In defense of the Advanced Cicerone level of the Cicerone Certification Program

Apr 04, 2016

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 is something like that they've introduced this new level just to force everyone to pay to take it. That's completely absurd and here's why.

First, the CC is already a big accomplishment, you don't have to take the AC, too! I suspect that the majority of Certified Cicerones will be satisfied with their very real accomplishment in passing the CC. The CC is difficult test. The pass rate has risen significantly in the last two years since my Beer Scholar Study Guides came out (ahem), it's now up to around 40% from 25-33% a few years ago. That's still ridiculously's much lower than the CA or NY State Bar Exam passage rates, for instance (obviously, more people should be purchasing my Beer Scholar Study Guides!). Out of the gate there has been enough pent up demand for the AC exam to result in a lottery to get one of the limited examination seats, but ultimately few CC's will take on the work required to get their beer knowledge to the level required for passing the Advanced Cicerone exam. Perhaps 20% of CC's will want to try to keep moving up the ladder? That's a guess, but it will be a minority. In any case, there's no way that a CC will need to move on to the AC just to stay relevant, the CC is a badass accomplishment on its own. The point is this - passing the AC is not required! Everyone will be impressed with a CC certification, you're already an expert compared to almost anyone as a CC. So, moving on.

Second, the AC is fantastic for those who do want to keep learning. It provides structure for how to proceed with those studies and with raising one's beer game ever higher. It's great to have a way for some people to demonstrate they have higher beer skills and knowledge than a CC, without having to go all the way to the level of MC. For instance, as the author of the Beer Scholar Study Guides I suspect I have a higher level of knowledge than a person who has recently passed the CC, but I also know I'm not ready for the MC. The AC provides a stepping stone toward the Master Cicerone level. And like with the jump from CC to AC, I suspect that many of those who pass the AC will not go for the MC because it is another huge leap in skill and knowledge and a ton of work to prepare. There's a reason less than 10% of takers pass the Master Cicerone exam. Which brings us to number three.

Three, the AC is great for the Cicerone Certification Program because it gives the program more structure and creates a barrier to entering the lottery to take the MC exam. From what I understand, some people were going into the MC exam and just getting crushed. That sucks for everyone involved: it sucks for the examinee, who spent time and money preparing; it sucks for people in the lottery who didn't get to take the exam but may be able to pass; and it sucks for the CCP, who would love to certify more MC's, the most powerful representatives for the program. The CCP also doesn't want folks walking away from the MC exam feeling like they wasted their time because they got their butt kicked. That can create bad feelings when people show up to the MC exam who are not truly ready, the only way to address that is to create a stepping-stone + barrier to entry for the MC. It's a win-win.

Fouth, having four rankings within the program, with the 3rd highest being "Advanced," puts the Cicerone program in alignment with the Court of Master Sommeliers program. The Somm program has Level 1 Introductory (people who pass this level are not allowed to use the term "Sommelier," much like those who pass the CBS are not allowed to call themselves "Cicerones"), Level 2 Certified Sommelier, Level 3 Advanced Sommelier, and Level 4 Master Sommelier. Next time you're explaining to someone that, "the Cicerone program is basically the Sommelier program but for beer," it'll be even more accurate. Those with roots in the booze biz will now understand exactly what you're talking about when you say you are a "Certified" or "Advanced" Cicerone. Let's just make a wild guess that Ray Daniels created the Cicerone program with an eye to the Court of Master Sommeliers program, shall we? 

Finally, let's talk straight money. I have no insight into the finances of the CCP beyond being able to do the basic math on what they can bring in from an exam session. I can tell you this though - it was obviously very time consuming and cost intensive for the CCP to create the new material and exam process for the AC. Also, administering the exam is very costly. For my AC exam, the CCP flew three people from Chicago to the Bay Area - the founder of the CCP, Ray Daniels, a CCP Master Cicerone, and the CCP's Business Manager, plus they had a local Master Cicerone help out on site. The exam took an entire day (there was another AC given the next day). I don't know how many full-time employees the CCP has, but the majority of them were in the Bay Area for three days. After they got back to Chicago, they have to grade something on the order of 384 essays, 1440 multiple choice questions, a few hundred tasting panels, and dozens of interview sessions. This is something only a Master Cicerone would likely be trusted to do, so there goes another week or more of a key employee's time. Certifying people at the higher AC and MC levels is a serious undertaking. Hopefully, Ray is doing great, but no one is making millions from the Cicerone Certification Program enterprise and I don't think anyone holds wanting to make a decent living against small business entrepreneurs. I hope not, since I am one myself! 

So there you have it. The AC makes sense on many different levels. Rather than being a money grab by the CCP, the AC is a fantastic addition to the program. The Cicerone Certification Program and those who chose to raise their beer knowledge game by studying and testing are working to better themselves, enjoy beer even more than they already do, and to make beer service better for everyone. The CCP isn't in it for the big money, my guess is that a guy as hard working and entrepreneurial as Ray Daniels could find a better and quicker way to get rich, were that the main goal! So, there you go, all is copacetic. Don't worry, have a beer, and get back to studying. 

Quick note - The image above and the term Cicerone® are trademarks of the Cicerone Certification Program.® Anyone can call themselves a Sommelier, but only someone who has achieved at least the level of Certified Cicerone can refer to themselves as a "Cicerone," which is great for those who earn the right!