I’m just getting home from a weekly meeting at my very new second job – A Digital Marketing consultant for a local Belgian Beer Bar & Restaurant, The Publick House in Brookline, MA. I settle in to do my digital notification check ins… Facebook, “The Gram”, Email – and there. it. is.
“Your results from the Certified Cicerone exam are now available” The email headline reads in foreboding bold. I click, I cringe, I read.
I exhale, and grin big. Congratulations, you have passed the Certified Cicerone Exam, please log onto your account portal for a breakdown of your results.
That’s all I had been waiting to see for nearly three excruciating weeks of waiting for the second time in six months. I had passed, I was officially a Certified Cicerone nearly a year to the day for signing up for the exam, seven years since I took the first step of getting Beer Server Certified, and five years since starting down the path of my beer education.
Time to crack a beer!
Who Am I?
I never worked in a bar, or a bottle shop stocking shelves. My craft beer drinking days started with Allagash White at Toronado in San Francisco, and local variety packs that were affordable. My beer education began when I worked as a tour guide for a friend’s now defunct Brewery tour company in Northern California. It continued when I built and ran my own similar business – Pints of Portsmouth Brew Tours, out of Boston in 2015. I started to curate a beer library, currently at 30 books and counting. I read, I sampled, I asked questions, all because the world of beer was so intriguing to me, and the people in the beer world were down to earth and amazing people who I shortly learned I loved being around.
I loved learning about beer so much that I enrolled in San Diego State’s Craft Beer Business Certificate Program in 2018. I took classes on draft line maintenance, beer styles, marketing, and distribution. I tried my best to network and soak in not only all the sun, but all the suds San Diego had to offer. I knew that becoming a Certified Cicerone was an ultimate goal of mine, and enrolling in this program was a step toward achieving that goal.
Fast Forward to early 2022, living back in Boston (yes, I’m a human ping pong ball when it comes to moving), working for a company owned by two Certified Cicerones as an events and marketing coordinator. I said, let’s do it, let’s sign up. Cicerone was coming to Boston in June. I could give myself a target date. I enrolled, and I started to hit the books (and flashcards, and beer bars, and breweries) to give myself as much immersion into the beer world as possible.
Let’s back up… I have been assuming all along you readers know what a Cicerone is. I shouldn’t. Not very practical of me, is it? A Cicerone, which is Italian for “Guide”, is a Qualified Beer Expert. Basically the suds world equivalent of a Sommelier. It’s a program of beer-savvy folks that was founded in Chicago in 2007 to help the beer world set standards for what proper service and knowledge of beer is. There are four levels: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, Advanced Cicerone, and Master Cicerone. There are less than TWO DOZEN Master Cicerones in the world. Wild.
So I was on a quest to be one of those who achieve level two status, and I was going to throw everything that I had at it. I used study guides and course books from the Cicerone Program, along with recommend reading materials, which were naturally already part of my library. I tapped into the wonderful Chris Cohen, or more aptly known as “The Beer Scholar”, for his resources including downloadable flash cards and a humongous study guide that broke down the syllabus, offered exam prep tips, and came with three practice exams. I am fortunate enough to work for Craft Beer Cellar, a company that stocks all the classic styles of beer that I could crack open and taste my way through. I had two colleagues who had already achieved Certified Cicerone status who helped whip me into shape.
Back To The Future
And here I am. In an upcoming post, I’ll outline exactly how I attacked exam prep in more detail, and offer some tips that I found helpful.
I sat the exam in June 2022 for the first time, both the tasting and demo portion, and the written exam. I passed 2/3rds that go around, with a not so savory 58% score on the tasting exam (You need at least 70% to pass). So I rebooted, picked another date, got my nose into more beers and off flavored beers (gross, by the way), and sat the tasting exam again on January 10th. I bumped my score up to 93%. I was more confident, less overwhelmed, and had some extra strategies to employ to tackle the exam. The tasting exam in particular, I feel is almost as much strategy as it is knowing your stuff.
What Now? I’m still thinking that out. I’ve spent some time processing exactly what it means and how it feels to have achieved this title. It’s a resume booster, for sure. I know I want to lead some events. I want to bring Craft Beer Concierge to life, as more than just a blog and an Instagram presence. I also don’t want to stop learning. I’m going to keep adding knowledge to my beer-fueled brain, and books to my beer library.
But first, I’m taking it all in, I’m celebrating my successes, and I’m raising a glass to any and all of you out there who have played a part, however small, in my Road to Certified Cicerone.
Allo Gilinsky – Certified Cicerone