Cicerone's Ray Daniels Talks 10,000 Certified Beer Servers & the Craft Beer Boom
American craft beer is enjoying a big boom, and this week brought a new milestone. On February 14, the 10,000th person passed the Cicerone organization’s Certified Beer Server test. This is a huge number that reflects the current craft beer fascination; during the program’s first year, in 2008, less than one person per day received a Beer Server certificate, and the 1,000 mark was achieved less than two years ago in March of 2010.
Director Ray Daniels, an industry veteran and pioneer, attributes the latest bloom to a simple notion. “Craft beer’s time has come,” he tells us, noting that everything necessary for this explosion has been in place for some time.
In the early ‘90s, when Daniels toyed around with opening his own brewery and then instead founded Chicago’s Real Ale Festival, there was a similar spurt in microbreweries. Because so few commercial small-batch operations existed, each new company joining the fray increased available craft beer offerings by a huge percentage, and the nascent industry enjoyed a heady rush of attention and publicity.
Distribution, however, was another matter, as the big beer conglomerates had control of the three-tier system. The artisan producers had difficulty getting their product in front of consumers. When the economy went south in 1997, many of these start-ups folded, leaving a few stalwarts that dug in and staked their claim.
Over the next decade, these hardy breweries lobbied, leveraged and learned how to work with the system, and began to flourish again. Thanks in good part to the internet, “there was a general transition in consumer marketing from the 20th Century technique of packaged goods and mass consistency to the 21st Century method of personal relationships and product differentiation,” notes Daniels.
New styles and types of beer were being introduced constantly, and in 2008 Daniels founded Cicerone as a way to provide actual certification for what had colloquially become known as “beer sommeliers.” Aficionados can take three levels of tests, to become a Certified Beer Server, a Certified Cicerone or a Master Cicerone.
Out of a total of 23 all-time candidates, only four have achieved the level of Master, and approximately 350 hold the Certified Cicerone title. Some companies, such as Chicago’s Windy City Distribution, require their reps to become Certified Cicerones. Petaluma’s Lagunitas Brewing offers employees a one-time $3,500 bonus if they pass the test, according to Daniels.
While those certification programs are quite in-depth, becoming a Certified Beer Server is relatively simple. A detailed syllabus describes the knowledge required to pass (a grade of 75% is needed), covering beer styles, storage, serving and the basic brewing process. Usually a $69 expense, Daniels offered the test for just $10 on February 15, in celebration of the 10,000 milestone, and saw over 500 people pass, his biggest day ever.
Daniels doesn’t expect to see a slowdown any time soon. “This time around, the growth is sustainable,” he says. “I’m of the school that thinks craft beer is here to stay.”
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