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Beer, Certifications, Wine Industry

Beyond Wine Certification

In line with my previous post, I am trying to figure out where to go next. Do I continue on and start studying for the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) exam or explore something different? The other direction I’m considering is beer.  I am tempted to diversify by certifications for one major selfish reason: my upcoming move to Utah. Utah is not exactly known for wine – although there are a few urban wineries and vineyards in the southern portion of the state. While Utah has a nice restaurant culture where wine plays a crucial role, I believe it is safe to say that Utah is better known for its beer.

Craft beer has recently seen an upsurge in the U.S. According to the Brewers Association the craft brewing industry grew 11% by volume and 12% by dollars in 2010. That is quite a bit higher than the 7.2% by volume and 10.3% by dollars in 2009. Additionally, in 2010, craft brewers sold almost an additional 1 million barrels (1 barrel = 31 gallons) of beer than the year prior. Over the past 30 years, the number of breweries has risen from a mere 100 to over 1,700; the number of microbreweries has risen an astonishing 120 over the past year alone. Check out some other craft beer facts from the Brewers Association here. Undoubtedly, craft brew is a force to be reckoned with and will increasingly become a more important segment of the beverage industry – more than it already is. Like wine, beer has become increasingly complicated by an increased awareness of styles, cultures, production methods, beer history, etc and an increase in access to information. With increased awareness and access to information comes increased need for certification and the ability to separate oneself from the others.

That said, there are only a few avenues available for beer certification. The program I’m most familiar with is the Cicerone Certification Program (CCP). The CCP is run by Ray Daniels (@Cicerone_org), president of the Craft Beer Institute, internationally known beer judge and past director of the Brewers Association Craft Beer Marketing Program. The CCP offers “independent assessment and certification so that industry professionals—as well as consumers—can be sure of the knowledge and skills possessed by current and prospective beer servers.” The Program was built out of the need for establishing a level of expertise in beer outside of the self-titled “beer sommelier” that doesn’t guarantee a certain level of beer knowledge.

Like many wine certification programs, the CCP progresses through a number of certificate levels: Certified Beer Server (CBS), Certified Cicerone (CC) and Master Cicerone (MC). The CBS certification is achieved by taking an online exam – a nice feature that, to my knowledge, no wine certification program has, even for their introductory levels. The CBS certification requires knowledge of beer service and storage and “moderate” knowledge of popular beer styles, beer culture, beer tasting and flavors, as well as the brewing process.

The next step is the Certified Cicerone. To become a CC, one must have passed the CBS exam and have at least one year of experience serving beer or a recommendation from a brewer, beer wholesaler, or beer retailer. Like the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) exam, the CC exam is composed of both written test and tasting portions. Those who have completed the CC level have “detailed knowledge” of all the items described for the CBS certification plus knowledge of beer and food pairings, beer flaws and (in)appropriate flavors for beer types, and knowledge of modern beer styles.

The final level of certification is the Master Cicerone (MC). MCs must have two years of experience selling, serving or managing beer service. Three recommendations can serve as a substitute for experience. Additionally, candidates are examined by a panel of industry experts. The exam includes essays, taste tests, and an oral exam. Candidates must demonstrate a mastery over all of the knowledge areas outlined in the Master Syllabus.

The other direction beer enthusiasts can take is the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). According to the BJCP website, their purpose is to promote beer literacy and appreciation, and to recognize tasting and evaluation skills. The BJCP is broken down into a series of judging levels. One moves up a level by achieving a greater score on exams and earning experience points through judging or helping in competitions, taking, administering or assisting with exams, and engaging in continuous education programs.

The final question worth thinking about is the future role of beer in beverage management. My impression is that wine seems to play a larger role in the restaurant industry, at least the mid- to higher-end sections of the market.  At what point will craft beer become a pivotal component of the U.S. restaurant experience? Will it ever? As professionals, do we need to diversify our beverage portfolio? Of course it all depends on what line of work you are in, but I foresee beer certification becoming the next step.

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