UPDATE: I took the Advanced Cicerone exam in February 2017 and did not pass. I'm retaking the exam in November, so look for more updates on how my studying is going.
I'm a few months out from taking the Advanced Cicerone exam, so I decided to create a page dedicated solely to my Cicerone studies. If you are studying for any level of the Cicerone Certification Program, I hope you will be able to use this page as a resource or, even better, as a forum wherein we can ask each other questions and discuss all the nitty-gritty beer stuff our loved ones are sick of hearing us talk about.
Everyone is welcome here, and I look forward to engaging with beer lovers of all types!
If you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, check out the Cicerone Word of the Week, my blog posts about Becoming a Certified Cicerone, and my blog post about my upcoming Advanced Cicerone exam.
I've broken the next five months up into broad categories both for beer styles and beer ingredients. Both categories contain a lot of information and I needed to break them into more manageable chunks. I've included a bare bones outline of each month below and hope to flesh them out with more information as I get deeper into my studies.
Please feel free to ask questions or make observations as I go along. I would love the opportunity to answer questions and hear about how other prospective Cicerones approached each subject. Although this is a judgement-free zone where anyone of any beer knowledge level can ask questions or make observations, if you don't feel comfortable posting here, please email me instead.
September Retake Update
It's funny how much can change in a year and yet how much can stay the same. If you haven't subscribed to my newsletter and/or if you don't know me IRL, I've recently begun a new career as the Executive Director of the Craft Maltsters Guild, an awesome organization dedicated to supporting the burgeoning (or reburgeoning) craft malt industry. Instead of finding myself sitting at the end of my road, willing myself to continue my commute to work rather than going back to pout around my house about my job, I wake up most mornings incredibly excited to get to work on that day's tasks. I've also recently completed my stint as Director of Marketing for Charlotte Oktoberfest, an all-volunteer event put on by my homebrew club, the Carolina BrewMasters. Doing marketing for such a large event took most of my time and energy away from everything else in my life.
I tell you all of this so that when I say I've done next to no studying for my Advanced Cicerone exam retake a mere 8 weeks away, you hopefully won't clutch your pearls too hard.
BUT the festival is over now and I suddenly find myself with what seems like an endless amount of free time, which means I have time to study in a meaningful way. Most of my studying has taken the form of beer tasting, which really is the best form of studying. I recently completed a day-long off-flavor class taught by Pat Fahey, the content director of the Cicerone Certification Program and one of the only Master Cicerones in the world. The experience was incredibly helpful and worth every penny. There wasn't a lot of new information in the class, but it was presented in a different way (i.e. not me reading it passively from a book), so it feels like I retained a lot of the information. For better or worse, I got to put some of my new tasting knowledge to the test this past weekend when I judged a homebrew competition - while it's never fun to taste diacetyl bombs after diacetyl bombs, it is helpful to have the opportunity to give fellow homebrewers feedback on how they can avoid diacetyl in the future.
Beyond beer tastings, which have also involved flavor identifications, I have been focusing on beer and food pairings, since some of the specific feedback I got the first time I took the Advanced Cicerone was that I need more experience not only with beer and food pairings, but also with talking about beer and food pairings. Therefore, I've been carefully planning our dinners and mapping out what beers to pair with each meal, typically three beers per meal. During the dinners, my husband and I sample each beer and then talk about what works for us and what doesn't. This will probably be another upcoming blog post, so stay tuned to learn more specifics.
Study Area 1
Beer Styles: Belgian & French
Beer Ingredient: Malt
Beer Styles to Study: Lambics, Flanders Ales, Trappist & Abbey Ales, Pale Belgian Beers, Unique Beers
Beer Ingredient to Study: Malt
September Study Update
September is two weeks behind me and I'm still trying to finish my reading list. I made it through everything except Wild Brews and Malt, which I'm reading now. Reading five books in a month(ish) makes me feel a little like a kid during summer break (I was a nerdy kid) or like the summer I spent 10 weeks working as a law clerk in the mountains with no TV and read thirty books. I enjoyed all the books I read, particularly The Great Beers of Belgium. I had read snippets of Michael Jackson's work before but discovered why he is so revered as a beer writer with Great Beers. His writing style is so enjoyable and affable. Reading five different books about the same types of beers did get a little repetitive as there are really only so many ways to describe a brewery's decades-old brewing process or its origin story.
Lambic, The Great Beers of Belgium, and Belgian Ale were all published in the early 90s, so there were some references that seemed at the same time quaint and illuminating. For instance, in Lambic, the author - writing for an American audience - compares lambic to arguably the only beer most Americans had ever known at that time: American lager. Referring to mass-produced adjunct beers as "American lager" puts them in an almost romantic light and is probably one of the kindest things anyone has called macro beers in the last thirty years. Michael Jackson includes both telephone and fax numbers for the breweries he lists in Great Beers, because the internet was obviously not a thing yet. I love the idea of sending a facsimile transmission to a Belgian brewery to inquire about their hours. I think the information that tickled me the most was that brewers who were interested in brewing with pure cultures had to write or telephone the American Type Culture Collection and show that they were trained in microbiology and had "access to a properly equipped laboratory." Nowadays, professional brewers and homebrewers alike can purchase cultures easily and go hog wild with them, no training or proper equipment needed.
Reading through all these books did make me appreciate the access to beer and information that I have and with which I arguably grew up. Blue Moon and Sam Adams mix packs became available shortly after I turned 21, and the availability of non-macro beers only grew from there. I came of age in a time when the entire beer universe expanded in front of me and I always had my pick of beer styles to try. Comparing lambics to American lager seems silly to me now, but thirty years ago, that was the best comparison there was. Every once in a while I'll read information that really makes me stop and say, "Oh, so that's what it was like." These books from twenty-five years ago definitely did that for me.
Beyond reading, I haven't really done anything concrete with studying, like making new flash cards or working through the syllabus. Some days I try not to freak out about that too much and other days I'm happy with the more holistic approach I'm taking to studying. I tell myself that there will be time for rote memorization and working through the more hands-on aspects, like draft systems. Mostly I strike a balance between the exam being something that is months away and something that is rushing toward me, which is to say I exist in a constant state of mild anxiety about the exam. I'm trying not to get too hung up on the fact that I haven't started on my October reading list with only two weeks left in the month. However, I also purposely set my schedule up so that most of February is free, which means I've got some extra time I can fill.
I'd also like to give a shout out to the everyone who has reached out to me both on the blog and on social media with their kind words of support. I really appreciate it, so thank you very much.
Study Area 2
Beer Styles: English & Irish
Beer Ingredient: Hops
Beer Styles to Study: English Pale & Strong Ales, Scottish Ales, Irish Ales
Beer Ingredient to Study: Hops
Study Area 2 Update
Woof. Finding time to study can be hard to do. I was originally planning to update my October studying, which was focused on English, Irish, and Scottish ales, as well as hops. However, it is now the end of November somehow and I'm wrapping up my studies of English, Scottish, and Irish ales. To save my sanity, I opted to reorganize my studies by areas rather than months. If I were going strictly by my original plan, I would have to skip German, Czech, and Austrian beers altogether and go straight to American beers.
In the time since my last update, I've read all the books listed above, with the exception of For the Love of Hops. I have started reading it, but found that, like with Malt, the material is quite a bit more dense and the books are at least twice the length of the beer styles books. For the time being, I'm probably going to put Hops aside and focus instead on feeling caught up on my beer styles. I'll revisit Hops at a later date, but if it comes down to the wire, I can concentrate instead on making sure I know the hops-related material listed in the syllabus.
I've really enjoyed reading about the history of brewing in the United Kingdom and Ireland, probably because American brewing history seems to be more recently impacted by it than Belgian brewing history. The styles are more familiar to me as is the time in which they developed. It's amazing to learn things such as the popularity of pale ales growing in part because of the commercial availability of glassware rather than stoneware or pewter mugs. Once people could see what they were drinking, they wanted their beer to be more visually appealing. It's also interesting to read how much water composition impacted the development of different styles. I was generally familiar with how water composition impacted certain brewing styles, but became more familiar with the water composition of several different UK and Irish cities, such as London, Edinburgh, and Dublin.
I also spent some of my Thanksgiving break making new flashcards for beer styles. I had made beer styles flashcards when I was studying for the Certified Cicerone exam, but my new flashcards cover much more technical information, such as starting and final gravities, typical ingredients, and commercial examples. Knowing commercial examples was an area of deficiency for me when I took the Certified Cicerone exam, so that is one area that is receiving more of my focus this time around. I'm also making a lot more technical flashcards this time around because there are a lot of terms and concepts I think I know until I try to explain them. For instance, I made flashcards for different types and subtypes of malt so that I can categorize them a lot better, which is also a helpful exercise for homebrewing. I usually add some sort of crystal malt to my grain bills because I know from somewhere that crystal malts add body, but never stopped to figure out the why behind that concept.
For me, there is a lot of dogma surrounding brewing that I've never stopped to wonder, "But why? Why is it like that?" which I suppose is the knowledge difference between the Certified and Advanced Cicerone certifications. There always seems to be more information I need to hunt down to deepen my understanding of a lot of these concepts. Sometimes the amount of information I want to learn before the exam is overwhelming. However, I don't find being overwhelmed to be scary, just a somewhat uncomfortable place to find myself. I'll be more scared if I find myself feeling like I'm comfortable with the amount of information I know. Knowing enough to know how much you don't know is uncomfortable but still preferable.
Study Area 3
Beer Styles: German, Czech, & Austrian Beers
Beer Ingredient: Water
Beer Styles to Study: Amber & Dark Lagers, Bocks & Specialty Lagers, Ales
Beer Ingredient to Study: Water
Lately I've been feeling like Jessie Spano when she got "addicted" to caffeine pills: "No time! There's never any time!"
I know I'm not the only person for whom the past few weeks have been hectic, but Geez Louise. It seems like the past few weeks have been nonstop what with the holidays, events, visits, and working sometimes 20 days in a row. Today saw the last of our visitors and social engagements end for the most part and it seems as though my schedule will calm down enough for me to be able to devote a lot more time to my studying. Whether my schedule wants to calm down or not, it's going to because I've only got 8 short weeks left to study. I have bought all the study things and bought all the study beer - I bought a cart-full of study beers today, which wasn't terribly exciting as I'm writing this update on New Years Day and woke up saying I wasn't ever drinking again (haha). From here until the exam, I'm probably not drinking socially very much because I'll be study drinking, which is actually a serious thing.
As far as my actual studying has been going, some days I can knock out an entire book or stack of flashcards, but most days it seems as if I can only dedicate about 30 minutes to reading. However, I've been enjoying learning about German and Czech beers. Out of all the beers about which I've read so far, I think I've enjoyed learning about the history behind German beers the best. The kind of cultures and customs that have grown around particular beer styles is fascinating. So far learning about Kolsch has been my favorite because I like that there are special names for Kolsch waiters (Kobesse) as well as particular uniforms for them. This next week I'll be working on my Road to Cicerone: German Course and I'm excited to work through it. I've found all the Cicerone materials to be extremely well done and helpful but I haven't worked through one of the beer styles workbooks yet.
Study Area 4
Beer Styles: United States
Beer Ingredient: Yeast
Beer Styles to Study: Pale Lagers & Ales, IPAs, Dark Ales, Strong Ales
Beer Ingredient to Study: Yeast
Study Area 5
Beer Styles: Historical Styles & Other Regions
Beer Processes & Recipe Formulation
Beer Styles to Study: Historical Styles, Specialty Ingredients & Processes, International Beers, Polish Beers, Scandinavian Beers
Beer Processes & Recipe Formulation
In two weeks, I will be freaking out in a hotel room in Chicago. I've felt this feeling before when I took the North Carolina and Illinois bar exams - alternating between feeling confident and feeling like I don't know anything about anything and what happens if I get in there and don't know the answers to any of the questions. Caught between being exhilarated to finally be facing this giant challenge, being terrified that I won't rise to the occasion, and just wanting it all to be over. I've already been thinking about everything I'm going to do with all the time that will be suddenly freed up when I'm not worrying about all the studying I'm not getting done. Most of it is still beer-related, but there may be a day or two of just sitting quietly in a dark room not being terribly productive.
I've reached the inevitable point of starting to cut things from my study list to which realistically I'm not going to get. I had to face the reality a couple weeks ago that I'm not going to get another one dozen books read in the coming weeks, particularly because I've also started not one but two new jobs in the past couple weeks. For some topics, I'm going to have to do some Cliff Notes-style studying and hope that I can cobble together coherent answers from what I already know and focus on giving really great answers to other topics.
One thing that is for sure is that I won't stop learning about beer. There are plenty of topics I've only briefly read about that have piqued my interest that I plan to revisit when I'm not trying to cram beer history, theory, and stats into my head. For instance, the chemical composition of Burton-upon-Trent's water was made public in the 1800s when Beck's Beer sued for libel - someone had averred that Beck's beers were adulterated to give them their signature taste and Beck's sued. I find that to be a very interesting story and plan to research it further to possibly develop it into a scholarly article. Beyond making mental notes of topics I plan to revisit, I've also gotten a lot more proactive in doing quick research whenever I have a question about a beer style or ingredient. I fall into that weird technology age range where I first learned about "electronic mail" during my freshmen year in undergrad in an introductory computer class and it didn't make much difference to me because I only had maybe one friend with an email address. That being the case, it doesn't always occur to me that I carry a very advanced computer around in my pocket. For example, the other day I was looking at a beer that said it had black lemons in it. Hmmmm, what are black lemons? As it turns out, black lemons are actually dried limes.
Be on the lookout for a post-Cicerone update sometime in the coming weeks, but for now, I've got some more studying to do!
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