Thursday, September 13, 2007

The return of Cicero, and the demotion of "beer sommelier" in favor of something more quantifiable.

For the current youthful generation of beer drinkers who, unlike my contemporaries, have the luxury of taking the availability of craft beer for granted, "ancient history" is a phenomenon describing the decades following hard on the heels of World War II, when the number of breweries in America atrophied to fewer than a hundred, and was the concept of “choice” for a beer drinker was being held hostage, seemingly without hope of release, in Mr. Busch’s closet of insipid horrors.

Ideally, ancient history extends considerably further back into the mists of time, with the millennia being peeled back like the layers of an onion (itself used as liniment for the Colosseum’s gladiators) to the classics and one-time staples of the educational curriculum.

Alas, Latin isn’t studied much these days, and the Roman Empire, too, lies largely off the contemporary radar screen except when periodically resurrected as a backdrop to cinematic costume dramas, but once upon a time there was a Roman philosopher and statesman much admired for his abilities to write and speak.

His name was Marcus Tullius Cicero, and along the pathway from Latin to modern Italian, such was the respect accorded Cicero’s depth of learned comprehension and his flights of erudition that a word was created from his name: Cicerone (sis-uh-rohn, as English speakers pronounce it), which might be described simply as a guide for sightseers.

However, there is more to it than that, for not every sightseeing guide can be said to possess the knowledge and fluency of Cicero. Those that do are special, recognized both for their knowledge and their ability to convey it.

I’m delighted to report that the term “cicerone” has been chosen to describe those who currently are rather inelegantly referred to as “beer sommeliers,” a sommelier being a certified and formally trained guide – a cicerone, after a fashion – to wine.

There is now a website that fully describes an effort underway to provide structured accreditation: Cicerone Certification Program. Ray Daniels is spearheading the program, and deserves thanks for commencing the quantification of standards and the creation of a job description where none existed. Until now, we may not have known exactly what a cicerone was, but we knew that it was needed. Here is brief outline, as copied from the website:

The Cicerone Certification Program seeks to ensure that consumers receive the best possible beer and enjoy its flavors to the greatest extent possible. To facilitate this, those who sell and serve beer need to acquire knowledge in five areas:

Beer Storage, Sales and Service
Beer Styles and Culture
Beer Tasting and Flavors
Brewing Ingredients and Processes
Pairing Beer with Food

To encourage participation by those with various interests and ambitions, the program offers three levels of certification beginning with the simplest and building to the most complex and demanding:

1. Certified Beer Server
2. Certified Cicerone
3. Master Cicerone

Readers, please take time to visit the CCP web site and take the tour. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, sent them to me or pass them along to Ray.

Previously at the Potable Curmudgeon:

What is the beer equivalent of a sommelier?


Anonymous said...
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The New Albanian said...

I hates spammers to pieces.