Beer drinkers are a divisive crowd by nature. Style preference, price sensitivity, brand loyalty. These are in constant flux and debated by all levels of experienced craft beer enthusiasts. Perhaps nothing is more respected and yet scorned than the Cicerone Certification program.
The Certified Cicerone program has grown steadily over its short life. It now offers four different levels, each having an increasing level of difficulty, as it should. The program is the craft beer answer to wine’s Sommelier program. But where Sommeliers are respected both industry wide and by the public, the Cicerone program has yet to gain the same level of respect.
We beer drinkers like to think that beer is on the same or close level to wine. But even as an enthusiast with industry experience, and having passed the Level 2 Cicerone Exam nearly a decade ago, I must tell you (regretfully) this is not the case. There is no battle for the drinking preferences of the masses. Wine and beer are more stratified than one may think, and in my opinion, that’s a good thing.
Wine is steeped deep in the realized impact of terroir, or nature’s impact on the bottled product. Droughts, frost, soil pH, you name it, have an unmistakable impact on the finished product. But in beer, ingredients are much easier to come by. Hops, malt, and yeast have only a handful of reliable producers that nearly everyone, breweries and hobbyists alike, have access to. As a result, what makes it into the keg is often recognized by reputation more than it can by differentiation. Example: a Master Sommelier can smell and taste a wine and tell you the exact vineyard it came from. I dare any level of beer expert to attempt the same with two Hazy IPAs.
I’m not trying to smear the good name of beer. In fact, the opposite. The longer we compare ourselves to wine, the longer it will take us to be truly unique. We need to stop trying to be classy, and start trying to be ourselves.