Our Road to Cicerone – the Bootcamp

What do the following have in common: 24 internationals wishing to learn about beer, a handful of beer experts, a couple of beer legends, 5-days in a classroom in Chicago, and plenty of beer and beer/food pairings?  It is, of course, the Road to Cicerone Bootcamp, which Kaeru Beer attended in April, 2018.

Whilst the majority of attendees hail from the all four corners of the USA, there are many who have travelled from not only across the Americas, but also from Asia and Europe.  All here to learn about the intricacies of beer styles, flavours, brewing and serving.  All hungry for knowledge; all thirsty for beer.

Attendees come from all walks of life, each in some way professionally associated with the beer industry or here to increase beer knowledge and awareness for a career change or advancement.  Whether it’s brewery workers, taproom staff, bar owners, back-office professionals, beer technologists, writers, ingredient producers, professional tasters or just general beer geeks, we’re all here.  All hungry for knowledge; all thirsty for beer.

Interestingly, one-third of this year’s attendees are female, which aligns with a general increase in visibility of lady beer professionals.  We hope this trend continues.

The amount of knowledge crammed into 40+ hours is intense, since the syllabus aligns with the Certified Cicerone exam.  The content of the Bootcamp, however, is cleverly designed to keep things interesting in an engaging way, with plenty of hands-on exercises, tastings, brewery visits, restaurant evenings, guest speakers and opportunities to socialise.  Each component of the syllabus is carved into small bite-sized chunks that instead of following each other sequentially, are shuffled and interspersed with each other to ensure the interest of the attendees is maintained throughout the day.

There is, of course, some general structure, insomuch as one day may be American Beer Styles and another may be Belgian, one day may be German Beer styles and another may be British and Irish.  All other topics are interwoven between the beer styles throughout the week to keep things flowing smoothly, just like the beer that is on our minds throughout.

The specialists at Cicerone are extremely well-informed and keen to impart their expertise onto the avid listener.  Myths are busted, truths are told, experiences are shared, and knowledge is gained.  And a lot more, too.  The erudite experts not only answer all questions honestly and succinctly, but they are also extremely approachable, fun and a joy to learn from.  Quite honestly, it is clearly evident they all care about their respective areas of expertise and are passionate about beer in general; this is what separates simple beer training with the high-calibre coaching given by Cicerone.

As the week progresses, many attendees quickly discover they’re weaker in some areas and stronger in others.  Whether it’s identifying off-flavours, deciding if beer is acceptable or not, or recognising the difference between similar beer styles.  Nobody will walk away from the Bootcamp a complete expert in every area, for sure, but it provides the framework needed to take our knowledge to the next level; all we need to do is continue to study, continue to learn and build upon the foundations established during the week.  The Bootcamp sets the wheels in motion with enough hints, tips, resources and access to expertise to facilitate further self-study outside of the classroom, which is the investment we need to make in ourselves should we wish to be called a Certified Cicerone.  Or any form of beer expert, for that matter.

The greatest reward gained from attending the Bootcamp is a motivation to return home and continue increasing the beer knowledge learnt in the classroom.

The hands-on exercises are joyous.  And it’s not all about drinking, although there is plenty of that.  From dismantling and reassembling draft beer system component to troubleshooting beer line problems, the opportunities for a layperson to gain insight into the intricacies of getting beer from keg to glass correctly, in the manner intended by the brewer, is fascinating.  As are the food pairing exercises, which culminate in a multi-course dinner evening, during which we get an opportunity to evaluate the beer and food combination using the knowledge gained during the week.  Most of us rarely get an opportunity to experience a deep sensory interaction with the beer ingredients of different types, so getting close-up and personal with the various hops and malt varieties from across the globe is priceless.

Then there are the beers.  The tastings come thick and fast, but the approach mirrors the methods used by professional beer tasters and judging.  2oz pours are the norm during the Bootcamp – although we’re all guilty of taking slightly more of our personal favourites – but its unwise to consume everything throughout the day.  Take a sniff or two in the correct manner, take a couple of sips, identify the attributes, and then pour the rest away.  That’s the recommendation, at least, although there is nothing wrong with finishing your pour if it’s something you’ve find to be enjoyable.  Just don’t overindulge and ruin the experience, especially if you’ve spent a lot to attend.

There’s usually something happening every night, official or unofficial, and naturally it all revolves around beer.  It’s hardly a surprise that beer-lovers love to drink beer when the opportunity arises.  Drinking with a group of beer connoisseurs in full study mode can prove as valuable as the Bootcamp itself, so if time and commitments allow, some post-training beers in a nearby brewery or beer bar is a great opportunity to not only meet fellow-attendees, but to also practice what has been learnt in the classroom during the day.

All things considered, the Road to Cicerone Bootcamp is a great opportunity to fill in any gaps in your beer knowledge, especially if you’re planning to take the Certified Cicerone exam.  Even if you’re not planning to take the exam, there are many reasons why attending can prove beneficial to your personal and professional knowledge and interest.

It’s a recommendation whatever your motivations are for attending.