Cicerone Certification // Or how I spent the month of January
On January 30th, I faced quite the challenge – the Cicerone Certification Exam.
Cic-er-what? I hear you say.
A Certified Cicerone is a qualified beer professional with expertise in beer service and quality.
The (very) lengthy study syllabus covers five broad topic areas – keeping and serving beer, beer styles, beer flavor and evaluation, beer ingredients and brewing processes, and pairing beer with food.
Then the exam itself consists of a three hour written portion – with fill in the blank, short answer, and essay questions running the gamut across the above topic areas. A 45-minute tasting exam follows, involving identification of off-flavors, style discrimination, and assessing if a beer is fit to serve. Then finally, a short demonstration component is required on an aspect of beer service.
In order to be eligible to take the exam, you have to pass the Certified Beer Server exam, which covers the above topic areas in less depth in an online format with 60 multiple choice questions.
I took the Certified Beer Server exam back in May 2015 (the image at the top of this post is from that very day!), and since then I’d been saying I wanted to take the Certified Cicerone exam, but it took a long while to get around to it!
Late last year, I was sick of being all talk and no action, so decided to look into the exam more seriously and committed myself to it in mid-December, signing up for the next available exam in London – January 30th, 2017.
Then, I got stuck into studying. All beer. All the time. For weeks.
But instead of boring you with details about my study schedule, stress levels, or strife with international deliveries, I decided to pick out a few of my favorite stories from my studies these past few weeks and share them with you here.
I will say, I thought I knew my stuff about beer before studying for this exam, but man, oh man, did I have a lot to learn.
So hopefully you’ll learn a thing or two here, too.
1 // The tongue map
Did you know? The tongue map we all learned in grade school has been debunked!
Remember the drawing with various colored regions coordinating to specific tastes?
Well, it turns out that, for the most part, the taste buds across the front of the tongue contain receptors for sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors equally. There is however a slight locality for bitter receptors (at the back of the tongue) and sour receptors (on the sides of the tongue), but otherwise, all flavors can be perceived equally across tongue.
2 // Draught dispense and what goes on behind those taps
The Brewers Association in the States put together a fantastic guide called the Draught Beer Quality Manual, which covers all facets of draught dispense. Needless to say, there is SO much to think about when it comes to the perfect pour.
In simple terms, a brewery brings a keg of beer to a bar, the bar taps the keg, and then serves you the beer.
But, how the lines connect from the keg to the faucet, the type of material they’re made of, the gas (or gas blend) that’s used, the temperature of the cooler, and the pressure on the lines – all of these factors (and more) impact how your beer is served.
The goal of draught dispense is to maintain the carbonation level in the beer that’s been set by the brewery, as carbonation impacts a beer’s aroma, flavor, and presentation (particularly head formation and retention).
But, few breweries actually provide bars with information about the carbonation levels they recommend in their beer (ie. volumes of CO2 or grams of CO2 per litre, here in the UK), leaving bars to guess at which gas blend/pressure is best.
Without information from the brewery as to their desired carbonation level, many bars are left to their own devices to determine gas blend and pressure level, and end up serving beers are ever so slightly over- or under-carbonated.
Why does this matter? Carbonation affects a beer’s appearance, head formation and retention, mouthfeel, and aroma. If over-carbonated, the beer pours foamy (a pain for the bar) and the beer’s flavor may be dulled by the overly-prickly carbonic bite of CO2. If under-carbonated, there will be poor head formation and retention and poor aroma, as the volatile aroma compounds are launched into the air by CO2 bubbles escaping from the beer.
It’s a “behind the scenes” bit of the beer industry I never really gave much thought to (even in my 8 months behind the bar), so I’m really pleased to have gained this new knowledge during the studying process.
Breweries – please give bars the info they need to help them best serve your beers!
3 // The impact of war on beer styles
War impacts nearly all aspects of life when it rears its ugly head, but did you ever think about war driving the history of beer styles? I sure didn’t!
Here’s one example:
The Belgian Pale Ale style (which isn’t pale at all) is actually one of the more approachable Belgian styles, as it’s lower in alcohol and has a much milder yeast character than other Belgian beers, like abbey ales or saisons. It’s moderately malty with fruity yeast notes and a background hop character and bitterness.
So why is this style so different from other well known Belgian styles?
Although this style has been brewed in the Flanders region of Belgium since the 1700s, it was perfected after World War II, with British influence over the choice of hops and yeast strain for this style. To this day, it’s not uncommon for Belgian Pale Ales to be brewed with characteristic English hops, like East Kent Goldings or Fuggles.
4 // Pale beers as we know them today have only been brewed for 150 years
You’re probably thinking to yourself, no way, beer has been brewed for centuries!
But Pils malt, the base malt used for pale beers, like Pilsner and other European lagers, wasn’t introduced until the mid-1800s, with advances in kilning technology. Kilning of malt is what gives beer its color and flavor.
Historically, air dried malt was used for brewing German “white beers” as far back as the Middle Ages. But any malt that was kilned was exposed to direct heat, so it took on a dark color and smoky flavor.
It wasn’t until the 1700s, when indirect heat was introduced to the kilning process (meaning that the malt wasn’t directly exposed to heat and smoke), that amber- and brown-colored malts were easy to come by. But getting malt to be really light or really dark was still quite a challenge.
The techniques used to give beers a light, consistent amount of heat didn’t come about until the following century. But after its introduction, pale, lightly kilned malt spread like wildfire.
Pilsner Urquell, the original Pilsner from the Czech Republic, was first brewed in 1842 in response to the popularity of English pale ale. Today, it’s considered to be the grandfather of all modern Pilsner-style lagers. (And it led to a number of breweries introducing pale beers to compete with Pilsner’s popularity – like the Belgian Tripel from Westmalle and Duvel’s Belgian Golden Strong Ale, both which appeared in the early/mid-1900s.)
Considering the fact that beer has been brewed for centuries, it’s amazing to see how drastically the industry has changed in just the last 150 years!
For those of you still with me, thanks for reading. As you can tell, I learned a ton, and can’t wait to continue to share these stories.
If you’re ever wanting to learn more, I’m always up for a drink and a chat.
And, hopefully, when the Certified Cicerone exam results are out mid-March, we’ll have a good reason to celebrate.
I’ll keep you all updated!
Randy Mosher // Tasting Beer
Brewers Association // Draught Beer Quality Manual
Beer Judge Certification Program // 2015 Style Guidelines: Beer Style Guidelines