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You’re a Certified What?!

Part 1 of 2 in the Beer Certification Series

“Why would anyone need to be certified to talk about beer? Everyone knows beer! It only has  4 ingredients and most people have been drinking it since they were [REDACTED] years old!”

That’s something you may have caught me saying three years ago. Since then, my views have done a complete 180. Moving to Vancouver and taking in the wonderful beer scene here has really opened my eyes to what beer truly is. Every time I sat down at a local brewery I left with more questions about beer. Google helped, but I still felt like there had to be some central database out there with all the answers.

It turns out that there are many books that attempt to be the consolidation of information, however no single book covers everything sufficiently. Fortunately, I stumbled upon the Cicerone Certification Program® which directed me towards a specific array of books and online resources which would fulfill my need for answers to most of the questions I had. I also learned that the resources needed to become a master in the topic of beer were as broad as becoming a master in any other field.

Even though the Cicerone Certification Program® was the first one I discovered, I soon learned there were others out there. All the programs have their own twist, but the central theme is that they further the knowledge of beer, and stamp out misnomers.

Want to know more? Read on to learn about beer certifications including a breakdown of the three most common certifications, so you can decide what value they could bring to your quest for beer knowledge!

Is Beer Complex Enough to Need All These Certifications?

Yes. Beer is complex. In fact, I would argue that it is the most complex beverage on the planet!
Yes, beer only has 4 ingredients, but it is absolutely the most complex beverage on the planet.

The final beer you are drinking has been designed through dozens of decisions by multiple people. From the maltster to the hop farmer, to the yeast propagator and ultimately the brewmaster, every decision along the way sculpts the beer in your glass.

Even before those decisions can be made, mother nature defines what can grow where, and what impact the different environments around the world will have on the different ingredients.

The fact that today, beer ingredients can be ordered from all over the world adds to the complexity of the decisions the brewmaster is faced with. Once a brewmaster has his recipe in hand, he will then need to consider his equipment and the processes he will use to bring the recipe to life. No two breweries process the same ingredients the same way.

Once the beer is ready to drink, the way in which it is served can affect how the beer tastes, almost as much as how it was made.

Finally, time itself is a factor that affects beer. The same beer today will most likely taste entirely different 2 years from now (some for the better!).

Like I said, it’s complex – no two beers are the same.

Beer certifications, at their very core, are a way to make sure that everyone is speaking the same language when it comes to something as complex as beer.

So, with that complexity in mind, let’s look at the simple problem that faced a group of homebrewers. They wanted to judge who made the best beer, and needed a way to take some of the subjectivity out it.

Problem:

How do we judge one brewer’s beer vs another’s?

Solution:

Let’s define every category and sub category of beer as a “style”, and then judge each beer on how close it is to the defined style.

This simple solution to their complex problem ensured that the best brewers were determined based on their ability to accurately create a specific style of beer.

The Beer Judge Certification program sets out reward brewers for their abilities by certifying judges who have proven their ability and knowledge to correctly compare beers to the defined style guidelines.

This “simple” solution has expanded into a 93-page document that is free for anyone to download (https://www.bjcp.org/docs/2015_Guidelines_Beer.pdf ). The guidelines are broad enough to cover the full spectrum of beers and yet they are continually being reviewed and updated to keep up with the most creative brewers.

But what about serving beer? Pairing beer with food? Describing how beer tastes? Even brewing the beer in the first place? Just like defining styles for the problem above, the terms and processes used in the brewing world need to be defined to make sure that two people working with beer know what the other person is talking about.

Programs like the Cicerone Certification Program, and the Prud’homme Certification Program set out to ensure that people of varying skill and knowledge levels are at least speaking the same language when it comes to beer.

At the end of the day, the certification is an important milestone to achieve, but the studying and preparation for the exams that get you the certification are what really matter. The certification is simply a way to show the world that you have a certain vocabulary regarding beer, and that they can comfortably speak that language with you.

 

Which Certification is right for me?

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP):

The BJCP is the organization that both defines the beer styles and certifies who is qualified to judge beer against the styles. As a not-for-profit organization (like CAMRA Vancouver), it is by far the most cost effective option for someone looking to add a certification to their name. This organization is run by and for homebrewers. Studying for the BJCP online exam will provide you with the skills and vocabulary necessary to break down the components of a beer (Appearance, Aroma, Mouthfeel, and Flavour), fixing mistakes in your brewing process, and ultimately defining how well a beer matches a defined style. This program has the most benefit for someone who brews their own beer or brews beer professionally. The program also has merits for someone who wants a deeper understanding of the differences between specific styles, however its main purpose is for brewers and beer judges.

The four main BJCP ranks are:

  • Recognized BJCP Judge
  • Certified BJCP Judge
  • National BJCP Judge
  • Master BJCP Judge

The BJCP has a few ranks below and above these 4, however the Recognized BJCP Judge rank is effectively the first rank, and the ranks above the Master rank (Grandmaster, etc.) are based more on time spent judging and donated to the organization than they are on any sort of education.

 

The Cicerone Certification Program®:

The Cicerone Certification Program® is designed to cover an extremely broad array of topics. While the BJCP program mainly focuses on the various beer styles, as well as flavour and evaluation, The Cicerone Certification Program® includes the service and storage of the beer, as well as the pairing of beer with food. The Cicerone Certification Program® covers 5 main pillars in their syllabus:

  • Keeping and Serving Beer
  • Beer Styles (2015 BJCP Style Guidelines are the standard)
  • Beer Flavour and Evaluation
  • Beer Ingredients and Brewing Processes
  • Pairing Beer with Food

This program was designed for anyone working in the beer brewing or service industry, with a slight emphasis towards the service and sale of beer. The Cicerone Certification Program® is an asset to anyone working in any role in the beer industry, and if you are a bartender, server, or brewery sales rep, I cannot recommend this program enough.

The four Certifications are:

  • Certified Beer Server®
  • Certified Cicerone®
  • Advanced Cicerone®
  • Master Cicerone®

This program covers a broad range of topics and goes into great depth on each area covered. Each of the four certifications are aimed at different types of people in the industry. For someone who serves beer in a pub or tasting room and simply wants to ensure they are delivering the beer correctly, the Certified Beer Server® designation shows their commitment to good service.

For a sales rep who, for example, may need to have daily conversations with their own brewmaster, and then be able to explain those technical terms to a chef who needs to pair the beer with food, the Certified Cicerone® designation will be invaluable.

The Advanced and Master levels are reserved for people who want to take their knowledge to PHD equivalent levels. As of this writing there are only 45 people that can call themselves an Advanced Cicerone® in the World, and only 13 that can say they are a Master Cicerone®!

 

The Prud’homme Certification Program®:

The Prud’homme Certification Program is the only program of the three that encompasses both the training, as well as the exam. The cost is much higher since the training is done in a classroom vs on your own, however this is a great alternative for some bars and restaurants wanting their entire staff to be on the same page. This program is also Canadian.

(Author’s note: as this is the only program of the 3 that I am not currently involved with, I reached out to them directly, and much of the information below is copy pasted directly from their correspondence with me.)

Prud’homme Beer Certification ® covers an in-depth look from the history, styles and taste profiles of beer as well as cooking with beer and food pairings. Prud’homme Beer Certification ® provides a fun and engaging atmosphere in which to enhance your knowledge of beer.

Level 1 – Beer Enthusiast

This introductory course in beer education is designed for participants interested in furthering their knowledge and interest in beer. The focus will be on brewing ingredients and processes, tasting concepts, pouring and serving concepts (including an introduction to draught systems) and food and beer pairings.

Level 2 – Beer Specialist

This course is designed and developed for participants who wish to take their knowledge of beer to another level. The focus is to provide more detailed insights into brewing ingredients and processes, draught systems while introducing Canadian brewing history and further investigating negative sensory components.

Level 3 – Beer Sommelier

This third level of programming is geared to creating the title of Beer Sommelier; a more detailed, extensive look at the world of beer and methods of designing, developing and facilitating beer education programs and events.

Level 4 – Master Sommelier, Beer

This final level of programming is designed to develop the skills of beer portfolio analysis. Time is spent on understanding the various traditional beer, gaining in-depth understanding of beer and food pairings and creating a beer portfolio /program for clients.

 

How do I get each certification, and what does it cost?

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP):

This program is rather complicated… so bear with me!

Step one in becoming a BJCP judge is challenging the online entrance exam. This exam is 180 multiple choice questions (some with multiple answers), and you have 1 hour to complete it. If you pass this exam (I believe the passing mark to be 70% however they do not explicitly state this anywhere to my knowledge) you are considered a Provisional Judge, and you will then have 12 months to take an in person Tasting exam to become a Recognized (or higher) BJCP Judge.

Since some tasting exams fill up over 12 months out, I highly recommend you get a seat in a tasting exam first before paying and challenging the online entrance exam.

During the tasting exam, you have 90 to minutes to score 6 beers on official BJCP Beer Scoresheets. Your 6 scorecards are then compared against two National or higher ranked judges who are also there in person grading the same 6 beers. While the online exam is simply Pass/Fail, your tasting exam mark will stick with you throughout your tenure as a BJCP judge. The following marks on the tasting exam will allow you to potentially achieve the following ranks:

0-60: Apprentice Judge (Not an official rank, just gives you more time to retake the exam)

60-70: Recognized Judge

70-80: Certified Judge

80+: Access to take the Written Exam, which will then open up National and Master Judge ranks

Some people will need to take the tasting exam multiple times to achieve the mark they desire. Once you have scored 80 or higher on a tasting exam, you are then allowed to challenge the Written Exam.

The written exam is only for candidates wishing to move to the rank of National or higher. These ranks require a combined average of your tasting exam and your written exam as follows:

National: 80%+ average on the two exams

Master: 90%+ average on the two exams

The final hurdle I have not mentioned that also restricts your access to moving up to the next level are experience points. You cannot simply ace the written and tasting exams and call yourself a Master BJCP Judge. The system is designed that you are required to give back to the organization through judging, stewarding, exam grading, event organizing, and other forms of volunteering. Experience points are the biggest hurdle for most judges, as the opportunities to judge beer are very limited without massive amounts of travel.

 

Costs (All prices in USD):

Online Exam: $10 per try, or $20 for 3 attempts

Tasting Exam: $40 first attempt, and $15 for retakes

Written Exam: $40

 

The Cicerone Certification Program:

The Cicerone Certification Program® is less complex than the BJCP program. There are 4 exams, and they are all simply pass/fail with the previous level being a prerequisite. Keep in mind, less complex does not mean easier …

Level 1 – Certified Beer Server® is an online exam where you must score 75% or higher. This exam is nothing to scoff at, however it can be achieved with a couple of weeks of reading and studying.

Level 2 – Certified Cicerone® is the rank where you can officially use the term “Cicerone®” tied to your name.  The leap from level 1 to 2 is huge, and comes with a recommendation of 6-12 months additional studying time. The exam is an in person, 4+ hour test, broken into two parts: written exam and tasting exam.  The written portion is 3 hours and includes questions from all angles of the syllabus. Answer types vary from fill in the blanks, short answer and essays. There is no multiple choice anywhere in the test.

Once that torture is over, you then proceed to the tasting exam.

First you will be expected to pick up “off flavours” in tainted beer, and state exactly what the “off flavour” is. Is this beer suffering from the chemical Diacetyl or Acetaldehyde? Or maybe it is inert?

Then they will challenge you to be able to decipher between various beer styles. Is this an American Pale Ale or a British IPA? A Doppelbock or a Belgian Dubbel? A Witbier or a Weissbier? Any combination of styles is possible!

Finally, they will have you playing the role of bartender judging some beers that customers have returned as defective. Are these beers fit for service, and if not, why? You will have to decide if the beer is in perfect condition, or if the customer has a point and the beer has gone bad.

Once you’ve finished the tasting portion of the exam, you will then be expected to perform a demonstration on something beer related in front of a camera.

Believe me when I say, this exam will put you through the ringer! In fact, the Certified Cicerone® exam has a lower pass rate than the New York Bar exam!

The one thing going for you on this extremely tough exam is that if you fail just the written or tasting part, you can retake just that portion. The mark required is 80% average with a minimum of 70% on the Tasting portion.

This exam is offered approximately 10 times per month in cities all around the world, so you can either travel to it or wait for it to come to here. To-date, just under 2900 people in the world have achieved the title Certified Cicerone®.

Level 3 – Advanced Cicerone® is like the level 2 test, but on steroids. It involves 2 different tasting panels, 2 different 3 hour written exams and some oral response sections. It takes a full day, and expects you to be “advanced” in every category. This exam is given 6-12 times per year, so until Vancouver is granted an exam, expect to travel! Currently, there are only 45 people globally who have achieved Advanced Cicerone® designation

Level 4 – Master Cicerone® is the test to end all beer tests. This is 2 full days in which you will be quizzed by industry experts on every facet of anything beer related. Conceptual questions will be thrown at you by Ray Daniels (the Cicerone Certification Program® founder) and you will be expected to provide a well thought out answer on the fly to the panel of professionals listening. A brewmaster will take you through his or her own brewery and expect you to tell them how to operate it! A chef will hand you his menu and you will have to tell him which exact beer you will pair with everything (and, of course, why). There are  tasting panels and essay questions as well. Nothing is off the table. There is a reason that only 13 people in the world have achieved this title.

 

Costs (All prices in USD):

Certified Beer Server® online exam: $69

Certified Cicerone® exam: $395 for first-time exam, $100 tasting retake, $175 written retake

Advanced Cicerone® exam: $795 for first-time exam, $250 tasting retake, $375 written retake

Master Cicerone® exam: $995 for first-time exam, $796 for a retake

 

The Prud’homme Certification Program®:

Each level of the Prud’homme Certification Program® involves multiple nights of in class study followed by an exam. The amount of time spent in class, and the format of the tests vary greatly:

Level 1 – Beer Enthusiast

  • 12 Hours of classroom training
  • Final exam – 100 question multiple choice
  • Passing Grade = 70%

Level 2 – Beer Specialist

  • 30 Hours of classroom training
  • Your grade is a combination of various tests and assignments throughout the course, culminating in a final exam worth 25% of your mark
  • Passing grade = 70%

Level 3 – Beer Sommelier

  • 40 Hours of classroom training
  • Your grade is a combination of assignments, a test, a written exam, a sensory exam, and a tasting facilitation
  • Passing grade = 70%

Level 4 – Master Sommelier, Beer

  • 500 word essay + video submission required for application
  • 48 hours of classroom training spread over 1 year
  • Your grade is a combination of a beer portfolio assignment, beer pairing exam, blind sensory test, and a final exam on all of the above including written and sensory sections.
  • Passing grade = 70%

 

Costs (all prices in CAD):

Level 1 – Beer Enthusiast: $330

Level 2 – Beer Specialist: $675

Level 3 – Beer Sommelier: $1150

Level 4 – Master Sommelier, Beer: $2000

 

I’m in! When is the next exam?

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP):

Online Entrance Exam: Anytime! Simply head to the BJCP website and you can be taking the test within minutes of paying. However, I do recommend you secure a seat in a tasting exam within 12 months, or else you will have to retake the online exam.

Tasting Exam: These exams can fill up more than 12 months ahead of time. There are currently 2 dates coming up in Vancouver, however you may need to look at a small amount of travel if you are interested in taking one of these exams in the near future :

Bend, OR – July 29, 2017

Seattle, WA – October 22, 2017

Portland, OR – November 4, 2017

Vancouver, BC – December 3, 2017

Vancouver, BC – February 24, 2018

Victoria, BC – April 18, 2018

Portland, OR – May 6, 2018

Portland, OR – October 6, 2018

Written Exam:

The written exam is administered quarterly in multiple locations around the world. Each quarter, up to 10 different locations will administer the same exam at the same time. This allows for a streamlined grading process.

For future dates visit www.bjcp.org

 

The Cicerone Certification Program®:

Certified Beer Server®: Anytime! – Online Exam

Certified Cicerone®: These come to most major cities 1-2 times per year. The following dates will pertain best to the Vancouver crowd:

Portland, OR: July 31, 2017

Kent, WA: September 15, 2017

Vancouver, BC: September 19, 2017

Advanced Cicerone®: 6-12 times per year in locations such as Chicago, Charlotte, and Kent, WA. They are always moving these tests around, so one may be coming to Vancouver eventually.

Master Cicerone®: Once or twice per year in Chicago.

For future dates visit www.cicerone.org

 

The Prud’homme Certification Program:

Level 1 – Beer Enthusiast

  • No current dates in BC

Level 2 – Beer Specialist

  • No current dates in BC

Level 3 – Beer Sommelier

  • September 23, 2017 – November 26, 2017 at Big Rock Urban, Vancouver

Level 4 – Master Sommelier, Beer

  • No current dates in BC

For future dates, visit www.tfkbeer.com

 

Conclusion:

We live in a city that has colleges and universities offering brewing programs, so the thirst for beer education is very real. While I covered three popular certifications here, there may be many more available or in development right now. I expect to see more and more courses and certifications offered in the years to come.

The combination of my love for good beer and my curiosity lead me down this road of beer books, classes and ultimately these certifications. There came a point where every time I would look one answer up, I would leave with 3 more questions. Beer is an absolutely simple concept with infinite opportunities to expand your knowledge. For the curious among us, it can be quite the rabbit hole!

The most important thing that I read in my studying for the BJCP and Cicerone exams were three words written by Ray Daniels. “Guides not gods”. Having a couple words following your name doesn’t make you better than anyone. Beer is perfectly unpretentious. Guiding someone towards good beer can change their entire view on the beer world, and just as easily one simple interaction where someone acts like a god can ruin it forever! So, I have to stress, don’t get a certification with the intention of proving how smart you are. If you are going to proceed down one of these paths do it because you thirst for knowledge and have the desire to share that knowledge with others.

I encourage everyone who is passionate about beer to look in to these programs and see if they suit your needs. The required reading is all readily available, and for the simple cost of a few books you can begin to increase your beer knowledge and prepare for one of the exams above!

 

Cheers,

TJ Tully

Vice President – CAMRA Vancouver

Certified Cicerone®

BJCP Recognized Judge

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