imageA Certified Cicerone is an expert in beer culture who possesses an encyclopedic level of knowledge of beer. These rare individuals can assess beer quality and identity by taste and aroma. A Certified Cicerone has a detailed knowledge of retail beer storage and service. They are experts in modern beers, particularly Craft styles, and are exceptionally trained in the brewing processes, ingredients, and pairing beer with food. A Cicerone is to beer what a Sommilier is to wine.
FEB Distributing is incredibly proud of their Craft Brand Manager, Aaron LaFrance, who has just become a Certified Cicerone. In fact, he and another gentleman share the honor of being the first to hold this distinction in the entire state of Mississippi! Aaron has been employed by FEB since September of 2013. “It is a relatively new position at FEB because of the influx of Craft Beer throughout America. My primary focus is the Craft Beer industry and Craft Beer products,” he said.
To become certified requires a great deal of study. The final exam consists of 170 questions and is broken down into three parts. The written exam is open answers and essay, there are no multiple choice questions. There is also a requirement for expertise in brewing and bar service equipment. Equipment is broken down and then must be identified, rebuilt, and cleaned as well performing demonstrations. Finally, students must take taste tests of various beers and be able to identify them as well as separate the flavors, making sure each beer is in perfect condition. They must be able to identify any problems in taste, color, aroma, ingredients, and brewing. Is the beer good enough to serve? Is everything right? It takes highly trained senses to make these distinctions. Each beer must be the way the brewer intended it and the slightest deviation is never acceptable.
In preparation for the exam, Aaron made sure his sense of taste and sense of smell were completely pure and not tainted or obscured in any way. For one week before the testing, he avoided strong foods and did not go near places with dogs or cats. “I have a history of allergies and sinus problems so I did not want anything to flare up and interfere with my ability to distinguish tastes or smells,” he said. He also practiced honing his skills of identification by “spiking” various beers to vary the taste and change the character. Aaron was also very grateful for all the help he received from his rep with Sam Adams who had taken the exam before and guided him through the process. Resources for study included text books, online research, and live practice.
Aaron was given the opportunity to take a Cicerone training course in Dallas, Texas to help him prepare for the exam. He was flown there compliments of The Boston Beer Company and hung out with fellow “beer nerds” who were also studying for to take tests for Certified Beer Server and Cicerone Certification. Additional support came from Capital City Beverages in Jackson, Mississippi. They sent their Craft Beer Manager to accompany Aaron for the training course as well. The final exam took place at Crescent Crown Distributing in New Orleans on April 30th.
No two days are ever the same as Craft Brand Manager at FEB which is why Aaron enjoys his job so much. He will frequently ride with his staff to visit the customers. He ensures that the beer is always fresh and up to the quality standards FEB is famous for. Aaron also checks the draft systems, making sure they are pouring properly and introduces new products whenever they enter the market. He frequently hosts tastings and beer dinners as well. Aaron scored very highly on the beer and food pairing portion of the Cicerone exam. He has a wonderful and quite natural ability to select the perfect accompaniments for the almost endless choices of craft beers available today. FEB is completely devoted to and focused on the Craft brands. Sharing the Cicerone Certification is a great marketing tool.
Having just acquired his Cicerone Certification, Aaron is still reeling. This has added a whole new dimension to his career. “There is a boost in credibility. I am so pleased to know that when I put my name behind a new product for FEB, that it stands for even more than it did before because of my certification. I know these products inside and out and I have a new authority that I worked very hard to master. I push myself to make sure my staff is well educated and that they also benefit from my expertise.
For seven years, Aaron has been making beer for his own personal enjoyment at home. In the process of learning how to home brew, he learned the basics and was constantly building on his knowledge and skills through trial and error. While attending college at USM in Hattiesburg, he worked as a bartender at the Keg and Barrel which has always been well known for their outstanding craft beer selection. In addition, Aaron was a member of a craft beer club which afforded him the opportunity to learn even more about the industry and soak up everything he could about all things beer. “I really like organizations and groups on facebook. I check out whatever I can because this subject is always of interest to me and there is always something new to learn,” he said.
The final step for Cicerone Certification is to become a Master Cicerone. Aaron LaFrance is considering pursuing it but for now he is quite content with what he has achieved thus far. There are less than ten Master Cicerones in the entire world. The exam consists of a ten hour written test, two hours of oral questions and two hours of beer testing with a 23 page syllabus. Traveling and study abroad is also highly recommended to prepare.
Aaron had planned to take the Cicerone exam quite some time ago but things kept getting in the way. He attributes it all coming together because of the support he received from FEB and his Craft Beer reps. They urged him to follow up on the program and take the test. They felt he was the perfect candidate for certification. Aaron took the Certified Beer Server test to start the ball rolling and he did extremely well without studying at all. He felt very confident to go on to the next step and began applying himself with extensive study and practice. It is not uncommon to take the Cicerone exam repeatedly before you pass…Aaron passed the first time and his scores were very impressive. “You really must learn the science of beer right off the bat. It’s all about chemistry and without that knowledge, you can’t make a great beer,” Aaron said. He holds two Bachelor degrees from USM and wouldn’t trade his job at FEB for anything in the world. “I can’t imagine doing anything else, “ he said.