Beer CertificationsBecome a Certified Professional
When people learn that I work in the beer industry, they often ask something like this: “Since you are a beer expert, does that mean you are a professional beer drinker?” My response always involves a bit of a laugh and an explanation that no, unfortunately I’m not (as cool as that job would be), although my work does involve drinking beer from time to time—or perhaps more accurately, evaluating beer. Although calling me an expert may be a bit of a stretch, I am always happy to say that I have been able to acquire a considerable amount of my knowledge by earning certification through two organizations: the Cicerone Certification Program, and the Beer Judge Certification Program.
For people working in the food and beverage industry who are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of beer, one of the best programs is the Cicerone Certification Program. For years (perhaps centuries) the wine world has trained sommeliers, but the beer world didn’t see a true need for that sort of expertise. Now with the mega-popularization of craft beer and beer in general, the cicerone program has filled that niche and has created a highly respected and industry-recognized certification program that covers production, service, beer styles, and even beer and food pairing. A certified cicerone is essentially equivalent to a sommelier, but for beer rather than wine.
The Cicerone Certification Program consists of four levels of certification. It allows individuals to start off with the basics, focusing on proper beer service and basic beer knowledge. Once the person successfully passes an online exam, they have achieved the first level and are a Certified Beer Server. The program builds in intensity through three more levels of certification until the top level, Master Cicerone, where potential candidates are faced with a multi-day exam involving written, oral, and hands-on demonstrations of expert knowledge. This includes possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of the history and evolution of all classical and modern beer styles and the ability to identify subtle off-flavours as well as the knowledge of design, construction, and maintenance of a commercial beer draught system, just to list some examples. It is not surprising that like Master Sommeliers in the wine world there are a limited number of Master Cicerones as well.
Another highly respected organization that also provides certification for beer expertise, although with a slightly different focus, is the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). The BJCP is the premier organization in terms of both certifying individuals to judge beer as well as creating the guidelines, regulations and processes for judging beer in general. The vast majority of beer competitions in the world judge beer against the beer style guidelines that have been developed by the BJCP. These style guidelines are widely considered as the authoritative source for defining beer style characteristics. They provide very detailed information about the various flavours, aromas, and other characteristics that are acceptable as well as inappropriate in a particular style of beer. In fact, other organizations, including the Cicerone Certification Program, use the style guidelines developed by the BJCP as the official source for the definition of beer styles.
To ensure that individuals truly understand and are able to apply the often nuanced aspects of the BJCP style guidelines when evaluating beer, the BJCP also offers a very comprehensive program for certifying beer judges. To become a BJCP judge, candidates must write an online exam and complete a tasting/beer evaluation exam where they must judge multiple beers, providing accurate feedback which correctly identifies various components in the beers, including potential off-flavours and an explanation of why those off-flavours occurred based on assumed issues in the brewing process. Essentially the judges need to possess the ability to identify subtle problems in the beer, and tell the brewer why the off flavours occurred. Clearly this requires a detailed knowledge of the brewing process.
BJCP exams are normally hosted through local home brewing clubs, as most home brewing competitions are sanctioned BJCP events and follow BJCP guidelines. To achieve the highest levels of certification, candidates must gain experience points by judging BJCP-sanctioned competitions and also write another comprehensive written exam. Similar to the top Cicerone certifications, there are not too many Master or Grand Master BJCP judges around, as the exam performance and experience points required are very high. These top-level certifications are true indicators of beer knowledge mastery.
For more information on the Cicerone Certification Program or the Beer Judge Certification Program, go to www.cicerone.org or www.bjcp.org. There you can find more details about the organizations, the levels and exams as well as resources for preparing for the exams. You can also find the official BJCP Style Guidelines, which are essential for anyone hoping to learn about the many beer styles out there today. The Cicerone Certification Program also offers group packages for businesses that see value in having multiple employees gain expert knowledge through the Cicerone program—a highly-recommended decision for any food and beverage-based business. In any case, let beer education become a part of your company’s culture. Knowledgeable staff leads to knowledgeable customers—and that can only be positive for the industry.