To suggest the room is full of beer nerds is probably an understatement. Each came to learn the basics about what it takes to become a certified Cicerone, a title akin to a sommelier in the wine industry.
The program, founded in 2007, is designed to educate hospitality and beverage professionals in an era in which the common man’s drink is becoming increasingly sophisticated — and complicated — as craft beer pushes the industry to new limits.
“We need something like this, because beer should be a simple pleasure for the consumer, but the truth is that getting beer to the consumer in good shape is actually a fairly complicated process,” said Ray Daniels, the founder of the program and a craft beer industry veteran. “This is not rocket science, but it does take some knowledge and some effort to do it right.”
Even though it’s designed for industry pros, the Cicerone program is increasingly attracting craft beer enthusiasts who want to put a credential to their nerdiness. A few attended the seminar in Breckenridge.
“Just for geeks sitting around the bar, I think it is becoming more popular,” said Stacey Butler, who lives in Littleton and sat in the front row for the session at last weekend’s Big Beers festival.
What launched the Cicerone program is simple: bad beer.
Too often, Daniels said he ordered beer only to find it flat, stale or ruined by off flavors.
“It got to the point where I was going into places and I was asking servers about beers that they were responsible for representing and finding out they knew nothing or next to nothing about them,” he said.
The Cicerone (pronounced sis-uh-rohn) program features four levels of beer expertise: server, certified, advanced and master.
The beer server level requires an online exam ($69) while a certified Cicerone must pass a grueling four-hour, in-person exam that costs $395.
The certified level requires detailed knowledge about beer in five main categories — pairing with food; storing and serving; ingredients and process; styles; and tasting. Only 2,700 people, or 35 percent of those tested, have achieved that level.
The master Cicerone is an even more elite club with only 13 members in the world. Fewer than one in 10 pass the test, which takes two days and includes includes written, oral and tasting components.
Colorado is home to only one master Cicerone: Daniel Imdieke at Tenth and Blake, the craft and import beer division at MillerCoors, reached the rank in December.
“It’s a crapshoot. There’s been big names in the beer industry who have taken it and not passed,” Imdieke said in a recent interview at Blue Moon’s new brewery in Denver’s River North neighborhood.
Imdieke trains his co-workers and restaurant professionals about beer. But even he studied for two years, compiling more than 1,000 note cards, to prepare for the exam.
For plenty of beer loves, becoming an expert in the nuances of chemical compounds in beer and how to build draft systems is too much. But Imdieke called his journey an obsession.
“You really find out what you don’t know,” he said, while drinking a Blue Moon Helles lager. “Some people, that may become overwhelming, or say it’s taking the fun out of beer, but for me, that kept me going.”
The team at Resolute Brewing in Centennial organizes a weekly study session for 15 people who are looking to take the certified exam. Most, but not all of them, are connected to the beer industry.
“It’s a long journey, but key to unlocking a better journey,” said Zac Rissmiller, Resolute’s head brewer, who is studying for the test.
Daniels acknowledges the Cicerone program is “definitely not the fun part of beer,” but said it’s important.
“People who work in the beer industry — it’s serious business,” he added. “And in order to do it well, you have to have knowledge and you have to have skills.”
What is a Cicerone?
A Cicerone is a designation in the hospitality and beverage industries that demonstrates expert knowledge in beer. The certification is offered by a program created by Ray Daniels, an industry veteran, who wanted to boost education about beer. It is often described as the equivalent of a sommelier in the wine industry.
The Cicerone program offers four levels: beer server, certified Cicerone, advanced Cicerone and master Cicerone. More information at Cicerone.org.
Learn how to taste beer like an expert
Daniel Imdieke, Colorado’s only master Cicerone and a trainer at MillerCoors’ Tenth and Blake division, describes the five steps to tasting beer in the above video..
BRECKENRIDGE — Through the conference room window, the Beaver Run chairlift ferries skiers to the top of Peak 9 at Breckenridge Ski Resort, one every five seconds.
Inside, just after 8:30 a.m. Saturday, three dozen people are listening to a presentation about beer — how it is made, served and sipped — in excruciating detail without a hint of powder envy.
“Some yeast strains are more flocculant than others and tend to drop out of solution faster,” instructor Pat Fahey tells the room halfway through a three-hour session. “So highly flocculant yeast can sometimes be an issue, because they can drop out of solution before they finish churning through the beer.”