Rose to Cicerone: The Pursuit of Beer Knowledge
Hello, Hopped LA! My name is Rose. As I sit at home enjoying Sierra Nevada’s Wild Little Thing Slightly Sour Ale, I wanted to take a second to introduce myself.
I moved to Los Angeles about three years ago, and it wasn’t long before I felt deeply connected to L.A.’s local craft beer scene. From my sister and I spending the day exploring breweries in the DTLA Arts District in hopes of finding one at which I could celebrate my upcoming birthday (we ended up at Iron Triangle, a very good, albeit now defunct, choice), and most recently in 2019 when one of my friends and I spent the day pub crawling around Torrance, hitting up Monkish, Smog City, and Cosmic. Pre-quarantine, you could find me at any number of local breweries, ordering flights, sweating through a yoga class in exchange for a drink ticket, or getting lots of answers wrong in pub trivia. The common thread? Good beer.
While I have deeply missed all of these beer adventures, I have channeled my longing for an in-person pint into studying for the Certified Cicerone exams. I recently passed the Cicerone Certified Beer Server Exam and will soon begin to pursue the Cicerone Style Courses and after that the Certified Cicerone Exam. When I saw that Hopped LA was looking for more content writers, I thought that my new journey might be helpful — or at least entertaining — to my fellow local beer enthusiasts. So, grab a beer and let me tell you more about my new journey!
Back to the Beginning
My interest in craft beer emerged in 2012, when I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was working as a hostess at Iron Springs Pub and Brewery (https://ironspringspub.com/pub/the-beer/) in the self-proclaimed “Mayberry on Acid” town of Fairfax, California. Prior to this, my knowledge of craft beer only went as far as Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas — tough choices for someone not particularly fond of IPAs. With some guidance and education, my eyes were opened to more styles, and I was intrigued.
As I worked at Iron Springs, my interest in beer grew so strong that I was the first host to successfully bug the brewers into allowing me to have a “brew day.” I got mine, so to speak, when the brewers tricked me into making a Kolsch-style ale which, back then wasn’t my favorite. (I have since shifted my stance and recognize this as one of the most refreshing styles to grace us all.) After two brew days, I realized that the brewing part of the beer world is not for me. Frankly, I am just not that good at cleaning, measuring, or memorizing general chemistry — and climbing out of a kettle is just embarrassing. When I moved on to another restaurant job, where I worked as a supervisor, it took four long months to convince the general manager that I knew beer and to put 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer on our menu. Our shipment sold out rapidly and, to this day, I stand by that beer wholeheartedly. After this experience, I knew I wanted to find credible ways to advocate for both myself and craft beer.
It was during this period of early discoveries that I learned what a Cicerone is. For those unfamiliar, a Cicerone (pronounced “sis-uh-rohn”) is someone who passes a series of written and in-person tests in order to gain expertise in the following five areas:
- Keeping and Serving Beer
- Beer Styles
- Beer Flavor and Evaluation
- Beer Ingredients and Brewing Processes
- Pairing Beer With Food
Anyone is free to call him or herself a beer expert, beer nerd, beer snob, beer enthusiast, or even, with some training, a beer sommelier, but Cicerone designation is trademarked and, therefore, without passing the benchmark tests set forth by the program, not just anyone can call her or himself a Cicerone.
Stepping up my Beer Game
So, why become a Cicerone rather than just living life happily as a beer nerd? Why spend the time and money? Do I just really like swag? Sure, but there’s more to it. Cicerone is the measure by which beer professionals and the greater beer community define the study of the aforementioned areas of beer. This pursuit of beer knowledge has encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone, and the foundation laid out by the Beer Server Exam is key to understanding what makes beer so damn special.
Like many of you, I’m sure, I have spent much of quarantine wishing I could be anywhere outside of my apartment, drinking beer that I didn’t have to refrigerate and pour myself. (it’s the little things, amiright?) That’s why I finally started seriously studying for the Certified Beer Server Exam. Though I was dismayed to learn that “Pairing Beer With Food” would not be a major component of this Exam, I persevered, getting over that fact long enough to pass the test (yay me!). I also finally got my beer-centric Instagram, @bigrosebeer, up and running (follow along if you wish!). The opportunity to connect with so many other Cicerones, beer enthusiasts, brewers, and industry professionals has been one of the best uses of Instagram I have personally experienced.
In addition, I have collected a solid set of study resources. If you’d like to learn with me, here’s what I’ve been reading and watching:
- Beer for All Seasons: A Through-the-Year Guide to What to Drink and When to Drink It by Randy Mosher
- The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer: An Unpretentious Guide to Craft Beer by Ashley Routson
- The Cicerone Certification Program website: https://www.cicerone.org/us-en
- Cicerone Presents: Free CBS Prep Talks on YouTube Live: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLKajHsYcdVNgS_K0ZE6ac18RYYSzAFhSx
The Road to Cicerone Styles
So, what’s next? Before I dive into the Certified Cicerone Exam, I decided to pursue the Style Badges, aka the Road to Cicerone Styles Courses. I received my American Beer Style Course, and I’m excited to start learning about the history, hop varieties, and beer styles made here in the United States. Honestly, I wasn’t very excited for this course, but I think it is a reasonable place to start, as I am already familiar with these styles, and I believe I will be able to find locally produced examples easily. Plus, most sections also contain a Comparison Tasting element, which will clearly be the highlight.
As I make my way through the study guide, I will be back here with some insight, reflections, and fun facts and along the way, I hope I can help everyone choose a great hazy IPA (spoiler alert: Harland Brewing’s is a top contender) or flavorful American lager (spoiler alert: it’s not Michelob Ultra) that you may not have heard about before.
My ultimate goal is to highlight locally made beers that embody the traditions, stylistic expectations, and other parameters of the beers that I am studying, which will help make my journey through Los Angeles’ beer scene that much more awesome — and hopefully yours as well! I look forward to sharing this journey with you.