As the Cicerone Exam becomes available to more people by being available partially online, I’m excited about how many people have reached out about starting to study for it. My next few blog posts are filled with resources that will help you prepare.
Before we get to my favorite study links for the Certified and Advanced exams I want to mention 100% the best place to start your studying is with the Cicerone’s list of suggested texts and the syllabus. Obviously those resources are written FOR the test takers BY the test writers – pretty much as good as it gets!
A couple things – I don’t have any food and beer pairing resources here. I think the best way to practice food and beer pairing is to read the pairing section of the syllabus and use those action words when you’re out eating food in the world. There is soo much theory about pairing, but trust me. When you taste a good pair, you’l know! It’s also helpful to watch contestants on shows like MasterChef describe their dishes and then listen to the judges describe it back to them. Two sensory descriptions for the same plate of food, a gold mine!!
Second – before I ever started studying I was brewing for years. I found out about Cicerone at the National Homebrew Competition where I won a gold. It’s hard to quantify how much I already knew before I started studying and I can. not. recommend. brewing. ENOUGH. It might be the best study tool in existence. And you don’t need to start too fancy, I started on a kit like this, less than $80!
Tasting Beer – I think we all know Randy Mosher’s classic book is essentially the Bible for passing Certified Cicerone®. Get it, memorize it, write all over it like I did, and you’ll be a massive leap closer to passing. This book also comes as an audio book, I got mine via Audible!
Brewing Classic Styles – Next to Tasting Beer this book is the top of my list. I think the only way I was able to pass Certified on my first go was my years of experience as a homebrewer. Before I ever heard about the Cicerone program I had a copy of Brewing Classic Styles which built the foundation for how I understand the BJCP guidelines and how I file alll the information I’ve learned in my brain. As far as the sections of the Cicerone syllabus this is a one-two punch. You learn about Brewing Process and Ingredients as well as Beer Styles.
Water – I know the Brewer’s Publication’s Brewing Elements Series is revered by many people that want to deepen their knowledge about brewing, but of the four I only found water to be still up-to-date and essential learning. Most other information is covered more thoroughly online.
From fellow Advanced Cicerone Natalya Watson this is a book exploring beer styles by flavor! So cool!
Also, my $4 e-book if you’re looking to expand your sensory vocabulary and prep for the Beer Flavor portion of the syllabus.
The Brewing Network – Generally, without this podcast network there is less than a 0 percent chance I would be into beer. I used to drive around Texas listening to hours and hours of The Session (that I had to LOAD onto an IPOD – whew, I’ve been at this a while). There is a lot of fast-forwarding of banter but it’s where I learned almost everything to get started homebrewing.
Brewing with Style – Speaking of, this specific show is on the brewing network and goes through each category of the BJCP style guidelines. The episodes are formatted: banter to fast forward through > reading the style guidelines > tasting and comparing examples of the style > a recipe to brew the style. Without a doubt one of the best ways to understand the styles and how they relate to each other. Beware: some episodes are older than the most recent BJCP guidelines, they are still relevant but just be aware.
The Master Brewers podcast – This one is leaning more toward Advanced Cicerone knowledge. There are definitely episodes that are too deep in the science to be relevant but there are many – especially the ones focused on ingredients (like this one on malt and this one on hops) that offer different angles to approach the material than the books on the syllabus.
The BeerSmith podcast – this is a great resource with episode from tons of the authors on the Cicerone Syllabus. I really reccomend this episode on sensory with Randy Mosher, this one on Diacetyl with Charlie Bamforth, and this one on designing beer with John Palmer.
I love this video of Garret Oliver describing beer as he tastes it. I always want to channel is clarity and specificity in my oral exams!
This youtube playlist put together by the lovely Robyn Reid (another Advanced Cicerone!) covers all kinds of topics from style history, to flavor compounds, to brewing tips. Most of the videos are light and conversational too so watching feels less like studying!
I personally have very little experience working in breweries so this channel called Brewery Life was very helpful for me especially when it came to studying for Advanced Cicerone. Milling, mashing, and fermenting look a little different at a professional scale than in my closet!
For the Keeping & Serving portion of the syllabus there is NO better video source than Leader’s Beverage. I was never able to get my hands on real draft equipment (like FOBs, glycol chillers, or beer pumps) before my exams. These videos provide a very thorough understanding of how all the equipment works together.
The only reason I posted these videos of my blind tasting practice was so others could learn, so here is a little self promotion!
Links and Articles
I know many people (myself included) that would not have passed the Certified Cicerone exam without Chris Cohen’s Beer Scholar Study Guide. I highly recommend the investment!
BeerandBrewing.com/s “dictionary” is just the Oxford Companion to beer online. Don’t buy that expensive (somewhat hard to navigate!) book if you don’t have to!
Speaking of beerandbrewing.com everything Stan Hieronymus writes for the site is easy to understand while still being technical (and more up to date than his book!). I find myself coming back to this write up on hop flavor often.
I love this diacetyl timeline from White Labs. Clear, simple, plus some good graphs, what else does a study tool need?
Here is more self-promo but I have learned from others the my homebrewing column for VinePair has been helped several people passed Certified Cicerone. Especially this entry on similar beer styles, this one on fixing brewing flaws, and this one on yeast selection.
Another Advanced Cicerone, Em Sauter puts out awesome comments that break down everything from beer styles to serving on cask. Check her out!