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Advanced Cicerone: Washington's highest certified beer expert

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SEATTLE -- The number of breweries in the United States has more than doubled in the last five years, growing from 2,405 to 5,301 in 2016, including 353 breweries in the state of Washington.

And the popularity of craft breweries has tapped a new kind of beer connoisseur, called a Cicerone.

“The Cicerone is like the beer equivalent of a Sommelier for wine,” said Bobby Wood, Tap Manager at Postdoc Brewery.

The Cicerone program is still 10 years new. The program began in 2007 and now offers four levels of beer expert: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, Advanced Cicerone and Master Cicerone.

Currently, there are only 13 Master Cicerones and 28 Advanced Cicerones in the world.

According to the certification program, Cicerones are experts in five areas: keeping and serving beer, beer styles, beer flavor and evaluation, beer ingredients and brewing processes, and pairing beer with food.

“There is a heavy emphasis on beer and food pairing,” said Wood. “Not only studying beer, but studying food and the interaction between the two.”

Last September, Wood became the state of Washington’s first Advanced Cicerone after passing a grueling exam.

“There was a point I was studying 80 hours a week,” remembered Wood. “It was the hardest thing I ever done in my life. It was an eight-hour test, six hours of writing essays, and two hours of tasting beer. One person came back from the one-on-one oral examination with tears streaming down their face.”

Today, he can expertly breakdown a beer like a barrel aged Gose.

“Coriander perfume floral like citrus notes and then a little vanilla oak like character from the barrel aging," he says.

Or he can tell you why a Scottish Ale goes perfectly with barbecue.

“It harmonizes with the caramel notes that you find on the meat or perhaps the sweetness of a sauce. There is actually a chemical reaction called the Mailliard reaction, which is the heating up of amino acids. And it is the same thing that happens in the caramel specialty malt that is used in the beer, that happens on the skin of the meat during the cooking process,” said Wood.

But while the rise of craft breweries is creating a new breed of beer expert, Wood says, Cicerones are careful to not be pretentious.

“It is something we are aware about, because you can get a little snobby with beer sometimes,” said Wood. “The more you know about something, the more you can appreciate it, but in the end the most important thing, does the beer taste good.”

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