful. Fantastic food, local ingredients, menu changes daily based on what’s available. It’s downright brilliant food.
A totally stolen picture of beer and food.
I knew ahead of time that they didn’t serve beer there (though they also do not sell local wine – only fancy French wine listed by vineyard), so it wasn’t a surprise to not see any on the menu, and while I enjoyed whatever syrah it was that the server told me would go excellently with the dishes that were served to me, I couldn’t help but pair each course with a beer in my head. It was easy, and it would have far outshone the wine in a couple of cases. It’s French food, it’s all heavy, creamy, fatty, brilliant dishes that would have balanced wonderfully with a number of excellent beers. For the most part, I even could pair every dish with a locally-made beer. It would have been a great addition to the menu.

But if you’re a fancy French restaurant, and it’s your M.O. to serve only French wines, I can’t argue… much… while I’m physically in the restaurant.

Would a Biere de Garde or Saison hurt, though? They’re in your oeuvre, and everything.

Flashback even further, in-laws are visiting. (They’re pretty much strictly wine people, but nobody’s perfect.) We are at a fancy-pants french restaurant in another part of town. They’ve got a wine list as long as my arm. And for beer?

Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, Blue Moon, and an IPA. I forget which one. It’s not the point. I’ll come back to this.

Flashback to when I’m age 15. I used to be waitstaff at a crappy roadside restaurant in Northern Maine. At dinner, we had a wine list on the table. 6 or 8 whites and 6 or 8 reds, and then a handful of roses: the pink wine. We sold wine by the glass no matter what.

In the walk-in-freezer, we had two boxes of wine. A white and a red. They were some hopelessly generic wine. If somebody ordered a white – no matter which one – it came from the white box. If somebody ordered a red, it came from the red box. If somebody ordered a rose – I wish I was making this up – we put in 3/4 white wine and then filled the glass with red. Bam. Rose. It always amazed me how people would take a sip of their wine and say things like, “Oh, I love this one. We have it at home, it’s our favorite.” When nothing that was on the wine list was what we were advertising it was.

The beer selection at that place? Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, PBR.

You see, that’s the kind of place that serves macrobrew. The owners are not discerning and clearly don’t care how the beverages that they’re selling compare with the food that they’re selling (which also wasn’t very great – mmm.. deep fried everything), and the patrons don’t care either. They’re looking for a cheap beer (it has its place), not for a dining experience.

If you’re an upscale restaurant, and you’ve put care into your wine list and your food selection and preparation, you should be embarrassed to be selling anything less than excellent beer.

Dear Fancy Restaurant That I Am Paying Through the Nose to Eat At,

I do not see Boon’s Farm, Night Train, Mad Dog or any Bartles and James on your drinks list. However, I do see beers that I would consider comparable. I presume that this is because of one of two reasons:

1) You don’t know better. But that’s kind of embarrassing. Presumably, you have a sommelier or somebody with enough wine knowledge to be able to pick out a decent enough wine list to serve with your food. In a pinch, that person should be skilled enough with flavors to be able to pick out comparable beers. If they really don’t, why not take the time to find somebody who does know? It shouldn’t be that hard to find somebody in your area to make recommendations. I might suggest starting with the roster of Certified Cicerones, but even a good chunk of the Certified Beer Servers out there would probably be able to help you.

2) You don’t care. But that’s beyond embarrassing. You care about your food, you care about your wine, you care about your dining atmosphere and your waitstaff, but you don’t care about the beer? You treat it like it’s some concession that you’re making rather than part of your experience. “Oh.. we have it because inevitably someone will ask for beer, but we don’t want to carry those pedestrian beverages.” It’s an insult. An insult to your customer base and even an insult to your own establishment that you can’t be bothered to care consistently about your image across everything that you serve.

Please follow through on the commitment that you’re making to the rest of your restaurant and serve excellent beer to go with your excellent food and excellent wine. It only makes sense.


This article is written with all due respect to my buddy Brian who brought this topic up to me earlier in the week. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. So here it is, sir, my complete and utter commiseration and compassion for your business-travel-plight.

Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 20 Nov 2009 @ 03:09 PM

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 27 Jul 2009 @ 8:39 AM 

The first level of Cicerone certification is “Certified Beer Server.” The Cicerone website has this to say about it:

The Certified Beer Server requires competent knowledge of beer storage and service issues as well as modest knowledge of currently popular beer styles and culture and basic familiarity with beer tasting and flavors as well as brewing process and ingredients.

I kind of wish it was called something different: “Novice Cicerone” or even “Journeyman Cicerone” since you’ve actually passed an exam – something like that. From a marketing standpoint, though, I can understand why it’s called this. This is the product you’re most likely to sell to a beer bar/brewpub. These are attributes you want in your beer server.

Studying for the test was very straightforward. There is a Novice Syllabus available that covers almost everything you need to know outside of the BJCP Style Guidelines. It is (currently) a 60-question multiple-choice exam and you need to answer 45 (75%) of them correctly to pass. They are generated randomly from a much larger list of questions, which means that no two people will receive the same exam. I suspect that it’s built in a manner that gives each person an equal percentage of questions from a few set categories: Styles, serving guidelines, beer ingredients, the three-tier system, etc. The downside to this is that I actually got a repeat question in the mix, a little lucky gift for me in the form of two right answers for the price of one.

I don’t want to give anything away about the specifics of the test, but I will say that it ended up being more difficult than I had anticipated. I did a quick review of the novice syllabus, and didn’t actually look at the BJCP guidelines, just trusting what was in my head to carry me through. You get two tries at the test, so I figured I’d take it once and see how it went. If I didn’t pass, I would figure out where I was weak, review those spots, and take it again. The style questions ended up being much more specific than I had anticipated and, for the most part, the multiple choices were well-written so that there was no obvious correct choice if you didn’t immediately know the answer.

If you take this test without looking at any of the material, you will have a hard time getting through it, and I think that’s great.

My thoughts on the test and certification: I would recommend beer bars and brewpubs, at the very least, to look at getting all of their waitstaff to “Certified Beer Server” level. It will absolutely ensure that your staff is knowledgeable about beer and, hey, you don’t have to invent the test yourself. For other beer-related business (from manufacturing to distributing): the knowledge covered here makes this an excellent exam for any beer-professional – your administrative staff, marketing department, or even your truck drivers. It will help your staff – and ALL of your staff – promote and sell your product better.

As for myself? I took the test in around one-third of the allotted time while my wife chatted to me about Fantasy Baseball on the other side of the room. I missed a handful of question that, upon review, I felt a little silly about getting wrong, and I am happy to say that I am now a Certified Beer Server (even if I wish I could call it something else). I am looking forward to working toward “Certified Cicerone.”

Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 27 Jul 2009 @ 10:23 AM

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 17 Jul 2009 @ 10:32 AM 

It is one of my long-term personal goals to become a Master Cicerone. You get to take the journey with me. I’m not planning on sharing answers to exams or anything like that, but it occurs to me that while Ray Daniels and his Cicerone program may be known around the Brewers Association, it’s a fairly new program and may be relatively unknown to beer geeks in general. I shall attempt to let others into the process through my eyes. It’s going to be a while, so stick around. This multi-part series will likely span the next few years. Don’t worry. It’ll come around again on the gee-tar. Just keep an eye out.
Mmm... beer.
What is a Cicerone?

Short answer: Essentially, a sommelier for beer. You need to take a very detailed and comprehensive exam to become a certified Master Sommelier. The process to become a Master Cicerone is very similar. You need to intimately know beer, how each style should taste, how they should be served, stored, presented, and paired, etc. and then you need to take tests. AND pass them. There are three levels: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, and Master Cicerone.

There’s an excellent little Q&A here that also covers the origin of the word “cicerone.”

Why bother?

For me, it’s partly a matter of personal accomplishment, but primarily professional interest. There’s a chart available with recommendations on who should attain what level, and I do think that some level of Cicerone certification should be attained by most (if not all) persons working in the brewing industry. It’s an excellent way to show pride in the product. In addition, the more support the program gets the more likely it is to be treated with respect, thus allowing Certified and Master Cicerones to reap the respect they deserve for their level of knowledge on beer. Since my long term goal involves having my own brewery, knowing as much about beer as possible and being able to show certification for that knowledge seems like a great goal. Frankly, it also sounds like a lot of fun.

What kind of stuff do you have to learn?

Hopefully, nothing!


I’ll get a little more in depth into what kind of stuff I’m actually covering in the next piece about the first exam, but for the most part it looks like an overview of BJCP styles and information on serving, storage, and presentation. To be quite honest, I’m fairly certain I could pass the first level of testing without reviewing anything, but I will anyway. Not only would I prefer to pass with flying colors, but also so that I can share with you, the intrepid reader, what kind of stuff I was looking at.

The first part of this (study and exam) is going to happen for me this weekend, so keep an eye out for more next week.

Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 17 Jul 2009 @ 01:06 PM

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