Become a Beer Sommelier: Seriously?
There are approximately 50 million craft beer lovers among us who have to figure out for themselves how to navigate the craft beer revolution. Sommeliers, who are traditionally trained and knowledgeable about wine, make vintage recommendations and suggest appropriate food and wine pairings, usually in rather post restaurants. But who's guiding the self-proclaimed "beer snobs?"
Rise of the craft breweries
In 2012, there were 2,347 operating craft breweries in the U.S., up about 18 percent from 2011, according to the Brewers Association (brewersassociation.org.). And, as craft beers have become more popular, palates have become more sophisticated. Today's beer aficionados have gone well beyond Budweiser and Miller Lite to relatively well-known indie craft beers like Anchor Steam, Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Sierra Nevada Hefeweizen. Even Forbes has acknowledged the top 10 American craft breweries that could "elevate humble beer from a drink to swill to something to savor" (forbes.com).
With the rise of craft breweries, the beers that are served are far more complex than ever before. Today's beers range from pale ales with a light wheat aroma and a lemon citrus nose to dark stouts redolent of chocolate, caramel and coffee, descriptions strangely reminiscent of wine culture. Consequently, chefs and restaurateurs are beginning to recognize that the same wine and food pairings that have delighted their wine sipping customers can also translate to their beer-drinking customers as well. Food and beer pairings could be a substantial untapped market with growth potential for restaurants.
What is a beer sommelier or a beer cicerone?
So, with the explosion of the craft beer culture comes the need for professionals with knowledge about beer in general and about food and beer pairings specifically. Enter the beer sommelier. If you're interested in how to become a beer sommelier, the Guild of Beer Sommeliers offers courses for everyone from "enthusiasts to seasoned professionals," including Introduction to Craft Beer and Beer Service, Certified Beer Steward and Certified Beer Sommelier.
Ray Daniels, a member of the senior faculty at the Siebel Institute of Technology, America's oldest brewing school, started using "cicerone," a bygone era name for a museum or gallery guide, instead of beer sommelier, because he believed "sommelier" is too heavily associated with wine. He established the trademarked Cicerone Certification Program to promote professionals who have extensive knowledge about beer, including storage, sales and service; styles and culture; tasting and flavors; ingredients and processes and pairings with food.
If you're interested in how to become a cicerone, certification categories include:
- Certified Beer Server: 60 online multiple choice questions with a passing grade of 75 percent, cost $69. An interactive eLearning training program that includes the exam is available for $199. Over 18,000 certificates issued.
- Certified Cicerone: Written exam, tasting and demonstration component with a passing grade of 80 percent overall and 70 percent on the tasting portion, cost $345. Over 700 certificates issued.
- Master Cicerone: 10 hours of written questions, 2 hours of oral questions and 2 hours of beer tasting and evaluation with a score of 85 percent to pass, cost $595. Six certificates issued.
With proven knowledge about beer, you could be an asset not only to restaurants seeking to bring the craft beer revolution into their establishments, but to their customers as well. You could become their favorite beer sommelier or cicerone when you recommend Samuel Adams summer ale with the salad, Berkshire River Ale with the grilled salmon or Russian Imperial Stout with the chocolate mousse.
Whether you aspire to beer sommelier or cicerone, it's a career that shows lots of promise. In 2012, Greg Engert, beer director of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group in Washington D.C. was nominated for a James Beard Award for "Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional" and was the first beer sommelier to be named "Sommelier of the Year" by Food & Wine Magazine.
"Are Beer Sommeliers the Next Big Thing?," Talia Baiocchi, Eater, May 3, 2012, http://eater.com/archives/2012/05/03/are-beer-sommeliers-the-next-big-thing.php
"Beer and Food Pairing Guide," BeerAdvocate, http://beeradvocate.com/beer/style_pairings/33
"Cicerone (Basically a Beer Sommelier) Is the Drink World's New Hip Job," Allie Pape, 7x7SF, July 12, 2010, http://www.7x7.com/eat-drink/cicerone-basically-beer-sommelier-drink-worlds-new-hip-job
"Courses," Guild of Beer Sommeliers, http://www.guildofbeersommeliers.com/courses
"Deconstructing "Beer Madness," Michael Stein, DCBeer, March 16, 2012, http://www.dcbeer.com/news/deconstructing-%E2%80%9Cbeer-madness%E2%80%9D
"Revolutionizing the Beer Culture in America," Jonathan Epstein, The Buffalo News, November 15, 2012, http://www.buffalonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20121115/BUSINESS/121119551/1005
"Ten Top American Breweries Worth a Visit," FTG Inspector, Forbes, February 16, 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestravelguide/2012/02/16/ten-top-american-breweries-worth-a-visit/
"Vancouver Craft Beer Week: Raise your glass and a fork, too," Randy Shore, The Vancouver Sun, April 27, 2011, http://www.vancouversun.com/entertainment/Vancouver+Craft+Beer+Week+Raise+your+glass+fork/4678520/story.html
"Why Cicerone?," Cicerone Certification Program, https://cicerone.org/content/about
"2012 Craft Beer Data Infographic," Brewers Association, 2012, http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/media/press-releases/show?title=2012-craft-beer-data-infographic