Meet Alberta’s Cicerones

I can remember it like it was yesterday. Sitting in a nice restaurant with a wonderful lady across from me; I pick up the wine list to select a bottle. WTF is a Beaujolais… a good jolly?! Panic began to set in as I began thinking about how foolish I was about to look. Thankfully a sommelier swooped in and was able to guide me towards a smart and economical (ya I’m thrifty) choice. With the explosion in popularity of craft beer in this province it is possible to walk into a pub or restaurant and be completely overwhelmed by the extensive beer list. So who you gonna call when you’re struggling to understand what a Trappist beer is? Enter the Cicerone.

Cicerone Certification

Calgary’s Original Cicerone

Bill Bonar was the 1st one in Alberta to decide that he wanted to follow through with the Cicerone certification program. Even as a novice drinker Bill was interested in trying out new beers and bringing different ones to parties so that others could compare them to whatever they were drinking. European imports & craft beer were a natural part of this interest in beer.

This interest in beer came in handy for his career in the service industry. In the early years his pairings with food were more wine focused. Wine has enjoyed wide spread popularity as the drink of choice to pair with food for a long time. He was not entirely convinced that the Cicerone program was valuable when it first came out but he was fascinated by beer so he decided to study the material on his own and see what happened. Once he reviewed the syllabus and took the Certified Beer Server exam (level 1) he made up his mind that he was going to go for his certification. If anything, having the designation would at least help back up his arguments with sommelier friends that beer was a superior beverage to pair with food.

Here's Bill MC'ing the CAMRA Alberta Beer Trivia at Midtown Kitchen & Bar.

Here’s Bill MC’ing the CAMRA Alberta Beer Trivia at Midtown Kitchen & Bar.

The test is not an easy thing to get through, you really need to cram. Bill studied the history of beer, the brewing process, BJCP Guidelines, food pairings, draft systems & the syllabus to prep for the exam. Knowing your palate is another important aspect to work on. Go through an off-flavour tasting (these are the various flaws & infections that can happen in beer) so that you can experience these defects first hand. And when it comes to blind tastings Bill recommends going to a place like Bottlescrew Bill’s, which carries many different styles of beer, and having them serve you different ones without telling you what they are. This way you can compare certain styles and find out how to identify the differences in them.

If you are interested in beer & beer/food pairings you should go to Taste and talk to Bill. Make sure to try out something from his beer list and enjoy some food with it!

Beers n’ Such

Kirk Bodnar loves beer…that is all. Seriously though, Kirk has been enthralled by beer ever since he went to Germany on an exchange trip in 1994. While there he experienced traditional Bavarian culture which included beer such as Munuch Helles, Hefeweizens & Munich Dunkels. There was no turning back after that.

Once he returned to Canada he started homebrewing and reading anything/everything that he could find about beer. His desire for knowledge is what led Kirk to get both the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) and Cicerone designations. For Kirk it just made sense to learn as much about beer as he could and taking these courses gave him the perfect excuse to do just that. Plus he was doing some work with Charcut and starting up his beer consulting business Beers N’ Such, so he thought that it might help give him some added credibility.

Beer Education

Kirk is no stranger to giving lectures on beer through his consulting business. The guy’s a fountain of knowledge.

Kirk’s advice on how to prepare yourself for the exam is similar to Bill’s; read as much as you can about beer and taste lots of different styles (that’s the fun part).

He does have a tip for people who are torn between the BJCP and Cicerone programs. BJCP was designed to evaluate beer (mainly homebrew) & provide feedback in order to help homebrewers improve their skills. The Cicerone program is much more geared towards people in the service industry. It will help you get a much better appreciation of beer and how to guarantee that you are providing your clientele with the best beer possible. So it comes down to which program seems like it fits your situation/interests?

Beer Loving Twins



No not these Twins. The Twins that I’m talking about know way more about beer than these two!

Emily fell in love with beer while working at Bottlescrew Bill’s shortly after moving to Calgary. The exposure to so many different styles from all over the world was a real “eye opener”.

Once her colleague & friend, Ryan Lund, told her about the program she made up her mind to take the exam. Originally she was only interested in the 1st level but she soon realized that she wanted to take it even further; plus the level 2 exam was being held in Portland which was an awesome excuse for a beercation!

Getting involved with craft beer and earning her Cicerone designation has given Emily a career rather than just a job. It is really rewarding being able to give customers the best service possible and helping to guide them towards a beer that they will enjoy; especially when they are not even sure that they like beer to begin with. Hopefully cicerones are one day a designated position at certain restaurants in Alberta similar to sommeliers. Emily believes in this path so strongly that she is even on the waiting list to do her Master Cicerone!

Look for Emily at National 10 where she’s a part time bartender on the weekends. Don’t be shy to pick her brain and talk to her about all things beer!

Lisa is Emily’s twin sister who also loves beer. They worked together at Bottlescrew Bill’s where she also started to really appreciate craft beer. It was her twin sis who got her in to the Cicerone program. They would study the material together to prep for the exam. It is really helpful to have a study partner while preparing for the test. It helps to have someone with you so that you can help each other reach your goal. Study Note: they both highly recommend reviewing the material thoroughly, especially the BJCP Style Guideline.

Lisa felt that earning the Cicerone designation would give her more direction in her career. She also felt like she was not always being taken seriously since she was a female so she wanted to prove herself as someone who truly knows about beer (I know that I respect her knowledge).

The material that you learn during the process is a major benefit when you work in the beer/food service industry since it allows you to speak to customers about beer and offer them samples to help direct them towards a particular beer that they might not know but will enjoy. This is what converts people into craft beer fans. If you want to get some recommendations or just learn a little something new about beer just head over to National 10 to see Lisa and belly on up to the bar.

There are lots of good people at work trying to grow the local craft beer scene here in Alberta. With their extensive knowledge and ability to guide people I think that our Cicerones play an important role in this. So let’s raise a glass and shout a cheers to Alberta’s Cicerones!

2 thoughts on “Meet Alberta’s Cicerones

  1. It’s a very cool program. I’ve looked over the syllabus, but I’d need a lot of spare time and energy. I’ll stick with pretending I know what’s up and keep a couple local certified cicerones and BJCP judges in my social media pocket for reference.

    • Ya it requires a lot of time for sure. It’s cool to be able to talk to them about beer,they have so much knowledge to share.

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