Before deciding to go through the first level Cicerone Certification course, one might say our beer preferences were boring. In fact, it wouldn’t be far off the mark to call it “lazy beer drinker” syndrome. When it came to trying a new beer, the reaction was, “Why should I try something new? I know what I like.”

So you recognize that lazy beer drinker syndrome in someone you know or love?

Thinking back on travels to Europe, I was amused by how the beer tasted different from popular American brands. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Yet, I could detect something extra yummy about beer from Austria or Germany. Was it the water? All I knew then was this magical elixir tickled my nose and fascinated my imagination.

Since then, I have learned so much more about beer.

On the path to better beer knowledge, we had rules. Staying true to the plan of documenting, and photographing each beer we tried, was an exercise in great restraint.

In fact, after sharing our dilemma with a few friends, they were happy to drop by and help us with our R&D. Little did they realize, that in the process, they also expanded their knowledge base and widened their palate. That is one of the remarkable reasons to share in the experience of learning.

Personally, I’d rather have a few ounces of a deeply delicious OMG as opposed to a six-pack of Ho Hum, but to each his own.

It’s all about the nuances of flavor that make each beer unique just like those who brew them and those who drink them.

Far into a few weeks of our beer discovery, I found myself being surprised with a few new favorites and a broader appreciation for styles that at first seemed to assault my entire being. (Ever suck on a lemon wedge while gnashing pine tree needles between your teeth? Then you know what I’m talking about.)

My buds got an education with all kinds of funky, fruity, farmy, sour, tart, earthy, explosive, fabulous, smooth, and elegantly sophisticated. I swear that some beer actually felt as if it talked with me on a cellular level! That good!

Intellectually tasting is a whole ‘nother level of experiencing beer. Tasting and appreciating the blended complexities make beer exploration all the more exciting!

In between the challenge of tasting, photographing, and documenting, we also studied. The classes were thorough. We studied everything about keeping and serving beer. Even though I had passed a bartender’s course many years earlier, how to serve, keep, and appreciate styles of beer were barely discussed back then. To be fair, beer choices back then were not what they are now. Interest in craft beers has changed because people now ask for craft and local beer.

That is why the Cicerone course is so valuable for those who serve or want to gain knowledge in the beer world. The program is super comprehensive. Everything from identifying off-flavors and what causes them. (Ever have an off flavor beer? Ugh), fun beer history facts, the origin of beer styles, individual characteristics, and flavor attributes by regions. The course also identified ingredients, fermentation processes, storage, and why water matters.

Beer is not all created equal.

Taking the exam to earn the U.S. Certified Beer Server Certificate was not exactly a walk in the park. The online course took us a couple of weeks to go through once, and we went through the program twice. Still, we wondered, “How hard can the test be?”

Looking back, that was a silly question.

We were finally ready after more than a month of anticipating the exam day. I felt like I was riding a fast . learning curve rollercoaster while gripping a stein of beer trying to retain all the contents! So much sensory stimulus, reading, tasting, smelling, note taking, and not only that but it was also the middle of summer. The day of the test we seemed over-saturated with preparation.

Just a heads up, the test itself is only a half hour. Not bad, right? However, there are sixty questions, which means you have thirty seconds for each answer.

The exam is, without a doubt, challenging. We took the tests separately. Neither of us had ever seen such disappointment on each other’s face; neither of us passed our first try. And only by one or two questions! We sulked. In fact, it was so pathetic that we couldn’t even enjoy a beer or a smile.

We decided to brush off our lederhosen and dig in the course deeper. We went through the online course a third and even a fourth time, again taking copious notes.

One thing we did learn from the first exam is that either you know your stuff or become really lucky at guessing. Process of elimination only applies when taking DMV tests. Ray Daniel’s Cicerone course, even at the first level, demands that you understand your subject matter. Guessing is not an option.

After another few weeks, we mustered up the courage to retake the test early on a Sunday morning. We immersed ourselves in the notes, flashcards, and books the day before. On exam day, we fortified ourselves with a good breakfast, a fresh pot of coffee, and a healthy dose of resolution.

The questions were diverse and seemed different from the previous exam. Not that we would have remembered anyway. And those copious notes? Forget about it! Useless! The questions progress too quickly. We were on edge, and the adrenaline was pumping as we took our tests.

What relief and exhilaration when we both learned we passed on our second attempt! A massive sigh of relief and a lot of joyful noise celebrations were in order.

Our reward? We drove to our local beer store, announced our accomplishment to the manager (who initially helped us select our study beer months earlier), and we proudly picked our own educated selection of beer favorites for the occasion. We earned it. Proud to be beer savvy and have earned the distinction of U.S. Certified Beer Server!

“Let’s do this!“

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Read Part 1

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Learn more about the Cicerone Certification Program

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