Chris Karl, cicerone, co-owner of Yogi’s. Photo by James Kellar


With 55 separate taps pouring 47 different brands, Yogi’s Grill & Bar claims the distinction of one of the largest beer selections in town. Now it boasts another drawing card for Bloomington beer lovers: a certified cicerone.

What’s a cicerone? It’s the beer equivalent of a sommelier—an individual with a carefully trained palate, qualified to make recommendations and suggest pairings with food. In this case, the cicerone is Chris Karl, co-owner of Yogi’s.

Karl received his certification May 2010 in Chicago and is now the only cicerone in Bloomington and one of just seven in the state [in February 2011]. “First you take an online test with sixty questions,” explains Karl. “You pass that, you have the opportunity to take the official cicerone test, which has two hundred fill-in-the-blank questions, two essay questions, a food pairing section, and a tasting portion.”

If this is the first you’ve heard of the cicerone system, you’re not alone. It’s new, established in 2007 by the Craft Beer Institute, to provide a standardized system for teaching servers to understand beer. There are approximately 140 cicerones in America, a number that Karl thinks will increase as the concept catches on.

Since Yogi’s opened in 1992, Karl has witnessed America’s domestic-beer scene blossom. “When we first opened, the only craft beers you could get were Sierra Nevada and Samuel Adams,” he says. “Everything else was imported.” Now he mans a bar featuring dozens of distinctive microbrews from all over the country, and he can tell you about each one of them, thanks to his cicerone training.

Yogi’s’ beer tastings, once private affairs restricted to employees, are now open to the public at no cost. Every Tuesday at 7 pm, with the lights dimmed for ambience, Karl doles out samples of different craft beers, organized by brewery or style, and offers detailed information about each brew’s flavor profile. Says Karl: “We hope to get people’s opinions on what kinds of beer they like, and teach them a little something about what they’re drinking and where the flavors come from.”

To view Yogi’s’ full list of beers, visit the Yogi’s website.