5 Great Options for an Education in Beer and Brewing

by Billy Broas

Graduate Drinking BeerI 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.

CraftBeer.com

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:

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 ProgramBJCP Logo

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.

Cicerone Program

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.Cicerone Program Logo

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:Siebel Institute of Technology Logo

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 yourAmerican Brewers Guild Logo undies, yay!). Actually it is not 100% online because it includes a one week stint at a local brewery.

The two available courses are:

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:

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.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott-TheBrewClub April 15, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Great stuff! I wish I knew about these options for higher education eons ago when I went to college, although I wonder (I’m assuming so) you’d have to be at least 21 to enroll. Anyway, why not?

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Billy Broas April 15, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Thanks Scott. I’m pretty sure all of these have a clause somewhere that says you have to be 21, although if you wanted to get into the beer world before that you could do something like the UC Davis undergrad program in fermentation. I remember there were some people in my biotech program who were experimenting with yeast and distilling, they just just couldn’t taste (lame). I’d be interested in how many pro-brewers have some type of formal education. I honestly couldn’t even guess at a number, but you would think at least a majority, right?

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Dale Miskimins April 20, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Nice article Billy! I should give the Cicerone program a try.

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Billy Broas April 20, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Thanks Dale. The great thing about the Cicerone program is that you can get started easily with the beer server exam, and then if you want to take it to the next level you can go for the other tiers.

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Ryan Jaye & Sarah Renee June 7, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Great informative article! We are always interested in boosting our knowledge (or lack thereof) of beer. We will probably feature this article on our next podcast. Thank you very much for posting this article! Peace.

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Billy Broas June 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Thanks guys. Feel free to come back and post the link to the podcast when it’s ready.

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Travis June 22, 2012 at 11:32 am

I just wanna work in a brewery, what would be best for me?

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Billy Broas June 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Hard to say, Travis. There are many different paths to take. I would say just visit your local breweries and try to work there.

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C Bass October 28, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Also check out Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA)

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Billy Broas October 28, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Didn’t know about that one – thanks!

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Piero Alberici May 20, 2013 at 2:29 am

Hi Billy,

I work for Brewlab in the UK. We pride ourselves in providing a unique practical training experience in brewing. For example over 25% of the time on our 9 week British Brewing Technology course is dedicated to hands on brewing on our 3.5 barrel plant. Our students, many of who come from the USA, get the opportunity to put their beers on sale in local pubs(bars) and beer festivals.
In addition it is legal to learn how to brew in the UK from the tender age of 18!
We train hundreds of people every year in different aspects of brewing, many of them from overseas.
If you have people who like the idea of coming to Europe to learn how to brew then check us out.
We are based in Sunderland in the North East of England close to the Scottish border.

PS All our longer courses include accommodation in the price.

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Stephanie Stevens July 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I work for UC San Diego Extension and we’ve recently started up a Brewing certificate (rather than a full-time degree program). Classes take place during evenings and weekends (so folks can work full-time as well, if need be), is very reasonably priced (the entire program is less than $5000 for two-years of classes), and the program is lead by Yuseff Cherney, Co-Founder/Head Brewer, Ballast Point Brewing (plus folks like Chris White, White Labs, and Mitch Steel, Stone Brewing, teaching classes for us). I invite you all to take a look at the program page at extension.ucsd.edu/brewing to see what we’re about. And please feel free to drop a line if you have any questions. Cheers!

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Elo August 30, 2013 at 8:31 am

I want to venture into beer production and bottling. I want to make and market my own brand of beer. Guess a good place to start is by learning how its made.

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Mr Heath Strock October 4, 2013 at 1:17 am

Living in the Central Pennsylvania area, does anyone have a suggestion for a brewery that might be worth giving a try as an internship? Currently I am only home-brewing and wine-making. But I do have years of resteraunt expieirience.Thanks, Phaedrus

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alexandria November 23, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Hello Billy
Are you married, and if not could you move to Marquette Michigan please?

jk, maybe haha

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Billy Broas November 24, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Hah, not married but not available either. Appreciate the thought though ; )

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Chris January 23, 2014 at 11:38 am

At Oregon State University, we also offer a suite of professional development, continuing education beer and cider-related courses focused on beer science, craft brewing/cidery entrepreneurship startup, sensory and proficiency and other topics. Our offerings are open to professionals and hobbyists. Please note our inclusion of world-class faculty and brewing mecca destinations such as Bend, Corvallis and Portland, Ore. Information about workshop details, dates and prices can be found via the link below.

https://pace.oregonstate.edu/beer

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Manish Thapa January 27, 2014 at 4:13 pm

HI,
I don’t know nothing about beer brewing,but i want to go school to become a certified brew master,i live in Colorado so where do you recommend for that?
Thanks,
Manish

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Rick Rogers March 9, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Nice summary of options. As a baby boomer planning the day when I’m unshackled from the 9 to 5 grind, some brewing education sounds like a great way to focus on what is really important in life…. Including beer!

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