Chicago breeds Cicerones

July 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Tom Keith

The bad news … I’m not yet a Cicerone. The good news … I’m one step away … I’m a Certified Beer Server.

What is a Cicerone, you ask?

Cic•e•ro•ne [sis-uh-roh-nee] (n.) 1. One who shows strangers the curiosities of a place or thing; a guide  2. A person with demonstrated expertise in beer that can guide consumers to enjoyable and high-quality experiences with great beers.

Clearly, the second definition is merely a subset of the first. And thanks to Ray Daniels, the second definition is the one becoming more common these days.

Ray Daniels is a Harvard Business School grad. He’s an expert brewer. He’s a senior faculty member at Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology (probably the world’s leading school for learning how to brew beer professionally). Among other books, he‘s authored the highly authoritative tome Designing Great Beers: the Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles. He’s President of the Craft Brew Institute.

And in 2008, he started the Chicago-based Cicerone Certification Program – the first worldwide program specifically designed to qualify beer experts in explaining, serving, and understanding all aspects of all things beer. Roughly speaking, what a sommelier is to wine, a cicerone is to beer. It took a guy with Ray’s beer industry credibility to pull it off.

The Cicerone Certification Program has three levels of certification – Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone™, and Master Cicerone™. According to program administrator Sarah Huska, there are only about 400 Certified Ciceronenes currently, and only three Master Cicerones in the world. (Compare that to approximately 176 Master Sommeliers worldwide – a program that’s been in existence for well over thirty years.)

“In some ways, it’s a quality control program,” Dave Kahle told us. Dave is one of those three Master Cicerones, receiving his certification last October. “It recognizes people who can ensure the customer will receive the experience of each beer as the brewer intended.” With a very few exceptions, beer goes through a three-tier system – brewers sell their beers to wholesalers, who sell to restaurants, bars, or retailers, who then sell to the ultimate consumers. “Any one person in that chain can affect the customers’ experience in a negative way,” notes Kahle.

Kahle learned much of his beer knowledge when he owned a bar in Wicker Park, which had a strong beer program. But he discovered he had a talent for beer appreciation even in his early days. “As a kid, I remember my Dad offering me a sip of his beer. It was in a can out of the beer fridge in the garage. I remember thinking ‘Boy, that stuff in a can tastes metallic.’ ” His tastes have become increasingly refined ever since.

The process of becoming a Master Cicerone, like Kahle, is not an easy one. Even the basic online test for the first level (at – Certified Beer Server – asks highly technical questions. Some include the proper way to deal with fittings that attach a keg to a draft system, the correct way to pour beer and, after the glass is emptied, rinse it professionally, and appropriate hopping levels and/or malts for specific beer styles.

I should know about this stuff. As of last week, I’m the 5,988th Certified Beer Server in the world. Out of nearly 7 billion people in the world, that ain’t bad.

You could hang one of these on your wall ... if you know enough about beer.

You could hang one of these on your wall ... if you know enough about beer.

(If you want to see if you could become a Certified Beer Server, Cicerone, or more, register with, and take a free sample exam.)



  1. joel says:

    as a bartender in what the cicerone certification can help me ?

  2. joel says:


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