I have no desire to return to school, unless it is beer school.
Many would argue that I spent 5 1/2 years in beer school, and they would have a good point, but I mean a school to specifically learn about beer.
It’s amazing how many options we now have for beer education. In addition to a vastly superior product, it’s my belief that craft beer is thriving in popularity because of the surrounding education in the form of beer dinners, tastings, festivals, publications, and online resources.
Lately I’ve been getting the itch to pursue a more formal beer education. I’ll tell you specifically what I have in mind, but first I thought I’d highlight a handful of the best options for learning about beer.
Whether you’re a beer drinker, in the hospitality industry, or a homebrewer looking to go pro, there is something for you.
The Brewers Association has a family of three websites: The Brewers Association, The American Homebrewers Association, and CraftBeer.com. CraftBeer.com focuses on beer education and the site is nothing short of phenomenal. With a smart woman at the helm and a great team around her, CraftBeer.com has become the premier source for consumer beer education. The site is frequently updated with everything from cooking with beer, to pairings, to industry stories and commentary. Here are some recent gems for your perusing:
- Craft Beer Pizza Dough and Breakfast Pizza
- “Enough Already with the Wineification of Beer”
- Craft Beer and Chocolate from the Eyes of a Chocolatier
This is a place for those people who have seen the light and discovered craft beer. Rather than a degree or certification, this is ongoing education that you weave into your everyday life .
Beer Judge Certification Program
From their mission statement: “The purpose of the Beer Judge Certification Program is to promote beer literacy and the appreciation of real beer, and to recognize beer tasting and evaluation skills. We certify and rank beer judges through an examination and monitoring process.”
If the thought of judging beer competitions sounds appealing to you (it does to me), then you should consider taking the BJCP test.
I’m not sure what the exact draw of the BJCP is, and my guess is that there is no single answer. I imagine people get into it to learn how to better evaluate beer (very useful if you’re starting a brewery), to boost their credentials, or to simply have the opportunity to sample thousands of different beers. Option #3 is the main appeal for me. I think judging competitions would be a blast and would love to help homebrewers improve their beer, assuming I had the capacity to do so.
We’ve all been at the bar and been served beer in a glass that looked like it came out of a swamp. Or had a waiter who tries to impress us with his beer knowledge but insists Fat Tire comes from Belgium.
The Cicerone Program is the hottest thing in beer education, and it was created to educate businesses that serve beer. Created by beer industry veteran Ray Daniels in 2007, the program has three levels:
- Certified Beer Server
- Certified Cicerone
- Master Cicerone
To give you an idea of how hard it is to become a Master Cicerone, there are over 4,000 certified beer servers but only 3 master cicerones. The first time the master cicerone test was given, only 1 out of 7 passed.
Ray Daniels deserves a Nobel Prize for creating the Cicerone program. The lack of beer knowledge at most restaurants is appalling. It’s hard to take a place seriously when the wine list is 10 pages long but the beer list could fit on the back of a cocktail napkin.
Maybe once Ray has educated the bartenders of America he can get to work on that domestic beer issue.
Siebel Institute of Technology
Siebel is a brewing school. Dr. John Siebel founded the Siebel Institute of Technology in 1872, making it the oldest brewing school in the country. Their flagship course is the 12-week International Diploma in Brewing Technology program. I don’t have the desire to go pro any time soon, but Siebel offers over 30 courses that are less intensive than the international program.
Here are some that peak my interest:
- Advanced Homebrewing Program. 5 days
- Master of Beer Styles. 3 days
- Sensory Analysis for Flavor Production. 1 day
- Concise Course in Brewing Technology. 2 weeks
I was listening to a Sam Calagione interview recently where he was talking about the two ways to become a professional brewer: attend a school or get hired for a low level job at a brewery and work your way up. In talking with other industry people, apparently even the ones with diplomas start off at the bottom to earn their stripes.
I like Siebel because of its a la carte offerings. Even if you don’t want to take the main brewing course, you can take a shorter class here and there to beef up on your knowledge. If you want to go pro but don’t want to take the intensive brewing course, at least consider some of the other options at Siebel. The competition in the craft beer world demands that you sharpen your skills.
Now if they would just do something about that website…
American Brewers Guild
The American Brewers Guild is similar to Siebel except that it is a distance education program, meaning the courses are delivered online (you can attend beer school in your undies, yay!). Actually it is not 100% online because it includes a one week stint at a local brewery.
The two available courses are:
- Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering (IBS&E) – 22 weeks
- Craft Brewer’s Apprenticeship (CBA) – 27 weeks
The main difference is that the CBA course includes a 5 week apprenticeship program after week 22. The ABG is tempting if you are trying to get into brewing but can’t afford to leave your day job to travel to a campus like Siebel. They say it best on their site: “The programs are perfectly suited to the working professional brewer or the candidate who is serious about making a career transition to professional brewing.”
UC Davis Extension
Siebel and the American Brewers Guild are good trade schools, but if you’re looking for a University setting for brewing then you want UC Davis in Davis, California. The college has offered undergrad degrees in fermentation since 1958, and in 1991 they created technical training programs for brewers through the UC Davis Extension.
The programs are:
- Intensive Brewing Science for Practical Brewing – 5 days
- Professional Brewers Certificate Program – 8 weeks
- Master Brewers Program – 18 weeks
The cool thing about these programs is that they are located at the Sudwerk Brewery. If you want a first hand account of the Master Brewers Program, I found the posts by Brew Your Own Magazine’s Justin Burnsed a good read.
What about you?
Do you have any desire for a formal education or are you satisfied getting all your learning from the pint glass in your hand?
As for me, I hinted at it above but I’m interested in getting BJCP certified and also taking a few Siebel classes. Besides the fun in learning about beer, it would make me a better blogger and homebrewing teacher. Plus the networking opportunities are incredible. Siebel in particular has a faculty list of some of the biggest names in beer.