Allow me to preface this post by saying the contents below are meant for serious beer enthusiasts. If you’re new to beer, the Certified Beer Server Exam is where you want to start. The Certified Cicerone® Exam is the second level of four in the Cicerone® Certification Program. This is the full sum of resources I used to get myself through a year of studying and a five hour exam. It’s what helped me get a passing grade and smile I’ll never wipe off my face. It’s something I think is well worth sharing, and I hope you do as well.
Without further ado…
August 6th, 2015 was one of the best days of my life. It was an ordinary day like any other up until about 6:00PM. I was getting ready to close the Red Rock Beer Store for the day, and decided to check my email one last time. My heart simultaneously dropped to the pit of my stomach and jumped up into my throat. There sat an unopened email entitled “Certified Cicerone® Exam Results”.
A customer walked in the store as I opened the email. I gave him a halfhearted “hello” as my eyes hastily scanned the email for phrases like “Congratulations, the last year of your life wasn’t a waste!” followed by twelve more exclamation points.
Oh. My. God.
The wording wasn’t exact, but the meaning was the same. “I’d like to congratulate you on passing the Certified Cicerone® exam!” My hands trembled, and as the customer in the store approached to make his purchase, my brain had forgotten how to count money and operate the till. A couple hard blinks of my widened eyes, and I was able to snap out of stun-mode. The customer paid and left, probably a little confused.
I danced around the brewery like a crazed child.
It was a hard year of putting my nose to the grindstone, in the books, and in the glass. I was always digging through cyberspace, looking for articles and tidbits of information to help me prepare.
This is the post I would have wanted to find while searching for study material.
Before I begin the parade of links and book reviews, I want to give you an idea of what to expect from the exam. A peek at the Certified Cicerone® Syllabus will tell you the exam is broken down into five major areas of focus: Keeping and Serving Beer, Beer Styles, Beer Flavor and Evaluation, Beer Ingredients and Brewing Process, and Pairing Beer with Food. The exam itself is five hours long, and includes a written portion (short answer/fill in the blank, essays), demonstration (video recorded), and tasting portion.
I would go into much more detail, but Chris Cohen has already done it so well in The Beer Scholar Study Guide for the Certified Cicerone® Exam. I was told about this guide a little late in my study game, but it completely transformed my approach to studying. Before I got this guide, I was studying things that simply weren’t pertinent to the Certified Cicerone® Exam. I was reading through books and making note cards about the chemical makeup of ethanol and where different maltsters were located throughout the country. All of that information was good to know, but it wasn’t going to help me pass the exam.
Chris Cohen’s guide helped me focus on exactly what I needed to study by breaking down the syllabus and filling in the blanks. He also includes three practice exams which are absolutely invaluable. Finally, when you purchase the study guide, you also get a separate PDF of note cards to print out and study from. I went through about 40 of these each day, making different piles of note cards based on my ability to answer them. Hit the hard ones the most!
If I was only able to have one resource to study from for this exam, Chris Cohen’s guide would be it.
The Beer Scholar Study Guide for the Certified Cicerone® Exam is available for purchase at www.thebeerscholar.com for $60. It’s worth every. single. penny.
Now that we’ve got my favorite study guide out of the way (I swear, he didn’t pay me!), we’ll move onto a more structured list of helpful sources.
Note: The title of each resource has a hyperlink that will take you either directly to the resource, or to a place you can purchase it.
This is where it all begins. Use this site to sign up for exams, download the syllabus, and locate study resources.
Certified Cicerone® Syllabus
Unless you want to go into the exam blind and waste several hundred dollars, you had better take a look at the syllabus! Print it out. Make notes in the margin. Put stars by topics you need to work on. Look at it every day. Take it with you everywhere you go. This will be your guide to life for the next 6 months to a year.
BJCP Study Guide and Exam
The BJCP exam and Certified Cicerone® exam have many similarities, and as such, I encourage you to study for both. Studying for one will only boost the knowledge you need for the other, so why not kill two birds with one stone? Other than studying the BJCP style guidelines, I did very minor study for the BJCP exam. But in the final couple weeks before I took the Certified Cicerone® exam, I decided to spend $10 to take the online BJCP entrance exam, and passed. It’s a great test of your knowledge, and a bit of a wake up call if you stumble across some questions you’re unsure of. Consider it a $10 pre-test before your $395 full test.
Tasting Beer – Randy Mosher
This is the very first book in anyone’s beer book library, or at least it should be. Tasting Beer covers a wide range of topics, and reads well for even those with little beer knowledge. I first read this book when I was studying for the Certified Beer Server exam (level 1). I took copious notes and made a point of looking up terms I didn’t understand. If you can comprehend everything going on in this book, you’re off to a good start.
The Oxford Companion to Beer – Garrett Oliver
This is my favorite book in the whole world. It’s more of a beer encyclopedia. I use it every time I write a blog post, class syllabus, or want to brush up on anything beer related. I often get sidetracked while looking up something specific because I found something else interesting along the way, and then something else after it. This rabbit hole effect is a great way to learn about things you would never think to look up!
The Beer Hunter – Michael Jackson
“No, not that Michael Jackson.” A man before his time, Michael Jackson was the beer nerd we all strive to be today. He was publishing beer books back in the 70s before craft brewing really became a thing, and continued enlightening the world until his death in 2007. His writings and articles still live on at beerhunter.com. God rest his beer soaked soul.
Brookston Beer Bulletin – Beer Tasting Terms
Though you won’t be asked to define most of these terms in the exam, they sure help you sound like you know what the hell you’re talking about. They also help boost your vocabulary for beer evaluation. It’s a good reference to have bookmarked for when you need it.
Online Certified Cicerone® Exam Flashcards
These are great for testing your knowledge. Practice answering in writing, as well as aloud or in your mind. I’ve found a question or two with incorrect answers listed as correct, so be cautious. I would start using theses for study once you’re a month or two away from the exam. Please note, this is user generated content, and not associated with cicerone.org. For a more reliable set of flashcards, purchase The Beer Scholar.
Keeping and Serving Beer
Brewers Association – Draught Beer Quality Manual
It’s a bit like reading the manual you get along with shiny, new electronics. I hate reading those. This manual, however, isn’t quite as bad. And it’s extremely necessary considering fiddling around with draught lines to figure them out isn’t usually a reality, and can be costly or dangerous to play with. So read the manual. Just do it. You can download the manual for free, or order a hard copy for less than $10.
Leaders Beverage Draught Maintenance Educational Videos
Draught lines are one of the easier topics to study for this exam, but studying from the Draught Quality Manual can be a bit dry and monotonous. These educational videos are a bit more user friendly. The demonstrations are especially helpful for those who do not have access to draught lines for study in person.
Micro Matic Presentation on Draught Line Cleaning Importance
This is great for the same reasons as the resource above. It’s like watching the movie instead of reading the book.
BJCP 2015 Style Guidelines
The Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines is what the Cicerone® Certification Program uses to define beer styles. Styles were one of the most difficult topics for me to study. You’re expected to know 60+ styles inside and out for the exam, which is a lot to chew on if you don’t break it down for yourself. I tackled 3-5 styles a week, rewriting the BJCP guidelines in my own words in a separate document, along with any other information I could find on the style through other resources. Do NOT neglect style history. You won’t find much of it in the BJCP guidelines, so seek it out.
BJCP Beer Style Comparisons
This list of comparisons is based on the 2008 version of the style guidelines (current exams are based on the 2015 version), so take it with a grain of salt. It’s still a great resource for understanding the similarities and differences between styles.
Beer Flavor and Evaluation
More Beer! “Off” Flavors In Beer
Off flavors are an extremely important part of the exam. The six you will be tested on are DMS, diacetyl, oxidized, acetaldehyde, light-struck (skunked), and infection. It’s a good idea to take a look at the others, but you should study these six the most.
Cicerone Off-Flavor Kit by AROXA
Don’t even think about taking the exam before tasting and smelling your way through an off-flavor kit. Everyone experiences off-flavors differently. During the exam is not when you want to discover you aren’t able to detect acetaldehyde very well. $149 is a lot for one person to pay for a single kit, so try to find others interested in off-flavor training to help cut the cost. Also, don’t wait until the last minute to purchase your kit, the Cicerone® website carries them in limited quantities.
Beer Ingredients and Brewing Process
How To Brew – John Palmer
When I was beginning to homebrew, this was my go-to book. It also helped to have a job where I could throw my homebrew questions at professional brewers, but How To Brew held my hand just as much as they did through the learning process. If you’re not a homebrewer, but plan to take the Certified Cicerone® exam, this book is pretty necessary. That being said, if you’re reading the book and studying for the exam, there has never been a better time to become a homebrewer! The 4th edition of How To Brew was released on June 1st, 2017. Purchase the latest edition for the most up to date information.
Brewers Association – Hops, Malt, Yeast, Water
These are four separate books, each focused on one of the four main ingredients of beer. The cicerone website recommends these books for Advanced CiceroneTM and Master Cicerone® study, but I found them to be helpful and interesting. My particular favorite is For The Love Of Hops. Malt was also very interesting and helped me wrap my head around the malting process. Yeast was good, but I found parts of it required a good bit of knowhow in microbiology (not my strong point). More confusing still is Water, which had me in over my head. It’s good to encounter books you don’t completely understand the first read through. It makes the second or third read through a year or two down the road that much more satisfying when you actually understand what the hell you’re reading.
Pairing Beer with Food
The Brewmaster’s Table – Garrett Oliver
I’ll be honest. I purchased and received this book in the mail about five days before my exam, and spent about 5 minutes perusing it. If I hadn’t felt so confident about my beer and food pairing knowledge by the time I received the book, I would have spent more time with it. From what I have read, it’s a thorough guide on the dos and don’ts of pairings, and worth your dollar signs. Use this book to practice making pairing menus. (Hint, hint)
Brewers Association – Beer And Food Pairing Charts 1 & 2
These are great quick references. But more important than knowing what’s tasty together is understanding why things are tasty together. That’s why these PDFs are fun and informative, but not quite enough to get you through the exam. They’re still a good resource.
This list will continue to grow as I find new resources. I hope it helps guide you into becoming a Certified Cicerone® and beyond. If you have any questions about the exam, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Here’s to learning a little more about our favorite beverage every day!