som•me•lier, n. — A restaurant employee who orders and maintains the wines sold in the restaurant and usually has extensive knowledge about wine and food pairings.
Can there be a “beer sommelier”?
Yes, according to craft brewing stalwart Ray Daniels, who looks to the wisdom of antiquity to find a descriptive term for the job.
Latin isn’t studied much these days, and ancient history is widely regarded as everything that occurred prior to the date of one’s own birth. Yet, long before beer as we know it came into being, there was a Roman philosopher and statesman named Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was widely admired for his abilities in composition and oratory.
Such was the respect accorded Cicero’s depth of knowledge, learned comprehension and flights of erudition that an Italian word was created from his name: “Cicerone” (sis-uh-rohn, as English-speaking borrowers pronounce it). Simply stated, a cicerone is a sightseeing escort or tour guide.
However, seeing as sightseeing guides are not created equally, only the select few possessing both information and an ability to convey it — traits reminiscent of Cicero himself — should be referred to as cicerones.
Daniels has chosen Cicerone as the word best suited to describe the functions performed by “beer sommeliers,” and what’s more, he is building a program to provide structured accreditation. It’s called the Cicerone Certification Program. Here is a brief outline, as copied from the Web site (www.cicerone.org):
The Cicerone Certification Program seeks to ensure that consumers receive the best possible beer and enjoy its flavors to the greatest extent possible. To facilitate this, those who sell and serve beer need to acquire knowledge in five areas:
Beer Storage, Sales and Service
Beer Styles and Culture
Beer Tasting and Flavors
Brewing Ingredients and Processes
Pairing Beer with Food
Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit www.potablecurmudgeon.com for more beer.