6 questions with the world’s first female Master Cicerone – Nicole Erny

Since the establishment of the Certified Cicerone Program four years ago, a certification exam acknowledging individuals working in the beer industry, only four people have passed the final level of the three level certification process. One of which is Nicole Erny, the newest Master Cicerone, who is also the first woman and the youngest person to ever pass this extensive exam. The test is a two day process with written and oral questions regarding styles of beer, the brewing process, draft systems, and beer and food pairings. We caught up with her during San Francisco Beer Week and asked her these six questions. Here are her answers.

What’s the Cicerone Certification Program and how did you got involved?

The Cicerone Program offers professional certification for people working in the beer industry. It has three levels of exams and gives people dedicated to the beer industry a chance to earn a professional title; something to be proud of and to distinguish themselves and show exactly the level of beer knowledge they have.

I became involved in 2009, I took the Certified Cicerone exam in the fall of 2009. At the time I was a bartender, one of my biggest motivations was to set myself apart, proving myself as a young person and to prove “Hey I know my stuff.”

You’re the first female Master Cicerone?

Yes, last fall, I took the Master Cicerone exam, myself and ten other candidates sat for the exam. I was actually the only one to pass, which was truly a honor consider the company I was in. I thought when I got that phone call and found out that only one person has passed, that it was certainly not me.

How’s the testing process like?

The Master exam is a grueling process. It is two days, there are four 2 and a half hour of essay writing; four 30 minute tasting exams which I thought I was prepared for, but it was so fast paced it greatly increased the difficulty level. There are also four 30 minute oral exams with highly respected beer industry professionals, questioning you on draft systems, beer and food pairing, beer styles, and the brewing process.

What was it like when you got the phone call?

When you take an exam like this, you don’t assume you’re going to pass, nobody that took the exam assumed they’re going to pass. It was more like, prepare yourself for the bad news and take it gracefully and well. So I got the phone call from Ray Daniels. My boyfriend was home with me, I ran into the other room and Ray had this deep and intensive voice, and he said “This year’s exam was very difficult, and only one person passed.” When he told me it was me, it took me about 30 seconds to react appropriately. The first thing I said was ‘what?’ It was a shock and surprise and a deep honor. I am really proud of it.

Any advice for people that want to get certified?

The first level is Certified Beer Server, that’s all online. That program is designed to be very approachable. That exam is something anybody with some dedication can achieve. Moving on to the Certified Cicerone exam, it becomes more difficult. My advice is that if you’re interested in getting in the program and want to go further than the Certified Beer Server, over study.

The other thing is to get into tasting, get into your descriptions and ask yourself if you’re describing something as best as you can. My goal when I sit down to describe a beer is to paint a picture of a beer, that would allow somebody who is some what knowledgeable about beer styles to know what style of beer I am drinking based on my descriptions.

Favorite style of beers?

So hard. Beer style is a lot easier to answer than when someone asks you for your favorite beer. My favorite beer style is Belgian Saisons and Belgian Tripels, followed very closely by Imperial Stouts.

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