Mirella Amato

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There are many folks out there who claim to know everything there is about beer. The Cicerone Certification Program was created several years ago as a way to test and certify knowledge and aptitude of beer serving, storage, beer styles and beer flavours (drinking, and pairing with food). On Thursday, January 23rd, 2014, there will be a Certified Cicerone® Exam held at The Halifax Club, the first time this exam has been held in Atlantic Canada. For more information on the exam, we reached out to several people involved with the Cicerone Program.

First, we connected with Mirella Amato, one of only seven Master Cicerones® (and the first outside of the US), and the person who will be administering the Exam on Jan 23rd.

ACBB: Who is the Cicerone program aimed towards?

Mirella: The Cicerone Certification program is geared towards industry professionals. It was created to help ensure that beer was being stored and served properly.

What are the different levels of the Cicerone program?

There are three levels: Certified Beer Server, which is an online exam; Certified Cicerone®, which is a four hour in-person exam; and Master Cicerone®, which is a fourteen hour exam. Each level builds on the previous one.

What are the requirements to sit the Certified Cicerone exam?

The only pre-requisite for the Certified Cicerone® exam is to have passed the Certified Beer Server exam. Having said this, it is a challenging exam; I highly recommend having a look at the Certified Cicerone® Syllabus before registering. The Syllabus outlines everything you need to know in order to pass; it can be used as a checklist. Of course, you also have to be of legal drinking age because there is a tasting component to the exam.

Can you tell me about the test format?

The Certified Cicerone® exam has a written portion that includes both short answer questions and essay questions. There is then a tasting portion to the exam as well as an oral component that usually takes the form of a demonstration. You need to achieve a grade of 80% to pass the exam, and also have to have scored at least 70% on the tasting portion.

What resources would be useful in preparation for the exam?

The Syllabus is definitely the number one resource. As I mentioned earlier, it lists everything that could be on the exam. If you’re comfortable with all of the topics covered in the syllabus, you’ll be fine. The Cicerone website also has a list of resources and tools to help people along. A couple of them – off-flavour kits and style cards- are not yet available in Canada, but we’re working on that.

Please tell me about your experience as a Cicerone® (first Certified, then Master).

I found the Cicerone Certification Program to be a great way to focus my studies, working towards a specific goal. Beyond that, as a beer specialist, I wanted my clients to know that they could trust my level of expertise. When I first became a Certified Cicerone®, no one really knew what it meant, so there was a lot of education to be done. Now, I’m hearing stories from beer specialists who say they’re frequently asked if they are Certified Cicerones®. It’s great to see that an increasing number of people are becoming aware of the certification and what it means.
I was thrilled when I passed the Master Cicerone® exam – it’s incredibly challenging. Having added consultancy services to my portfolio, it made sense to work towards that certification. Again, it was a way to demonstrate that I’d achieved a certain level of knowledge. I’ve gotten so much positive feedback on my accomplishment – because I was the first person outside of the US to pass the exam. There are currently 25 Certified Cicerones® in Canada.

If someone is just hearing about the exam now, will they be in with a chance, 6 weeks out of the exam?

When I took my Certified Cicerone® exam, my friend Dominic – who is a professional brewer in Québec, as well as a BJCP judge – took it with me. I think he studied for about a week – simply filling in the gaps that he identified in reading the syllabus. I had been studying for about six weeks, doing the same thing. We both passed the exam… how long it takes to prep for the exam depends on the individual. Six weeks is definitely not enough time for someone who doesn’t know anything about beer to work up to the Certified Cicerone® level.

Mirella has outlined her keys to successfully passing the exam on her website, including a great group of curated links to resources.

We also caught up with Mike Buhler, a Certified Cicerone® (the first in Atlantic Canada) who passed the exam mid-2013. Mike, better known as the Beerthief, lives in Newfoundland and holds tastings and administers the Newfoundland Artisanal and Craft Beer Club, bringing excellent beer not otherwise available in the province.

What additional resources would you suggest consulting to succeed at the exam?

Best resources include Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer and the Beer Judge Certificatiom Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines. Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table is an excellent resource, plus tasting and getting to know as many styles as possible. Researching national, provincial and local liquor laws is worth doing as well.

Tell us about your experience with sitting the Certified Cicerone® exam

I studied on and off for almost a year and a half between working and other commitments, plus tasting in the area of 750 beers to prepare for the exam. I first sat it in Toronto in February 2013 and missed it by a minimal number of points. I then scrambled to rebook in the Bronx in March (plus studying like a fiend as well). The airline cancelled my flight the night before and I was scrambling again to rebook! Fortunately, I was able to get seats on a plane and a seat in the next exam in DC the following week. This time I passed, but for the second time, my weakest score was in the style category, despite tasting many different beer all around the world.

Any final words for people considering taking the exam?

I think it’s a great program that will drive  the level of service up for customers everywhere. As for succeeding in passing the Certified Cicerone exam with only six weeks to prepare, I would say this is virtuously impossible without a substantial background in beer across a broad spectrum of topics. Atlantic Canada is particularly hard due to the lack of beer selections to learn styles and know about for both the written and tasting perspectives.

So, what to do if you’d like to take the exam on the 23rd? First and foremost, study the syllabus of the Certified Beer Server, and take that exam. This online exam is a pre-requisite to sit the Certified Cicerone® exam, and a great way to confirm that the program is for you. After completing that, sign up for the Jan 23rd exam. Several of the other people taking the Halifax exam are part of a Facebook group, so join that to schedule virtual and in-person study sessions. And keep in mind that the exam is only scheduled when there is a demand for it, and may not happen locally again for a long time, so if you were contemplating taking it, strike while the iron is hot!

It’s been a hectic week at the ACBB “offices”, here’s the important news you need to know about beer in our area:

• Tonight, Picaroons continues their Plaid to the Bone launch in Perth-Andover. Featuring their Heather Ale, the “Picaroons Castle Ceilidh” will be held at the Castle Inn. The festivities begin at 7 pm, and will include the Southern Victoria Pipe Band and Fredericton’s Highland Dancers, followed by PEI’s Ten Strings and a Goat Skin (who continue to tour New Brunswick for this beer’s launch). There will be a large “Picaroons-infused” pub menu, with food items ranging from Best Bitter-battered onion rings to grilled salmon with Simeon Jones garlic cream. The launch continues Saturday night in Moncton at Plan B (after the beer festival), where Ten Strings will be performing at 10 pm.

Mirella Amato is in New Brunswick this week, taking part in events surrounding the Atlantic Beer Festival. She is hosting two events at The Station in Fredericton today: from 1-3pm, she will be running a mock beer competition, where participants will be able to taste some winning beers from the recent Canadian Brewing Awards, learn how to judge beers, and even do some judging themselves. This event is free and open to the public. Later in the evening (6:30-8:30), Mirella will be leading a five-course tasting, highlighting the style range of beers, and how they can pair with food in some exciting and fascinating ways. Tickets are $25. As mentioned in our previous post, she will also be leading a VIP tour of the Atlantic Beer Festival, including appetizers at Pump House, limo ride to the fest, and a guided tasting of a handful of the best beers on tap at the fest.

• Last Saturday’s grand opening of the new location for the PEI Brewing Company was a great success, with approximately 600 people attending the day’s events, despite less-than-desirable weather. Two new beers were introduced, a Blueberry Ale, and a Mango Wheat. While both beers will continue to be available on tap at the PEI Brewing Company (the Mango Wheat for a limited time only), the Blueberry Ale will also be pouring at some bars/restaurants on the Island, and can also be found in bottles at the brewery and at PEILCC locations.

• Halifax’s The Coast website has published its annual readers’ poll results, and Garrison Brewing Company has been selected as Best Craft Brewery! Runners-up were silver and bronze medal-winners, Propeller Brewing and Bridge Brewing, respectively. As for Best Brew Pub, Rockbottom unseated previous 9-time winner Rogues Roost to win the top prize. Rogues Roost finished second, followed by Hart and Thistle. Congratulations to the winners!

• Speaking of Rockbottom, their Insidious IBA (India Black Ale) is now on tap. This beer won a bronze medal in the American Style Black Ale (also known as Black IPA, Cascadian Dark Ale, etc) category at the recent Canadian Brewing Awards. Get it while it’s … cold!

• For those of you looking forward to getting a taste of one of the new Grimross beers tonight in Fredericton, there’s some bad news… the Love Your Balls event has been cancelled. We originally reported on this charity event last Friday. Looks like we’ll all have to wait another few weeks until Grimross is available commercially.


The Atlantic Beer Festival is taking place at the Moncton Coliseum this Saturday. There are two sessions: 2:30-5pm, and 7:30-10pm. Tickets are available at the Coliseum Box Office, The Pump House Brewery or BarnYard BBQ, and online at tickets.moncton.ca. The evening session is sold out, however there are lots of tickets still available for the afternoon session. The Beer Fest is partnering with the SPCA and United Way.

Exact details on the beers and breweries are not published online (check the Times & Transcript on Thursday for a full list), but I give you some highlights from the organizers and brewers I’ve contacted.

– Fresh off a CBA medal earlier this month, Acadie-Broue will be there with their Gaboteuse Belgian IPA. However, it will only be at the Afternoon Session, that’s worth buying a ticket for the session alone!

Shiretown from Charlo, NB will be there, pouring their Blonde du Quai, Big Brown Ale and a one off RodDog’s Amber Ale. Also only there for the afternoon session, I see a trend!

Le Troue du Diable from Shawinagan, QC will be returning, with a pair of beers, that are always hits with the craft beer fans.

– Local (and almost local) breweries Pump House, Picaroons, Big Tide, Garrison and Propeller will also be there, with some special casks and one-off beers that will not be available anywhere else.

– There will be a Maine pavillion, showcasing a over dozen beer that are not available at the ANBL.

We will post the final beer list as soon as it’s available. We expect to see over 140 beers, 30% of which are new offerings not usually available in NB. Some will be launched at the Fest, so this will be your first chance to try them.

In addition to the beer, there will be food vendors (pretzels!), with a BBQ/Smoking station set up with pulled pork and sausages. There will be music by Carey Beck and the 60 LPs. Free shuttle buses leave from the Coliseum to various spots around the city (Downtown, Riverview, etc), so be sure to take advantage and don’t drink and drive!

There is a VIP option at each of the sessions: you will start at the Pump House Brewpub, and meet your guide for the session, Mirella Amato. She is the only Master Cicerone[TM] in Canada, and will be helping folks get the most out of the Beer Festival. After some appetizers and a limo ride to the Coliseum, Mirella will bring you in the VIP entrance and then spend some time tasting some of the great beer available. She will highlight a few of the best beers, do a guided tasting at several of the difference booths, and assist you in hunting down the best beers for your favourites styles. To sign up, contact the ANBL. The ticket price is $99, and that includes your Festival ticket.

We’ll be there, and hope you will too! Cheers!