Beer-Curious? How to Get More Awesome at Beer Tasting

Beer Curious Feature ImageFor years wine experts, known as sommeliers, have been the typical example of fermented beverage know-it-alls. Tackling the obstacles to become one are no less than arduous. Only 240 people have earned a master somm diploma in the world.

But, you’re not here for wine.

You think friends and beer flights are a top notch plan. You can scope a draft menu with some ideas about what they’re like. You identify as beer-curious, and you want to come out of your craft comfort zone. So, now what?

Here are 3 ways to level your beer game up to eleven. Starting with becoming a ‘beer sommelier’, or cicerone. 


  • How do you say that? Like this: “sis-uh-rohn“.
  • What is it for? This is the most advanced program for beer experts. Studying to be a cicerone will stretch your beer tasting palate but also qualify you for positions in the beer industry. Whether that’s selling beer at restaurant, bar, bottle shop, or as a brewery rep.
  • How far can I rank? There are 4 levels. Certified beer server, certified cicerone, advanced cicerone, and master cicerone.
  • What’s the price tag? Tests and training to become a cicerone can get steep, depending. The beer server exam is $69 and is required before taking the first-tier cicerone test. The cicerone exam is $395. And it could be more if you don’t opt out of the $99 supplemental textbook. Or the week-long cicerone prep class ($1,090).
  • How hard is it? Difficult. In the fall of 2011 Nicole Erny became the first woman to become a master cicerone. Erny advises, “If you’re interested in getting in the program and want to go further than the Certified Beer Server, over study.”

Or how about starting with a certification that’s less risky, more affordable, and gets you ready for if you want to go further? The Beer Judge Certification can do that.

The BJCP is a nonprofit volunteer-run organization that trains beer judges for homebrew competitions. Most judges are homebrewers themselves. Stewards, homebrewers, and judges participate with no other motive than to test their skills and have fun; The Venn diagram where “geek” and “beer” meet is a beautiful thing.

  • Why judge beer? These skills are not for jobs in the retail beer industry unless you want to be a brewer. Judging is a great way to improve your beer tasting abilities. It’s also a great way to give something back to the homebrew community.
  • How far can I rank? There is the Apprentice rank and several levels of Grand Master. Honorary ranks can also be awarded. Rank comes from experience points (it’s just a nerdy as it sounds; you acquire beer XP by judging in order to “level”.)
  • How do I start? There are 2 tests to prepare for. The first exam is 180 questions in length. It’s open book, but you only get an hour. The second is a tasting on-site and administered by a BJCP certified beer judge.
  • What’s the pricetag? Affordable. You can try a 20 question sample exam for free. That can give you a clue about, “Is this for me?” The first scored exam is only $10 online. The third and final on-site exam is $40.
  • What’s the test like?  BJCP describes their recognition exam, “Tough, but fair.” The BJCP beer-style guide has an intro portion dedicated to beer judging protocols, but the majority of the text is about beer styles and their historical context. You’ll also be taste-tested for beer faults. Check out relevant links below to get to the BJCP exam resource center.

Still not too sure what you’re getting into? You can volunteer or beer steward by assisting judges in competitions before making a longer term commitment.

  • How do I start? You can offer to volunteer by contacting individual organizers through the BJCP. Check out the BJCP competition calendar below for contacts by event.
  • Can I be a certified beer steward? Yes. There is an Associate Beer Steward Certificate, and a Beer Steward Certificate ($195) provided by the Master Homebrewers Association of the Americas.
  • Do I need a certificate to volunteer? You my not need these to volunteer or steward at a competition.

Becoming a beer judge is on this writer’s own radar.
Mash isn’t just features. We like real data and we like valuable resources. But especially resources, because they enable. Few things are more kick-ass than empowering each other with beer knowledge. In pursuit of my own ongoing brew-dification, look out for personal cliff notes, relevant links, along with experiences leading up to exams and beyond.


Relevant links:
BJCP Competition list (ask contacts to volunteer)
Beer Judge Certification exam center
Beer judging will prep you for the cicerone test
Cicerone Certification Program Levels
Nicole Erny, First Woman Master Cicerone