With a passing rate of just 10-15%, chasing the third-level rank of Advanced Cicerone is a challenging task. That certification has existed since 2015 and there are only 103 individuals in the entire country (and 121 in the world) who’ve attained it. California is home to 11 of those beer experts and, up until last month, there was just one in San Diego. Now, thanks to Pure Project Brewing’s Chris Legiuzamon crushing the exam like a session lager, there are two. He calls his accomplishment a win for San Diego and the #SDBeer community and says he was “inspired by the bad asses in this awesome beer Mecca.” With great quotes like that, we decided to conduct a full interview to find out more about what went into this effort.
What kicked off your Cicerone journey?
I was introduced to the Cicerone program in 2014 at my first brewery job in Reading, Pennsylvania. After taking the Certified Beer Server Exam, it really opened my eyes to the importance of a beer: clean glass, the complexity of a draught system, and some obscure beer styles that weren’t named IPA or amber ale. Holy smokes! It was such a humbling moment to know there was more to learn and teach others about how exciting the beer world really is! Since then, I’ve been furthering my knowledge and slowly become a more well-rounded beer professional.
How much study was involved in attaining your Advanced Cicerone certification and what worked well for you?
For me, this accomplishment was five years in the making. Developing a genuine curiosity for beer was key to my success. I remember reading Tasting Beer and BeerAdvocate magazines during my two-hour bus commute to work at Stone Brewing. For the Advanced Cicerone exam, I decided to engulf myself in the beer world. I researched off-flavors classes, upcoming beer-judging competitions, networked with other beer professionals, and bought a ton of recommended beer books. For two months leading up to the exam, I studied an average of four-to-six hours every day. I attended the San Diego Brewers Guild off-flavors session and, when I felt confident enough, I conducted my own session. Finally, to really hone in on styles and flavors, I judged at QUAFF’s (Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity homebrew club) America’s Finest City homebrew competition, the National Homebrew Competition, and the Los Angeles International Beer Competition. As far as successful study methods, my thick stack of note cards went everywhere I went. I recommend going through the BJCP Style Guidelines and really digesting every style, reading the Draught Beer Quality Manual, taking brewery tours to understand the process, and doing blind tasting sessions. If there is a topic you feel slightly hazy on, grab the Oxford Companion to Beer and the Beer Bible to elaborate. There is also so much you can learn from your local bottle shop and beertenders, so build close relationships with them throughout your journey.
What else would you say to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Be prepared to cry a lot. I am just kidding. Anything is achievable when you put the work in and surround yourself with inspirational individuals. With the help of mentors and veterans in the industry, I was able to tackle this difficult test. Major shout out to Advanced Cicerone Charlie Perez in Orange County, Gene Fielden at Bottlecraft, Jeff Wiederkehr at Burning Beard Brewing, Kira Bouchard and Jensen Atwood at Pure Project, Anthony Chen at AleSmith Brewing, Candace Erie at Wild Barrel Brewing, and my roommates. We are all fortunate to have in our backyard a yeast manufacturing company (White Labs), the American Homebrewers Association’s Homebrew Shop of the Year (The Homebrewer), multiple breweries with award-winning beers, and beer programs at UCSD Extension, San Diego State University, and CSU San Marcos. San Diego is an incredible resource and should be taken advantage of.
Explain the differences between the Certified Cicerone and Advanced Cicerone exams?
Looking at the syllabuses of the two, they’re almost copies of each other. So what sets them apart? The best way I can explain the difference is that the Certified Cicerone exam is “the what,” while the Advanced Cicerone exam is “the why and the how.” For example, the Certified Cicerone exam will ask you to identify important parts of a draught system or the key flavors of a German wheat beer, while the Advanced Cicerone exam will expect you to know how the system operations and ferulic acid in the development of the clove-like compound in German wheat beers. The eight-hour Advanced Cicerone exam is truly one of endurance. Just like the other topics in the Cicerone program, it covers keeping and serving beer, brewing and food-pairing. It’s broken into two halves: 100 questions with a scheduled 15-minute face-to-face interview with a Master Cicerone, four essay questions, then two tasting sections followed by lunch, then doing it all over again. By the seventh hour, you are brutally exhausted from writing essays, but you need to find strength to focus your senses on the last two tasting sections.
Now that you’ve earned this certification, what will you do with it?
Above everything, I want to inspire peoples’ minds one beer at a time. As a proud member of the Pure Project family, we plan to create events that will truly excite the senses. Craft beer will always be the Freddie Mercury of the show, but I am eager to tie in other local craft industries to captivate our beer-loving audience. For the #SDBeer community, I cannot wait to help elevate the beer education standard and want to work on more transparency with BJCP- and Cicerone-related events. I plan to create a structured study program to get the masses to crush their beer goals. Education is meant to empower and should be shared with everyone!