Being able to appreciate beer has many different levels. For some, simply being able to sit back with a glass or two of craft at the end of the day is perfection. For others, going in depth into how the liquid in their glass was made, if it's to style and determining if there are any flaws makes for a more interesting evening. For those people there are certification programs with educational guidelines to help refine their palate and broaden their beer knowledge.
The Cicerone certification is one of these programs and consists of two levels – Certified Cicerone and Master Cicerone. To achieve the Master Cicerone level, candidates have to pass a two day exam that consists of essay questions, oral examinations by industry experts and blind tastings. With a minimum passing score of 85% required, only one or two candidates typically pass the exam each year.
Mirella Amato is one of seven people who has passed the Master Cicerone exam and the only person in Canada to hold this achievement. We chatted with her about the Cicerone program and the three day Sensory Evaluation Workshop she's hosting in December.
Ottawa Beer Events: What does it mean to be a Master Cicerone?
Mirella Amata (Beerology): Well, the Master Cicerone exam is HUGE. It tests people on all aspects of beer, from designing a draught system, to off-flavour detection (of course), brewing, pairing beer with food and all sorts of other things. I took it because I wanted people to know that I was serious about beer and that they could trust my level of expertise.
How long did it take you to achieve the level of Master Cicerone? What was your motivation?
I would say that it took seven years. All of my beer experience so far has contributed to my being able to pass that exam. Having said this, for the first 5 years I was gathering experience, I then had two years of serious study. The thing with the Master Cicerone exam is that you can’t just study and pass; you really have to have knowledge-based experience. It would be kind of silly if someone who’d just read a bunch of books could then consider themselves an expert in beer, which is a tangible, ever-evolving product…
Why are off-flavours so important to learn – for the homebrewer, sales representative or enthusiast?
I come across off-flavours in beer on a weekly basis – they’re everywhere! People will often feel like something isn’t right but they can’t quite put their finger on the problem, so they just order a different beer or go to a different establishment. More often than not, when I return a pint and try to helpfully point out the problem I’m met with resistance (most commonly, bar managers will tell me “they will let the brewery know there was a problem with their beer” when the problem is actually that the lines in the bar aren’t being properly maintained and the beer was actually fine when it left the brewery) My goal with this workshop is to help people identify off-flavours. Many people have read descriptions of off-flavours in books but struggle to identify them in beer. The best way to learn about off-flavours is by actually tasting them in beer…when I realized, a few years ago, that no one was offering off-flavour training, I decided to create this workshop. It’s useful AND it’s tons of fun!
What level of beer knowledge are these seminars targeted towards? Do you recommend any prerequisite reading?
I created this seminar for people who work in the industry: brewers, brewery representatives, bar managers, as well as for home brewers. It is meant for people who are familiar with beer and have a rudimentary understanding of the brewing process. The workshops are pretty technical (hence the Geek Alert on the registration page!). Having said this, I have had a few beer aficionados join my previous workshops and they had a good time. I don’t think reading materials are a necessary prerequisite…just having a passion for beer!
There are 3 sensory sessions – each dealing with specific topics – why did you chose to divide them in that way?
I divided the off flavours in two sessions: ‘Things that can go wrong at the pub’ and ‘Things that can go wrong at the brewery’ because this workshop is meant to refine troubleshooting skill. The first thing that you need to identify is: what is the problem? The second thing is: how can it be fixed? or, more specifically, who can fix it? If you’re a bar manager or brewery representative faced with a bad beer, it’s very handy to know whether this off-flavour occurred at the brewery or at the bar. The third session is tons of fun. Basically, it’s an opportunity for people to test their skills and see, now that they’re familiar with a bunch of off-flavours, can they pick them out in a blind tasting? I often have seasoned homebrewers, who have already done a lot of off-flavour training sit in just for this session.
Space is limited to 15 people so reserve your spot in Mirella's Sensory Evaluation Workshop (December 9-11) now! If you're just starting to appreciate beer and want to learn more, Mirella's book, Beerology, is an easy-to-read guide with chapters on history, styles, pairings and even beer games!