You might be asking yourself what significance the Cicerone Program reaching 10,000 “Certified Beer Servers” has. You might even be asking yourself what the heck a Cicerone is.
According to the company website, a Cicerone is someone who has a “proven expertise in selecting, acquiring and serving today’s wide range of beers.”
And yesterday, just after 6:00 p.m., Cicerone founder Ray Daniels announced via twitter the company’s 10,000th Certified Beer Server – a distinction given to those who pass the first level online test before being able to advance to a much more grueling Cicerone exam.
Despite the historic number, Daniels said there are currently just 350 certified Cicerones, a number he initially thought would be higher.
“When I first put this thing together, I anticipated that 10 percent would go on to the next level,” he said. “I still think that over time we will collide on that mark.”
Despite the high drop-off rate from beer server to cicerone, the recent success of a program launched just four years ago is further validation of the growing acceptance of craft beer amongst beer industry professionals.
In 2010, the program boasted just 1,000 Certified Beer Servers. In addition to brewers and retailers, Daniels said that nearly 50 percent of the 10,000 Certified Beer Servers come from the distribution tier.
“These are guys who are trying to get smart about craft beer and brewers right now,” he said. “When your business is to sell beer, you fish where the fish are. Distributors were taking care of other business for a good number of years and now there is a hustle to get back in the craft pond as craft beer makes its comeback.”
And Daniels is doing a bit of fishing himself. Exam fees run between $69 and $595 depending upon the certification, meaning that the Cicerone Certification Program has raked in over $800,000 on testing alone. Daniels also sells educational materials and live training sessions.
“This is a real business and certainly one that has legs,” he said. “I am doing everything I can do build it into a long-term viable business. “
So what exactly is that long-term plan?
“The goal here is to institutionalize it,” said Daniels. “I want to make it the thing that you need to do if you want to be considered a serious retailer or server of beer.”
For now, Daniels has more business than he can handle, and even admits he would be “foolish to aggressively pursue new business opportunities.” He did however mention plans to launch a major retail campaign next year.
“We haven’t really done any promotion at national and regional restaurant shows,” he said. “We will launch a major campaign as we look to get involved with hospitality chains and corporate accounts.”