I sit down and talk about kveik yeast and the beer industry with Dr. Lance Shaner, Esq., the founder of Omega Yeast Lab in Chicago. Lance flew in to San Francisco for Old Devil Moon's Kveiking Raid 2: The Kveikening event, where we were pouring 18 kveik fermented ales and ciders, many of which were fermented with his Omega Hothead, Voss, and Hornindal yeast.
WHAT IS KVEIK & WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Kveik is a group of very genetically varied Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast blends from Norway. It is NOT the name of ale made with kveik, so please don’t call your kveik fermented beer “a kveik.” Kveik refers only to the yeast. Now, if you do want to talk about traditional Norwegian farmhouse ales themselves, then the proper word is maltøl, though different towns have different names for their traditional ales. For instance, in Hornindal, they call their traditional farmhouse ale Kornøl, hence their festival name Norsk Kornølfestival.
Anyway, Kveik are yeast blends that have been used and passed around among family and neighbors in communities in Norway for many many generations — perhaps thousands of years. They are brewer’s yeasts, meaning that their use by brewers in Norway put evolutionary pressure on these yeast, they are not wild yeasts. They are considered "landrace” yeasts, meaning they are local, domesticated, traditional yeast strains. the key term here is “domesticated." In Norway, Kveik is pretty much always a blend of yeast strains, they didn’t have labs growing up single strains for them.
In recent years a guy named Lars Marius Garshol has been traveling around Norway learning about kveik and traditional Norwegian farmhouse brewing. He’s the guy who's responsible for bringing the existence of kveik and Norwegian farmhouse brewing to the attention of the world. It’s through his blog that I first learned about kveik. Lars has been gathering samples of kveik blends and sharing them with labs and purveyors of brewer’s yeasts like Omega Labs and White Labs in the US. What those labs do is, they take those blends and identify the single strain in the blend that they determine makes the best beer, then they grow that standardized strain up for selling to pros and home brewers. That’s where all these new kveik yeast strains such as Voss, Hornindal, Stranda, and others come from — but they are different from the original Kveik you find in Norway because they are standardized single strains.
WHAT MAKES KVEIK SPECIAL?
So the big question is what makes this yeast special? Why should we care? Kveik strains share a few unique features that make them very very special. One interesting genetic feature they share is that they can survive being dried and then rehydrated and pitched. There are packets of “dry yeast” out there for brewers and bakers to use, but those go through an industrial process, with kveik you can just scoop some off the top of a fermenting ale and allow it to dry naturally and then re-pitch it later and it’ll work fine. If you try that with your typical Chico strains of brewers yeast, you’re not going to have much luck.
However, the reason kviek yeast is a game changer for the craft brewing industry is another unique feature — it can be fermented at ridiculously high temperatures, in some case at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius, without creating a bunch of off flavors. In fact, many strains of kveik ferment pretty cleanly at those incredibly high temperatures. Most ale yeast is fermented at somewhere around 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but kveik strains can ferment cleanly in the high 90s or even over 100 degrees. If you try that with most brewer’s yeast your beer is going to have crazy fruity ester production and harsh, solventy, nail polish remover-like acetone flavors. This is not an issue with kveik strains.
Now, as we all know from high school chemistry, chemical reactions tend to happen faster with more heat added, so the reason it’s exciting that kveik strains can ferment so hot is that…it also ferments crazy fast! I’ve done a bunch of collab beers with pro breweries using kveik strains since returning from Norway in late 2018, I’ve been working to spread the word about this yeast. I’ve done two double IPA collabs with Almanac Beer Co in Alameda, an ESB with Freewheel in Redwood City, a hazy IPA with Barebottle in San Francisco, and a Berliner Weiss with Laughing Monk in San Francisco. In every case, the beer has completed fermentation in just a few days. In every case, the final beer was fantastic. I did an 8.2% ABV double IPA with Almanac Beer Co using Omega Lab’s Hornindal kveik strain — we called it Oslo Hot Chicken because HenHouse Brewing was also a collaboration partner. We brewed the beer on a Thursday morning and were drinking it on Sunday night. It was in kegs and at accounts within 7 days. Not only that, but it was freaking delicious!
That changes the economics of beer making. Period. I’m willing to go on record saying that I predict that within a few years most breweries will have adopted kveik strains as their primary yeast choice for making typical non-phenolic ales. I just don’t see why a brewery would say no to being able to make beer in half the time. It’s like, boom you just started doing all your most popular releases with kveik and congratulations, your brewery capacity just doubled! Suddenly, typically sized local breweries look a little more like regional breweries in their potential output. Folks who are planning to build a brewery maybe don’t need to go as big on their equipment expenditures. And can you imagine just how much energy costs are saved…imagine if you’re a brewery located somewhere hot, like in Florida, and you no longer have to keep your fermenters at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You no longer have to chill your wort to below, say 90 degrees, after your boil…you just pitch your yeast and let it free rise up to potentially 100 degrees before you need to cool it. I’ve heard about some of these strains working well up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius. That’s just incredible. Total game changer.
WILL IT CONTAMINATE MY BREWERY
One question I see people asking online all the time is “will kveik yeast strains contaminate my brewery?” The answer is no. Kveik strains are typical Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast strains just like all the other typical brewer’s yeasts that you use to make your IPAs and other ales. It is NOT a wild yeast. Kveik strains are POF negative, meaning they will not produce phenols in your beer like peppery, clove-like, or smokey flavors. They are also non-diastaticus, meaning they do not produce glucoamylase to allow them to break down much longer chain starches and dextrins and seriously drying out the beer like a Brettanomyces yeast strain. They’re very typical and safe Sacc yeast strains to introduce into your brewery.
WHAT KIND OF FLAVORS DO KVEIK STRAINS PRODUCE
Kveik strains tend to produce some fruity esters but are relatively neutral in flavor. Like most Sacc strains, most kveik strains will produce more esters if fermented at higher temps, but again we’re talking about ridiculously high temperature here as compared to normal brewer’s yeasts. The great news is that most of the esters produced by kveik strains are totally appropriate for popular craft beer styles like IPAs, American wheat ales, blondes, or even English ales. The descriptions I’ve heard do vary, but I have experience using several of these strains myself. The most common characteristic I’ve noticed, from the Hornindal and Voss strains from Omega, at least is that they tend to have a mild citrusy, orange-y ester profile, sort of like Grand Marnier liqueur, but can sometimes present as more tropical in character. Obviously, that works perfectly for many very popular craft beer styles. Another thing worth mentioning is that even though these are highly flocculant strains, the Hornindal strain in particular seems to work great for making hazy dry hopped ales.
Of course it’s going to take a few brews to dial in using any of these yeast strains, but I’d encourage all homebrewers and pros to go out there and get some kveik strains and start experimenting right away. Kveik is a tidal wave of change that’s coming to the industry, so why not be on top of it?!
I’ve been interested in rustic farmhouse ales since the day I started homebrewing back in 2008 because farmhouse brewers and felt close to, and connected with, what I was doing in my backyard when I brewed. So when I heard there was a whole farmhouse brewing scene in Norway that included the use of traditional landrace yeast blends and home malting I was very excited and read everything I could find about it, which wasn’t much. I went to Norway in 2008 to meet farmhouse brewers and learn more. What I discovered blew my mind, especially when it came to their special types of yeast.
You know how every small brewery that gets a little hype seems to run out of brewing and fermenting capacity in no time and its beer becomes more and more scarce? Then, a few years down the line the brewery owners raise money and invest hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars building a new facility to double or triple their capacity. Well, imagine if they could instantly double their capacity just by switching the yeast strain they use for their most popular releases. That would revolutionize craft brewing and enable brewery growth unthinkable using the currently popular brewer’s strains such as Vermont and Chico.
That is the promise of…KVEIK…so let’s explore this yeast stating with how to pronounce it!
HOW DO YOU SAY IT?
I was in Norway for the Norsk Konølfestival in 2018, it’s a small festival in Hornindal Norway centered around traditional Norwegian farmhouse ales. While I was there I heard what sounded to my ears like three different ways of saying this word.
The first was K-VIYK, with a subtle vee sound. My understanding is that this is the most correct way to say the word. That said, some Norwegians I spoke with didn’t seem to say the vee sound as much and their pronunciations sounded more like KWIYK, with a “W.” Another way was QUAKE, like “earthquake.” The differences are fairly subtle. Saying KVIYK can be a little difficult for English speakers, but if you say KWIYK or QUAKE to a Norwegian beer nerd they'll understand what you’re getting at. So, KWIYK or QUAKE or KVEIK.
Bonus fun fact number one — the term “kveik” comes from Old Norse and is related to the Old English word “quick,” which meant alive or lively…as in, if you put this stuff in a sweet liquid the whole thing comes alive…and ultimately become beer…or makes bread rise.
Bonus fun fact number two — Kveik is not actually the word that all Norwegians use to refer to their traditional farmhouse yeast blends, even though it has recently come into that use for the rest of us in order to keep things simple. In Norway, people in different regions call their yeast a variety of names including yest, yester, gong, and barm, among other things. But because that’s pretty confusing, it’s been generally accepted that Kveik is an appropriate term.
San Francisco invented the "California Common" or "Steam Beer," one of the few recognized indigenous US-created styles. Of course, craft brewers in the US have been experimenting in every conceivable way over the last decade, but a brewer in SF may have just invented another new style with the "Brut IPA."Read More
I got a great question via email from Brad F. the other day. He wrote:
On page 79 [of the Beer Scholar Study Guide for the Certified Cicerone® Exam], under Belgian Dark Strong Ale you say that "these are not Belgian barleywines, quads, or spiced holiday beers..." I know the quad is more of an American spin and not actually a style, but when I look up "quads" they are all listed as Belgian Dark Strongs [in the 2015 BJCP Guidelines]. Where would u put a quad? Thanks. Book is great!
Awesome! This is how you learn, by challenging your teachers and studying so effectively that you find questions and errors in the study material. I have a feeling Brad is going to pass the CC! My answer to Brad's question is simple, but it actually brings into focus the whole point of the BJCP Guidelines, so read on!
The 2008 BJCP Guidelines for Belgian Dark Strong notes: "Comments: ... Barleywine-type beers (e.g., Scaldis/Bush, La Trappe Quadrupel, Weyerbacher QUAD) and Spiced/Christmas-type beers (e.g., N’ice Chouffe, Affligem Nöel) should be entered in the Belgian Specialty Ale category (16E), not this category..."
The 2015 BJCP Guidelines for Belgian Dark Strong states: "Comments: ... Sometimes known as a Trappist Quadruple, most are simply known by their strength or color designation."
So that's a good eye Brad has got! I read through the 2015 Guidelines but hadn't noticed that change to include Quads in the BDS category. The change to the style's definition makes sense though, there was never much difference between most BDS and Quad beers beyond a little extra ABV. That said, there is an upper limit for ABV in this category. For the 2015 Guidelines it was bumped it up by 1% to an allowable ABV of 8-12% (in the 2008 BJCP Guidelines it was 8-11%). The BJCP likely made that change specifically to bring most commercial "Quads" into the BDS category. Anything bigger than 12% would still need to be entered as a "specialty beer" in a homebrew competition, as would a holiday spiced version of this beer.
And that's something worth pointing out - never forget that the BJCP Guidelines have been developed as a tool for categorizing and judging homebrew. Yes, they are the best style guidelines out there, hands down, but they weren't made for the Cicerone program or for judging commercial beer comps (the Brewer's Association produces their own guidelines for judging the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), that's the only real alternative). Commercial brewers generally don't care about the BJCP Guidelines or "brewing to style," they care about selling beer. The BJCP Guidelines are an awesome resource for folks who want to understand beer and styles. It is incredibly well-researched, but there is inevitably fuzziness around the margins of the definitions of a "style." Styles are not static.
That makes the job of picking exact cutoffs for the quantitative numbers (ABV, SRM, and IBU) for styles difficult. Some styles are more straightforward because they haven't evolved much recently, like German Weissbier, or because there is really only one major commercial example to consider, like with Cali Common and Anchor Steam. Others are more difficult to pin down, for instance trends in American IPA evolve and change yearly (Cascadian Dark IPA! Northeast IPA! TIPA! Session IPA! Vermont IPA! Etc. etc. etc.). Belgian styles are squirrelly because those brewers tend to brew with less regard to "style" than brewers from other beer cultures (I'm speaking very generally there). On top of that, the mostly American folks who create the BJCP Guidelines are definitely more familiar with certain regional styles than others. For instance, over time it became clear that the 2008 Guidelines contained serious omissions and some incorrect info. That was cleared up for the 2015 update, plus they added loads of new styles and data for Eastern European styles they just hadn't understood that well previously...but guess what...because we continue to learn more about beer and styles evolve, the 2015 BJCP Guidelines are going to seem full of incorrect info by 2024.
So yeah, where to draw lines...is the term "Quad" an American invention or the whole time was it really just about where we drew an arbitrary definitional line for Belgian Dark Strong that forced us to come up with a name for the bigger versions of Belgian Dark Strongs? I don't know the answer to that, but I think it made a lot of sense to draw those very similar Quad beers into the BDS category in the newer BJCP Guidelines, don't you?
Thanks for the question, Brad, that was fun to geek out on! Good luck with your studies and good luck on the Cert Cicerone exam! Cheers, Chris
P.S. Check out this FAQ on the BJCP website: "Questions about the BJCP Style Guidelines"
I get this question via email frequently. It generally goes like this: "Where can I find BJCP training?! I've looked around online and don't see any courses offered and I don't know where to find one locally."
Yep, it's a real challenge to find decent sensory analysis/beer judging/BJCP type classes, online or IRL. That is a fact. There used to be one or two companies that offered great live courses online that took place once per week for eight or ten weeks. I recommended one of them in my Beer Scholar Study Guide for the CC Exam. Those companies have all disappeared. When it comes to getting in-person training, that's generally only something you'll find in areas that have strong homebrew communities and you'll likely only find out about the courses if you're an active member in your local homebrew club. Some clubs do these classes about once per year, but organizing and teaching them is a TON of work (I know, I've helped with several here in San Francisco for the club I founded, the SF Homebrewers Guild). BJCP classes also generally require National or Master level judges to run them, which are in short supply in most areas. Many clubs don't have BJCP classes at all, or at most only every few years.
Seats in homebrew club-led BJCP training classes are generally limited, with only active members invited to participate. That's partly because those receiving the training are likely prepping for the BJCP exam. The BJCP exam is *not* something you should take unless you're truly an active member of the homebrew community who plans to judge lots of homebrew competitions for that community (which you probably are not if you're seeking out the course to help you prep for a Cicerone exam). Why do I say this? The BJCP is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization and giving/grading exams is a TON of work for the volunteers that make the BJCP work. Also, exam seats are extremely limited. Don't take an exam seat and have volunteers grade your exam if you're not doing it to *really* become a judge in that community. Don't think of becoming a BJCP judge as a resume builder, that's not cool (besides, that's what the Cicerone Certification Program is for). All that said, you should absolutely feel welcome to contact local clubs to ask about BJCP training courses. Be sure to let them know that you're not interested in taking the BJCP exam, you just want to take the course with them. Homebrew clubs can be tight knit, but the members are almost always very nice and are happy to help folks in the beer community out, so being honest with them about your intentions can only help get you a seat in the class. Who knows, maybe you'll make some great new friends, too!
So, what can you do if you're unable to find an online course and after reaching out to your local homebrew clubs you find out there aren't any local trainings happening anytime soon? Good question. Essentially, there is only one thing you can do and it's pretty obvious really. This is it, and frankly it's similar to what you'd do in a BJCP training course - get a copy of the BJCP Style Guidelines and sample beers of every style while reading about that style. Do this systematically for each style over the course of a couple months. Do some obvious things like sampling similar styles next to each other to understand how they're different. Fill out some BJCP scoresheets (available on the BJCP website) to get a feel for how to properly describe beer you're tasting blind. It's actually pretty straightforward. Get some friends together and have fun with it. Give each other beers blind to test each others' knowledge and descriptive abilities, give the person 5 minutes to taste it and describe it to you. Boom! You've created your own BJCP course! Of course it'd be ideal to taste with experts who can guide you, but you may just have to get the ball rolling on your own. Don't sit around and wait on account of the fact that no one else is doing it for you.
P.S. Here's a little secret. I'm working on several Beer Scholar video lecture series, one of which will be geared to BJCP training. The bulk of my BJCP-focused videos will be made free online in the spirit of the BJCP and the openness of the homebrew community. Don't hold your breath and please don't email me to ask when they'll be ready. My priority is to complete series for the Cicerone exams first. I expect to release all these video lecture series by the end of 2017. It's my big Beer Scholar project for the year and I'm really excited about it! It's also a massive undertaking, so again, don't expect a miracle. It's on the way!
UPDATE: I passed! I was notified by the Cicerone Certification Program on 1/12/2017 that I passed the AC thanks to my successful retake of the tasting portion of the exam. You can get all the deets below, but on my initial take I passed the written portion but bombed one of the four tasting panels, which ruined my tasting score. I chalked that up to a bad day and determined I'd give it another shot. My tasting retake was successful. Boom, as of this moment I am one of 27 Advanced Cicerones! You can find lots of advice and details about the AC exam below if you're interested.
I took the Advanced Cicerone (AC) exam on March 1st, 2016 at 21st Amendment Brewing in Alameda, CA, across the Bay from my hometown of San Francisco. All these months later, I've finally recovered enough from the trauma to write about my experience, plus I just received my results! I passed the written/oral section, but flunked the tasting by badly blowing it on just one of the four panels. I would've passed the whole thing if I'd gotten one or two more beers correct on that last damn tasting panel. It's a bit of a bummer for sure, but we all have off days when it comes to tasting. To be fair, the Cicerone Certification Program (CCP) only lists 9 people as having passed out of the total of 80ish people who have taken the exam. That's an 11% AC pass rate, right on par with the Master level exam pass rate! I'm already signed up to retake the tasting portion of the exam later this year and I have a message for the AC tasting exam: I will crush you!
I obviously learned a lot about the AC exam in the process of prepping for and taking it. First off, it is indeed brutal! It is probably more brutal than you are even imagining, but it is also definitely passable if you're willing to put the work in. Mine was only the second AC exam the CCP has given. A major disadvantage I had going in, which will be less of an issue for you because you're reading this, is that there wasn't already a community of people out there who had taken the exam and who could talk to me about what to expect.
It's difficult to get a feeling for what depth of knowledge is required for the Advanced Cicerone exam from just looking at the syllabus. The syllabi for the Certified level, Advanced level, and even the Master level don't look much different from each other. They all list the main topics you need to know about, but they can't tell you to what exact depth you need to know them and there is no teacher to guide you toward the test as though you were in a college class.
There are only 11 Master Cicerones, so that is clearly not the easiest test. Because I know two of them, I'd been able to get a feel for the depth of knowledge required to pass. It is insanely high, I had never felt I'd reached the point where I was ready to give it a shot. I figured that after a few years of experience opening and running Old Devil Moon, my bar in San Francisco, I'd go for it. Luckily, I didn't have to wait because the CCP launched the AC level. I've already talked about why the AC level is good for us Cicerones and for the CCP (In Defense of the Advanced Cicerone Level of the CCP). I suggest you give that post a read to get a better idea of why you should bother with the Advanced Certification. Now, let's get into what the AC test is like.
I'm not going to tell you exactly what's on the test of course, but I'll give you some guidance for your studying, insight into what depth of knowledge is required, and what the format of the exam is. I'm not going to give you specific questions I had to answer for the exam, none of this info is top-secret.
The Format of the Advanced Cicerone Exam
The exam is a full 8 hours long. You'll show up at the location before 8:30 AM, so if you're traveling, stay in a hotel near the test site. The exam begins at 9 AM. You'll get a brief lunch break in the middle of the day. Breakfast and lunch are provided by the CCP. You probably won't leave until after 6, which altogether makes it about a 10 hour day without even counting any commute time! It flies by because you're focused and in the moment, but it's very exhausting.
Mine was only the second AC exam given and it goes without saying that the test will evolve over time, however, based on the consistency of the Certified Cicerone exam, it seems unlikely the Advanced Cicerone exam will change significantly from the format I encountered. In total, you'll have 8 essay questions, 4 tasting panels, 2 interview sessions, and 100+ multiple choice questions. This is all broken up evenly between the morning and afternoon sessions of the exam. The CCP has this info on their website, but it's worth walking through the process. Test day goes like this:
At the beginning of the morning session you'll be given a packet of papers containing 4 essay questions, several pages of multiple choice questions, and plenty of paper to write on. You'll be given a time at which you are to report to a room where you'll do one of your interviews. It's up to you to keep an eye on the clock and make sure you get to your interview at the right time. You get 3 hours to finish, during which your interview will take up 15 minutes. After that, you'll have 30 minutes during which you'll complete the first two tasting panels. Then lunch and a short break, then afternoon session is a full repeat of the morning, also ending in two tasting sessions. I promise that by the end you'll be ready for more than a taste!
As with the CC exam, you need to understand what each area of knowledge is worth to help guide your studying:
- Keeping and Serving Beer 20%
- Beer Styles 22.5%
- Beer Flavor and Evaluation 22.5%
- Beer Ingredients and Brewing Processes 20%
- Pairing Beer with Food 15%
It's a fairly even mix, so there's no particular subject to focus on or let slip through the cracks. I'm surprised to see beer and food pairing is only 15% considering how much of that was on the exam! This isn't like the CC exam where you aren't asked almost anything about food. All these topics are critical.
As with the Certified Cicerone exam, you need an 80% total score with at least a 75% on the tasting portion in order to pass the Advanced Cicerone exam.
The Essay Questions on the Advanced Cicerone Exam
To reiterate, you'll get 8 essays total, 4 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. I half expected to read one of the essay questions and think, "holy crap, I have no idea what they're even asking or what the answer is to this." Alas, none of them were that difficult. One of the eight was a question about a long draw draft system device I've literally never touched in real life but I got an 80 on that essay, while another was a fermentation science question I know tons about but I got a 37 (?!) on that one, so go figure. And there's the rub, right? It's that depth issue, they're looking for different levels of knowledge for various topics and the key to passing is to figure that out. Speaking generally, you better be able to go very deep on any topic, like take the level you think maybe a Master Cicerone should have and try to learn most topics to that level. If you get a question like, "talk about what hops do for beer," you better have a great answer that goes well beyond, "they provide bitterness, flavor, and aroma." You'll need to talk chemistry, the various acids and oils commonly found in different hops and how they affect the final beer, and the effects of all the variety of hopping techniques. You may feel like, "hey, I know this," but do you know it well enough to convince the CCP grader that you're an Advanced Cicerone? Just as importantly, can you convey your high level of knowledge in a somewhat organized manner in an essay?
You'll be asked about topics that hardly even make an appearance on the CC exam. Examples may include discussions of what happens during a Brettanomyces fermentation, providing detailed information and troubleshooting for specific equipment used in long draw draft systems, what happens during the various phases of fermentation with common strains of brewer's yeasts, and discussing parts of casks and proper cellarmanship techniques. Those topics are all listed on the CC syllabus, but don't show up on the exam in any detail...they are advanced topics!
The Multiple Choice Questions on the Advanced Cicerone Exam
You're going to face 100+ multiple choice and short answer questions. There were some surprises here. Here are important things to know:
- There are many multiple choice questions about beer styles that refer very specifically to the quantitative material in the BJCP Guidelines. The questions looks like this: "An ale with an SRM between 3 and 6?" On each page, you'll have about 25 answers to chose from and about 6-10 questions to apply those answers to. You can do just a little process-of-elimination, but for the most part you better know your stuff. It will absolutely help you nail these questions if you've memorized the ABV, IBU, and SRM for every style. Although the AC syllabus says to know it, no question asked about OG or FG on my exam. That doesn't mean there will not be such questions in the future!
- The question of whether to memorize BJCP quant data is an issue for everyone who studies for the Cicerone exams. I've had so many people email me to ask about this that I wrote up a whole blog post about it (Do you really need to memorize all the BJCP data for beer styles tested on the Certified Cicerone exam?). My opinion on whether it is necessary to memorize all that material is similar for the AC as for the CC: you don't need to memorize it all. It's a ridiculously inefficient use of time studying, however, by the time you're gunning for the AC you should be so generally familiar with those numbers that you can make a very damn accurate guess on the IBU, SRM, and ABV range for any beer in the BJCP. For the AC level I recommend memorizing these numbers for a selection of at least 10 very different styles to help you dial in your understanding of it. I'm a National BJCP judge and I don't have it all memorized. Why would anyone bother when it's all right there on an app in your phone? That said, I can hold up a beer and more or less name its SRM within a point or two (depending on where in the scale we're talking). That's just something you can do when you've become super familiar with the scale. Also, some of the beer styles have very easy to memorize ABV and IBU ranges and if you memorize them for some styles it will provide you with the means to make smart guesses for others. But do you need to memorize all the data for 90+ styles? Hell no.
- You'll probably be asked to label the parts or functions of a piece of draft equipment, potentially something from a long draw system that many people will be unfamiliar with unless they've worked at a bar with a long draw system. Draft system stuff is an Achilles heel for many people taking the CC exam and it can be even worse on the AC if you don't work on the retail side of the industry and don't know your way around draft systems. There were two very involved draft system questions on my AC exam that I had difficulty with (one was an essay and the other a section of multiple choice in which I had to label parts of a device). Losing points on a multiple choice/labeling question is painful to me, apparently I guessed well because I scored fine on this stuff, but hopefully you'll be better prepared. I would definitely focus more on draft systems if I had to retake the written section of the AC. A real difficulty here is that I don't know where to go for this info, it's not in the BA's Draft Quality Manual. It almost seems like hands-on experience or being shown everything by a professional draft system technician is the only way to fully learn it.
- You'll face quite a few multiple choice/short answer questions about about food! Yeah, no joke. There is a section of questions about food that are similar to the way I described the BJCP style questions above - you'll have about 25 answers at the top of the page and 10 questions that look like, "fried chickpeas?," and you'll need to know that is falafel. I already hear people complaining about how that has nothing to do with beer. To me, the ultimate beer skill is food & beer pairing and putting together beer dinners, so I personally think it's great that the CCP is testing a little bit on food knowledge. Beer is food, after all, and is best enjoyed with food!
- There is a separate section of questions about beer and food pairing where you'll be given a food and beer pairing and will be asked to label it as "harmonize," "cut," "clash," "complement," "match," etc. If anyone knows of a specific book or guide that all these terms come from, I'd love to know what it is. While many of the terms are simple common ones any Cicerone will be familiar with (cut, harmonize, contrast), I found a few options difficult to parse, mainly because they seemed to describe similar interactions (something along the lines of "harmonize" vs "match"). In any case, brush up on your beer and food knowledge! The best way to do this is to cook with beer, do pairings at home regularly, and eat adventurously when you're out and about. Getting good at pairing is the ultimate high level of beer knowledge, you can't do it well unless you really understand what's going on with beer styles and their flavors.
- Other questions you'll face will concern issues including the cleaning of draft systems, care and parts of casks, naming commercial examples of styles, and very in-depth questions about beer ingredients and brewing techniques.
The Oral Sections on the Advanced Cicerone Exam
The orals are pretty scary! You're going to sit down with a Master Cicerone for at least one of them (MC Pat Fahey in my case) and potentially with Ray Daniels, the founder of the CCP, for the other. It's likely that Daniels will not come with the CCP traveling exam circus once they've dialed the AC testing program in, but I'd guess you can expect to see him at the exams at least through 2016. Yes, it is pretty nerve wracking to be grilled by these people!
There are two oral exams and they go like this:
- You walk into the room, sit down, and are presented with a food item and a beer. I was presented with several items on a cracker. You won't be given a single simple item like a piece of cheese, it's several items stacked up, which makes the exercise a little more complex but also presents you with more options for discussion. You're told what everything is and you're asked to sample it together and provide comments to the chef/event planner about the pairing. What works about it, what doesn't, is it a balanced pairing, etc. Then, of course, you should provide some alternative beers you think would go well with the dish and/or ways to adjust the dish so that it would pair better with the offered beer. Throughout this process, you'll likely be peppered with questions and comments that will lead you toward discussion points you should address. You'll want to be specific and name particular beers after naming any style as being a potentially good alternative match. In other words, "I think a hoppy pilsner like Firestone Walker's Pivo Pils would go perfectly with this dish because...blah blah blah). I started mentioning other dishes that would fit in as additional courses before and after the one I was presented with that could create a cohesive theme for the meal. That seemed like a slick move. Be sure to take queues from the tester - if they're stopping what you're saying and asking you something else, they're obviously trying to change the direction you're going in because you're either off the reservation or you're starting to repeat yourself. They will gently prod you toward talking about the issues they want to hear about.
- You walk into the room, sit down, and are presented with about 4-6 oz of beer in a glass. You're told what style of beer it is and are asked to basically tell the tester everything you know about that style. During this process you'll be asked to name several commercial examples of the style, including some from outside of its area of origin (i.e. if it were a Belgian Golden Strong you'd need to name at least one American version as well as several Belgian examples, you should also know if the ones you name are classic examples or if, say, the American one you name is a bit hoppier than the classics). You'll be asked to give it a sniff and sip and to describe what you're smelling and tasting. Then, you'll be asked if it is a classic example of the style. They could do anything here, they could hand you any beer and say it's whatever style they want. So yes, it's clearly the case that the beer could totally be something other than what they tell you it is, but it seems more likely that they will either use a true classic example or an example of the style that isn't a classic one but hits most of the main factors for the style. In other words, it seems reasonable that they'd test your familiarity with the style by doing something like this: saying the beer is a Schwartzbier and giving you an American version that's roastier than a classic German version. My gut tells me they won't do anything much crazier than that for the oral exam, but who knows. I also don't get the impression that they're spiking these with off flavors or doing anything odd like that (but you never know, be prepared for anything!). I don't think they're trying to trick you. I believe the point of this oral exam is purely to test the depth of your BJCP knowledge, ability to describe a beer live, and your ability to determine if a beer is a classic version of any given style. This tests your flavor memories and familiarity with styles that likely aren't ones you drink everyday. And that's a good point to make - they're unlikely to hand you an American IPA. Throughout the AC exam I was continually surprised at the choices of beer styles I was tested on, they were not at all limited to styles I consider the "major styles." Indeed, they were some very minor styles requiring beer knowledge that is...advanced!
My overall advice for the orals is - don't be nervous! Although they are definitely not giving you any freebies, I felt that the questioners more or less want you to pass. Your approach should be like it was for the demonstration portion of the CC where you basically spill out everything you know as succinctly as possible. You only have 10 minutes (the other 5 are walking to and from your oral) and that may seem like a long time, but it's over before you know it. Hammer away at the details, prove your depth of knowledge on the topic is deep! If you know the BJCP quantitative data, say them. If you know 10 commercial examples, bust them out. If you know a killer pairing that fits the theme of a meal you're envisioning, say so! Be confident in your answers, you wouldn't be there if you didn't know your sh1t. They'll rein you back in if you start going off topic. Heck, maybe they'll even be impressed that you know so much you can take the questions to non-obvious places, but make sure you nail the basics of their specific questions before you do that.
The Tasting Sections on the Advanced Cicerone Exam
The tasting section on the AC is not easy. I went into the AC exam with very low expectations since I didn't know what the exam would be like, but by the end of the day I was feeling really good about how it was going. I felt that all I had to do was power through those final two tasting sections and I was going to pass the AC! And boy did I totally not nail them! It was a major let down. Like with the CC exam, they go through the answers for the tasting with you before you leave, so you have a feel for whether you passed when you leave.
The AC syllabus provides a list of new flavors and off flavors you need to know. Obviously, you need to do lots of tastings to get familiar with them, just like you did with the Certified exam. The complication during the tasting is that there are now many more options for them to test you on! Also, unlike on the CC exam, the AC's off flavor tasting sections are not divided into one section of flavors that result from brewing issues versus a section of flavors that result from handling issues. The CCP has provided an "Advanced Cicerone Sample Tasting Exam," which is exactly the tasting exam they gave at the AC. That, of course, belies how difficult the tasting sections really area, but at least you know what to expect! Here are the 4 tasting sections:
- Here are 6 beers, name the off flavor in each. Pretty straightforward. There was no un-spiked beer in my sets. Also, they don't just use a flavorless pilsner like they do for the CC exam, instead, they blend two low flavor beers together for a blonde/pale ale type of base beer that is not identifiable.
- Here are 5 beers and four possible answers for each, which style is each beer? You had very similar questions on the CC exam, except that you only got two potential answers for each. They aren't messing around on this one, I literally had a beer with answer options that were something like: Munich Helles, German Pils, American Lager, and American Blond. Yeah, pretty damn difficult! Like with the CC, there was one or two that were easier and one or two that were quite a bit more difficult because there are many similar styles. Also, once again it wasn't all styles you'd be very familiar with. Is it an Oatmeal Stout, Tropical Stout, Schwartzbier, or American Porter? Yeah, sure, schwartzbier is obviously different from the others, but when was the last time you had a classic example of an oatmeal or tropical stout? The examples given on the AC Sample Tasting Exam are spot on. You can see that they're not going to make it easy for you! This is the section I bombed that failed me on the entire tasting section on my first AC exam take. I did well on the other three panels and did fine on this one on my retake.
- Here are 3 beers - give five consumer-friendly, unique, key flavor descriptors for the beer, being as specific as possible. In other words, don't use chemical compound names, say in plain language what the main flavors/aromas of the beer are. They ask you be as specific as possible, which means you'll want to say things like "ruby red grapefruit" or "key lime" and never something general like "citrusy." They aren't interested in color and mouthfeel descriptors here, just flavors and aromas. This should be the easiest section of the tasting exam for most.
- Here are 2 beers, you have a ridiculously small amount of time to write up a full technical description geared for industry experts for each beer. Basically, for this one you're going to want to do something similar to how you'd judge a beer on a BJCP scoresheet (except you have to do in just a few minutes). You'll want to address every aspect of the beer - aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, appearance, and overall impression. You'll want to be as technical as possible, including using chemical compound names. Here's something to keep in mind - any of your samples for this section may or may not be spiked with off flavors. This is something I wasn't expecting or looking for. Even on my retake exam I missed a high dose of acetaldehyde in one of these.
So, what should I study?!
The list of books the CCP recommends you study gives you a solid idea of what level of knowledge you'll need and what areas will be covered (as opposed to how some areas of knowledge are glossed over at the CC level). Here are the CCP's Key Resources for the Advanced Cicerone™ Exam and here are their Summary of Program Resources by Level, so you can compare their AC study recommendations with the CC. I found their recommendations to be spot on. Of course, some resources are far more important than others. Here are some books that are critical for you to study if you don't want to get killed on the essays and multiple choice/short answer questions:
- Cellarmanship by Patrick O’Neill - I was blown away at the number of questions that focused on cellarmanship and cask equipment. It is certainly advanced knowledge that few people have. Know this material!
- Malt by John Mallett - You're going to need to know a lot more about growing barley and making malt than you did on the CC exam.
- For the Love of Hops by Stan Hieronymus - You'll need to dig much deeper into the chemistry of hops than you did for the CC. You'll want to know about how hops bitter beer and also about their aromatic oils.
- Water by John Palmer & Colin Kaminski - Water isn't the most exciting or easiest topic to digest, but you should understand hardness, basic brewing water chemistry, and what the different water profiles in classic brewing areas are.
- Yeast by Chris White & Jamil Zainasheff - You'll need to understand what's happening at the various stages of fermentation much more deeply than you did for the CC. As a very experienced homebrewer who has studied brewing for years I thought I had this stuff down, but my lowest essay grade was on a question about fermentation. Luckily, it didn't sink me.
- The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth - The Beer Bible contains information I hadn't encountered before, which was great. Even more importantly, it was helpful as a refresher on the many beer styles out there. It covers producers of many classic styles, too, which is helpful when you're asked to name examples of styles on the AC exam...and they may not be the mainstream styles you'd expect to be tested on. Can you name three classic examples of Flanders Brown, including one from the US? Oh yeah? Think you're so smart? Well, how about three Weizenbocks? Yeah, didn't think so.
- The Brewmaster's Table by Garrett Oliver (and other beer & food pairing & cooking books and articles!) - You probably read this for the CC exam but you weren't asked much about food and beer pairing on that exam. That is absolutely not the case on the AC exam, so if you haven't already read this, get on it. You will be asked about pairing food and beer repeatedly on the AC exam. This book will more than get you started on understanding how to do it, but there's no substitute for learning by doing. That means cooking with beer at home and doing pairings as often as possible.
- BJCP Style Guidelines - On the CC syllabus the CCP tells you to know the quantitative info for a zillion beer styles, but then on the Certified Cicerone exam they only ask you a few questions about it. For the CC you can get away without having memorized that info, that's not exactly the case with the AC exam. You should know the IBU, ABV, and SRM ranges for as many styles on the syllabus as possible, without wasting too much of your precious study time. Skip memorizing OG and FG, they didn't ask about that on my exam. Also, internalize the common and specific descriptors for all beer styles, you'll use this constantly on the AC exam. This is stuff you've been learning for a long time, but on the AC exam it'll come up repeatedly and you'll be asked for even more specific descriptors than those the BJCP offers. Let's be honest, the BJCP isn't perfect and it provides very general descriptions. Descriptors like "grainy," "malty," "hoppy," and even slightly more specific stuff like "coffee" or "caramel" aren't amazing descriptors when you could say something like, "coffee with cream and a touch of caramelized sugar, like a Café Cubano." That's one of the differences between "Certified" and "Advanced" levels of knowledge and tasting ability.
- The Draught Beer Quality Manual - You used this a bunch for the CC exam and you're going to need it even more for the AC. Not only that, but you really should find even more intensive information. I haven't found a source for that, but if you know of one, please comment or email me about it. For instance, the Draught Beer Quality Manual talks a bit about FOBs and Powerpacks and such, but what about if I want to see one blown up with all its parts named and their functions described? What if I want to know about the various things that can go wrong with those pieces of equipment and how to fix them? That's the sort of stuff you'll want to know for the AC exam. If you work with a long draw system this may not be a problem for you, but for the rest of us it's a challenge to learn this material! Maybe we need to take Micromatic classes or something? I'm really not sure how to approach this. I knew enough to pass, but I was uncomfortable with my level of knowledge about draft tech given how intense the questions were. Something else you'll want to understand is how to balance a draft system, down to the exact math of making it work.
So yeah, there you have it. It's a very very difficult exam. There's not much I can do to help you prep beyond giving you a feel for the questions you'll face. I hope you got an idea of what depth of knowledge you'll be required to demonstrate. That's a difficult task without telling you the exact questions and the sort of answers I think would work for each. That said, I gave you plenty of examples of material and questions you'll want to be ready for. Here's another run down of the Advanced Cicerone exam by beer badass, Kendall Joseph, of Beer Makes Three. Check that one out, too, he does a great job of talking about that depth of knowledge stuff I've tried to get at.
Please comment below with any other good Advanced Cicerone related links you've run across! Also, feel free to ask me questions about the AC exam...I may or may not be able to answer them! I'm going to retake the tasting portion of the AC exam sooner or later and I plan on crushing it, so hopefully I'll have some good news to update this post with sometime within the next year (done!). Cheers and good luck with your studying!
I've heard a few people say the new Advanced Cicerone® exam (and other levels) are too expensive or even that the AC is a money grab by the Cicerone Certification Program® (CCP). The claim goes something like this: "they've introduced this new level just to force everyone to pay to take it." That's completely absurd and here's why...Read More
The Cicerone Certification Program (CCP) recently released recommended "Key Resources" you need to study to pass the exam for the Advanced Cicerone (AC) exam, as well as every other level of the program (Certified Beer Server (CBS), Certified Cicerone (CC), and Master Cicerone (MC))
Let's look at what study resources the CCP recommends for the third level of the program, Advanced Cicerone. If you're taking the AC exam you've already passed the CC exam and know that it's a pretty difficult test. The CC exam's passage rate is less than 40%, about 1 in 3. That's worse than the NY or CA State Bar Exams. The AC exam's pass rate is likely to be similar at best. So, while the CCP says, "while it is not mandatory to review all of these resources in preparation for our exams, we hope candidates can utilize this list in conjunction with the syllabi to focus their studies," I would recommend reading and studying all of these resources. If you're taking the AC exam, you're probably already on board with that!
Read on!Read More
The Cicerone Certification Program (CCP) recently released recommended "Key Resources" you need to study to pass the exam for the Certified Cicerone (CC) exam, as well as every other level of the program (Certified Beer Server (CBS), Advanced Cicerone (AC), and Master Cicerone (MC))
Before we look at the recommended resources for the CC exam, it's worth noting that my Beer Scholar Study Guides for the Cicerone Exams follow the CCP's syllabi and summarize all the info you need to know to pass the exams. They've helped hundreds of people pass the CBS and CC exams, so seriously consider picking one up in addition to any other reading you do to save yourself loads of time and effort.
Now let's look at what study resources the CCP recommends for the second level of the program, Certified Cicerone. The CC exam is a seriously difficult in-person exam with written and tasting portions. Its passage rate is less than 40%, about 1 in 3. That's worse than the NY or CA State Bar Exams. Certified Cicerones are true beer experts. So, which the CCP says, "while it is not mandatory to review all of these resources in preparation for our exams, we hope candidates can utilize this list in conjunction with the syllabi to focus their studies," I would recommend that you read and study all of these resources. Besides, merely passing the test isn't the whole point, you also want to become a beer expert!Read More
The Cicerone Certification Program recently released recommended "Key Resources" you need to study to pass the exam for every level of the program - Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, Advanced Cicerone, and Master Cicerone.
First, I've created my excellent Beer Scholar Study Guides for the Cicerone Exams that have helped hundreds of people pass the CBS and CC exams. Seriously consider picking up my Guide in addition to any other reading you do. It'll save you time and effort. My Guides follow the CCP's syllabi and summarize all the info you need to know to pass the exams, plus offer detailed breakdowns of the test sections and tips and tricks for beating them.
Now, let's look at what study resources the CCP recommends for the first level of the program, the Certified Beer Server (CBS). The CBS exam is an online exam that tests a basic level of beer knowledge and as such test takers are not required to learn a ton of material. In general, the CCP says: "while it is not mandatory to review all of these resources in preparation for our exams, we hope candidates can utilize this list in conjunction with the syllabi to focus their studies." I would recommend that you read and study all of these resources, as merely passing the test isn't the only point, you also want to become a beer expert, too!
CCP Recommended Key Resources:
Tasting Beer: An Insider's Guide to the World's Greatest Drink by Randy Mosher
Grab the CBS syllabus so you know what to pay attention to in these resources.
Additional resources I recommend:
Again, my own Beer Scholar Study Guide for the Certified Beer Server Exam contains everything you need to know to crush the test.
The Cicerone Certification Program's Beer Style Flashcards are great for learning all the beer styles you need to know. Note that these are only good for the CBS exam, not the CC exam. Also, FYI there are free sets of flashcards for the Cicerone exams online, but every one I've ever looked at are full of errors and info you don't actually need to know, so stick with sets from folks like me or the CCP, just sayin'!
If you want to be a beer guru, you have to read about beer and brewing...a lot. Books, magazines, blogs, whatever. On your way to becoming an expert, you'll tear through a shelf full of beer books. First, you need to read several "intro to craft beer" type books, they cover loads of material you need to know. Reading several of them will pound the basics into your head and give you a few different perspectives and approaches to beer. Second, you should read a few more specialized books, like one about a single family of beer styles that you really like or about the history of beer in the US. Third, if you're a homebrewer there is a whole separate list of books you should read, which will help make you very beer smart (I highly recommend you give homebrewing a shot if you love beer and/or want to become a Certified Cicerone).
OK, OK, Let's get to it and talk about what you need to read to prep for the Certified Cicerone exam. That's what you're really here for, no?Read More
Do you really need to memorize all the BJCP data for beer styles tested on the Certified Cicerone exam?
The Cicerone Certification Program's (CCP) Certified Cicerone syllabus indicates that you need to memorize all the qualitative and quantitative info for the styles they test on the exam (ABV, IBU, SRM, OG, & FG). You definitely want to know the qualitative information backwards and forwards, but in my Beer Scholar Study Guide for the Certified Cicerone Exam I say that, no, you really don't need to memorize all the quantitative information, but be familiar with it generally. Because of that, I regularly get emails questions from folks who are unsure and are seeking assurance of who is correct on this issue. My short answer remains the same despite new information that the CCP is asking more questions about styles' quantitative info on the CC exam - I don't think you NEED to memorize all that data as long as you're very familiar with all the styles and can make educated guesses. For me, this is all about smart time management during your studying, however, there's more to it. Read on for the details.Read More
Hello fellow beer geek! This is a slightly edited cross-post I originally did for my personal Chris Cohen website, but which is also relevant to many people who are pursuing Cicerone certifications. I get an email about every other week asking for advice on how to get started as a beer consultant. I'm happy to share what I know with you.Read More
San Francisco recently lost local beer biz legend Eric Cripe to San Diego. Eric was an evangelist for great beer (and whiskey & Aussie wine) long before it was cool. He was with The Jug Shop in Russian Hill for a decade, where he ran the beer program, whiskey program, did certain categories of wine buying, and set up and hosted their weekly beer tastings. Eric was one of the first Certified Cicerones in the Bay Area (think beer Sommelier). His love of good beer inspired many locals, including myself, to learn more and ultimately join the industry. Lucky for us, Eric’s brother Evan is still at the Jug Shop and will continue Eric’s legacy.
I caught up with Eric as he was packing his bags and hosting the “Eric's Last Call” beer tasting at The Jug Shop to ask him a few questions. He shared some great insights, history, and some fun beer biz inside baseball with us. Oh, and he also says SD has better burritos than SF, so feel free to flame him in the comments!Read More
The Cicerone Certification Program released new info about the Advanced Cicerone exam on Sept 21st, 2015. Here's a summary of the important stuff:
- The first AC exams will be in Chicago on Feb 2nd and 3rd. If you want an exam you'll need to enter a lottery starting on Oct 1st.
- East Coast and West Coast AC exam dates will also be announced on Oct 1st. It's a one day exam with 24 seats.
- The AC exam will cost $595. Retaking the tasting portion will be $200. Retaking the written portion will be $275.
- The exam will include two oral sections involving hands-on presentations.
- You'll need an 80% overall and 75% minimum on the tasting portion to pass.
More info can be found here: http://cicerone.org/content/advanced-cicerone.
On September 1st, 2015 the Cicerone Certification Program (CCP) released version 3.0 of their Certified Cicerone syllabus. I'm here to answer your questions about the differences between version 2 and version 3. I compared the syllabi side-by-side to figure out exactly what's new, from subtle shifts of phrasing to whole new beer styles. The below is an overview of the important changes. I've catalogued all the changes, but I'm not going to mention minor rewording here, only important changes and new information you'll be required to know. The majority of changes are updates to beer styles, which brings the Cicerone program up to date with the 2015 BJCP Stye Guidelines. Read on for what you need to know!Read More
On September 1st, 2015 the Cicerone Certification Program released Version 3.0 of their Certified Beer Server Syllabus. So the big question is, what are the differences between Version 2 and Version 3 of the CBS syllabus? I've sat with the syllabi and compared them side-by-side to figure out exactly what's new. I'm not going to mention minor rewording only important changes and new information you'll be required to know. The majority of changes are with the beer styles and it's to bring the Cicerone program up to date with the 2015 BJC Stye Guidelines. Here's what you need to know!Read More