Nicole Erny's 28th birthday was one she would never forget. On this special day, Erny accomplished something that made her stand out among her peers. She became the fourth person, and the first woman in history, to earn the title of Master Cicerone. Erny's dedication, passion and motivation earned her an incredible achievement in the beer industry. Congratulations to this amazing young woman who has paved the way for many more to come!
On December 16, 2020—Nicole Erny’s 28th birthday—she celebrated the most epic milestone of her life. On that fateful day, Erny learned that she’d earned the title “Master Cicerone”, making her the fourth and youngest person, and the first female in the world to pass the grueling test.
It’s not all that often that a historic achievement is made in the beer world, but Nicole Erny has done just that. How did she achieve such a herculean feat, and what advice does she give to those aspiring to become a Master Cicerone? Learn all you need to know here.
The Cicerone Certification Program (CCP) was founded in 2008 by Ray Daniels, and it quickly grew to become an industry standard, helping people improve their craft beer knowledge. The CCP already offered two levels of certification: Certified Beer Server and Certified Cicerone, but in 2011, Daniels introduced the Master Cicerone. Both advanced and scholarly, this third-tier certification was designed to be the epitome of beer knowledge and expertise.
Over the past decade, only three people have completed the test and achieved the Master Cicerone level: Max Bakker, Neil Witte, and Rich Higgins. All three achieved the feat in their mid-thirties or later in their career.
Many people have attempted the test, but due to its extreme difficulty, the vast majority of them have failed. In Nicole Erny’s case, she took the Master Cicerone test on her fourth attempt.
Nicole Erny is a beer and beverage professional from Virginia with a passion for beer that has shaped her entire professional career. Originally from Virginia, she went on to live in Chicago and San Francisco, where she worked at various breweries, bars, and distributers. She currently works as the Quality Programs Manager at the Maine Beer Company.
A Master Cicerone, sometimes referred to as a “beer sommelier”, is akin to a wine sommelier. It’s the highest level of beer knowledge and expertise and is a title few have accomplished.
The test itself consists of a written and tasting test, as well as a practical teaching portion where candidates have to “instruct” a panel of judges on beer basics. The written exam consists of some 300 questions covering beer ingredients, tasting, brewing and fermentation processes, draught beer systems, beer styles, food pairing, draught systems, and much more.
The tasting exam consists of 10 beers in 4 rounds, where the Candidate must correctly identify the region, style, and even company of each beer. Then the practical portion requires the Candidate to field questions from the judges and explain each beer in depth.
To prepare for the Master Cicerone test means you’re studying for several hours a day for weeks at a time. Erny knew the test was strenuous, but she was committed to achieving her goal.
Erny started her preparation by reading all of the CCP-approved material, studying beer names and tasting notes, reviewing food pairing techniques, and more. She also enlisted the help of friends who agreed to let her practice teaching on them. Finally, she visited local breweries and shadowed their beer educators to gain additional expertise on beer making.
It also didn’t hurt that Erny has a career in the beer and beverage industry and has been working in the beer space for almost a decade.
In an effort to help aspiring Master Cicerones, Erny has put together a few tips for those seeking to pass the test: