Neil Witte is just the sort of down-to-earth guy you’d be proud to call a beer drinking buddy.
By JILL WENDHOLT SILVA
The Kansas City Star
Last fall, Witte became one of only six people in the United States who has achieved the title of master cicerone (rhymes with abalone). Although the title may sound a bit hoity-toity, it is beer’s equivalent to the wine world’s master sommelier.
To earn the honor, Witte put his encyclopedic craft brew knowledge and keen palate to the test. The grueling two-day affair included 10 hours of written questions, two hours of oral questions and two hours of beer tasting and evaluation.
“Beer styles was probably my weakest area,” says Witte, who works as field quality assurance manager for Boulevard Brewing Co.
Those who take the exam use a 19-page syllabus as a study guide. Witte, who has degrees in German and philosophy, is no stranger to the rigors of study, and his years as a brewer certainly helped him with some of the more technical aspects of the brewing process. Still, it took him three attempts to pass the exam.
“The level of detail required is mind-boggling,” he says. “You really have to live it and breathe it.”
Cicerone certification became available in 2007. There are three levels: certified beer server (18,500 people), certified cicerone (650 people) and master cicerone (36 attempts, but only six have passed).
“Elevating beer knowledge is necessary for the craft beer industry to grow,” Witte says of his efforts. “My certification will help me help people find what they like. I think there is a beer out there for everyone.”