You’re a Certified What?! Part 2
As a follow up to the previous article that documented the various Beer Certifications that are out there, we have interviewed a few local folks who have gone down this path to give you a little insight into why they did it!
I’ve been active in the Beer Industry since I started Copper & Theory in 2009. C&T is a Beer Import Agency based in Vancouver and operating in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Yukon. We import great beer from around the world. More recently I founded Superflux Beer Company with my friend Matt Kohlen. Superflux is currently brewing beer out of Strathcona Brewing in Vancouver BC. We make IPAs.
As the Production Manager and R&D Brewer at Vancouver Island Brewing, Danny Seeton has moved away from the rubber-booted brewing of his past, but still spends a considerable amount of his time writing recipes. From test batches to full production run he leads the team in recipe adjustments and improvements. Danny’s focus on traditional styles and high drinkability is due, in large part, to his passion for beer judging. As BC’s first National ranked BJCP judge and armed with an MSc in physical chemistry, he takes an analytical approach to flavour profiles and balance.
Lundy is a full time employee as Office Manager of the award winning R&B Brewing in East Van. In her free time she is always searching for new IPA’s to drink,( and home brewing them in between searches!) runs the Women and Beer group – Pink Pints and Pink Boots Society BC and writes for TAPS Magazine and What’s Brewing.
Graham With is a staple in the Vancouver craft beer scene. He is a National Ranked BCJP judge, the Head Brewer at Parallel 49, and was one of the founding members of the local homebrew club – Vanbrewers.
National ranked BJCP Beer Judge
BJCP Mead Judge
Past Secretary of VanBrewers homebrew club
Past Vice President of CAMRA Vancouver
Beer is a hobby rather than a career: homebrewing, judging, occasional consulting and advocacy.
I started my career as Assistant Brewer with Stanley Park Brewing in 2014. During my three years there, I spearheaded their cask innovation program, having been showcased in many different on-premise locations and festivals. In the last year, I moved from beer to spirits, joining G&W Distilling as their Head Distiller and working as their key innovator for its products and operations manager for their distillery. Not wanting to leave beer behind completely, I joined the CAMRA Vancouver executive as their Education Liaison, where I currently teach a wide range of informative classes all about craft beer.
Q1. What beer certifications do you have, and why did you get them?
I am a Certified Cicerone, and a BJCP Certified Judge. I got the designations so that I would have credibility when I was starting out in the industry. I was only the 2nd or 3rd Cicerone in Canada, so at the time, it helped me a lot because I had no industry experience at all.
National rank BJCP, which I got as I was an avid homebrewer and was keen to learn more about beer and the judging process so I could become a better brewer. I am also working on my Certified Cicerone, which I decided to get as I am involved in beer education with the Serious Beer Program and should probably have the accreditation that I am helping people achieve.
1) Prud’homme Beer Certification- Level One
2) Certified Cicerone-Level Two
The Certified Cicerone was important to me to have as a woman in the industry. At the time I was started studying for it (2010) I had a passion for beer and was the only female working in a private liquor store. It was frustrating for me to have people ask the guys for beer assistance and suggestions when I actually had more knowledge than all of them. I needed that proof/ certification not just for myself, but to all around me that I had the knowledge.
I also knew that it was a challenging test – I took it three times before I passed!
I have a Cicerone beer server rank and I’m a National ranked BJCP judge. I got the BJCP certification to improve my homebrewing at the time. Being able to critically critique my beer, in my mind, was the best way to improve it. The Cicerone beer server was a “let’s see if I can do this” one afternoon. I think I may do the Certified Cicerone someday.
I’m a National ranked BJCP Beer Judge as well as a BJCP Mead Judge, and I think I was one of the first half dozen or so Certified Cicerones® in Canada (around 2010).
A homebrewing coworker used to brew beer for our department’s monthly meetings, and I was often his brewing assistant. We would taste the beer when it was done and brainstorm food pairing ideas, so that the monthly meetings would have food that was nicely compatible with the beer. Later, my wife and I took Chester Carey’s Serious Beer course the first time it was offered, and it was essentially a prep class for the Certified Cicerone® exam, a certification that was pretty new at the time. I took the exam shortly after that class. As it turns out, those early food-pairing efforts at work mirrored one of the core aspects of what a Certified Cicerone® does.
Around the same time I took the Serious Beer course, a homebrew club was starting up in Vancouver, and I got in touch with that group. This was the VanBrewers club, which is now pretty well known in local beer circles. There were practically no beer judges in BC at the time, and the early members of the club wanted to change that, both for personal knowledge and so we could host our own homebrew competitions. So they organized a self-directed study group of interested people, and for a period of months we researched and presented to each other about different styles and types of beer, and practiced judging beer. Then we got some high-ranking judges to come up from Washington State to administer the exam for us. That was source of the original core group of BJCP judges in BC, who are now the backbone of many local competitions, including the BC Beer Awards. My timing was lucky, that I got to study and take the exam with that original group. We now have judges of high enough rank in BC that we can finally administer our own exams.
Additional Note From Chad: I have to note that the BJCP exam was brutal – back then it was a combined exam where you had to answer 10 essay-type questions, and intersperse that with judging 4 beers that were brought out in 30 minute intervals. I’m a lawyer and an electrical engineer, and that combined BJCP written/tasting exam is still the most time pressure I’ve ever experienced in a test! Fortunately, they’ve sensibly separated it into multiple tests now.
I received my Certified Beer Server classification in September 2015, and my Certified Cicerone® in January of 2017. It was discussed and agreed to be a part of my professional development program in my role as Assistant Brewer at Stanley Park Brewing. It was originally of personal interest to me after learning about it, but was cost prohibitive for me to simply do it out of personal interest.
Q2. What have beer certifications done for your career, and what have they done for you personally?
The Cicerone Certification, specifically, did exactly what I hoped it would do: it gave me credibility. It let people know that I was serious about beer. In a funny way, it actually helped me start Superflux because I was judging a beer competition inside the yet-to-open Callister Brewing, and that is where we brewed our first commercial beer (although it was under the name “Machine Ales”).
I don’t think they have directly contributed to my career, but what I have learned in achieving them has certainly impacted my career. Personally, my experiences judging beer at various competitions has provided me with an opportunity to meet a great number of colleagues in the brewing industry. It always helps to have friends.
As I was already in the beer industry before taking the certifications, it has done nothing for my career, but for those wanting to get into the industry and have a passion and a desire to learn, it would certainly be of help.
Both certifications have been more important to me on a personal level- making me feel more comfortable about talking about beer, and helping better educate those that want to learn.There is also a bit more respect given to you when people know you have them
I the BJCP certification has helped me take a critical look at the beer we make at Parallel 49 and how to tweak it to improve. Personally, it has been great to be invited to judge at competitions all across North America. I’ve travelled up to Alaska once to judge at the Great Alaskan Beer And Barleywine festival which was an amazing experience.
Beer is mostly a hobby for me, though I’ve done some casual consulting and education here and there, including leading some of CAMRA Vancouver’s “off flavours” classes. The training and experience that goes along with the certifications It has certainly increased my appreciation for and interest in beer, as well as my ability to taste things critically and use appropriate descriptors for what I’m tasting. I’ve done a fair bit of beer judging, which requires more effort than you’d think, but is very rewarding. It’s especially nice when you can help someone diagnose a problem with their beer or identify a potential improvement, which is the whole goal of judging. Plus I’ve met a ton of good people and had many grand times discussing the finer points of everyone’s favourite beverage.
While my work at the time was not in a sales role, I felt the Certified Cicerone® helped distinguish myself in the industry in a few ways:
• Skill Enhancement: The Cicerone program has distinguished itself in the brewing world, and having both a written and practical component, is a good barometer of general beer knowledge. Coming from the production side, it gave some exposure and relevance to talk to the consumer a bit better, which helped me giving my tendency to work the festival circuit as a company representative. More specific to my job as a brewer, it was a huge boon to my Quality Assurance skills; it truly solidified my understanding of what makes a beer taste style-appropriate and identify the source of specific flaws in beer (and say whether it was something within our control or
• Credibility: Industry experience is worth its own weight in gold, but as someone just starting out, I didn’t have the years (I started this in 2015, which translates to about a year of experience) nor specific education (such as a BSc in Fermentation Science) behind me to help back up to others what I know. Short of writing the International Brewing Diploma’s program’s certifications (which takes two hours), this was the next best thing I could do to bolster my credibility in the industry.
• Continuing Education: Despite being relatively fresh out of school at the time, much like any other certification, it shows others, both your own employer and potential future employers, that you’re still willing to learn and improve upon yourself.
• Personal Gratification: By picking a program and sticking with it, it provided me a sense of pride and accomplishment, as well as some personal credibility when I talk about the industry. It also taught me to trust my palate when I am sampling, and how to truly distinguish between me liking or not liking a beer and a beer being good or bad.
Q3. What would your top recommendation be to someone looking to get a certification? Any study tips?
I believe they’ve changed the test a fair bit since I did it in 2009, but I’ve always said that anyone looking to become a Cicerone, or frankly, anyone that wants to even work in beer at all, should be homebrewing and doing it a lot. Brew as often as you can afford to, and make every style of beer you possibly can. The rest is pretty easy to learn from books, and from hanging out with friends and discussing beer. At least it was for me. I’m very good at rote learning and memorization. However, homebrewing helped me to really understand beer and how ingredients, processes, and flavours, all work together. This is definitely something that you can read about, or that someone could describe to you, but if you’re like me, it would be very difficult to truly understand it unless you do it yourself. Once you’re really able to intuitively understand what’s happening with beer at that level, it makes it so much easier to discuss it in depth and use the right words. That way, even if you’re a little bit wrong on some of the basic numbers, you’ll be mostly right and will have sound logic.
I would say you should pick the one that best suits what you want to achieve. Between the BJCP, Cicerone, and Prudhomme programs all angles of the beer industry are covered. Studying with a group is way more fun and productive.
First off, don’t think you know everything because you love good beer! I was very cocky in my first exam, I thought I knew enough to get through the exam- I was wrong! The Cicerone and Prud’homme certifications are more than just the beer itself, it is a true understanding of every facet of beer, which truly gets you to appreciate what beer is all about!
Not only did I read a lot of books about beer, I tasted as many beers as I could, (that is why I so love flights of beer!) even beers I did not like, I took notes, I visited restaurants and checked out their keg rooms and watched servers with kegs and casks and asked a lot of questions.
It really depends. If you are more on the hospitality side, I would go with Cicerone. if you are more on judging beer and having a greater understanding about brewing traditions, I think the BJCP is the way to go. In order to study for the BJCP, I think it is best to go buy commercial examples of classic styles and try them while filling out score sheets. Some magazines have scoresheets from high ranked judges that you can compare against to see if you are in the same range.
If you’re facing exams, I’d say have a look at the course syllabus and study to it. Read the most well-recognized books and sources recommended, and make sure you treat your practice tastings seriously, as studying and not just drinking. Plus, it’s always best to study with others, and to ask questions of people who have been through the exams.
Really seek to understand what material you need to know to write the exam. It can easily be a bit overwhelming at first, but if you’re smart you can figure out what content is important and what you can afford to pay less attention to. As far as study tips go, give yourself lots of time to prepare, especially when it comes to the off-flavour and style comparisons. Palate fatigue can become a huge problem if you’re not pacing yourself, and your learning outcomes will be strongly diminished as a result. Lastly: if you’re looking for a palate cleanser during your tasting sessions, polenta is a fantastic option. It has the neutral character of crackers with none of it getting stuck in your teeth.
Q4. What’s one really random beer fact you’ve learned along the way that you would like to share?
Oh man, there’s so much. I particularly love beer history. For example, learning how closely tied to tax laws of the past (specifically in Britain and Belgium) certain styles were, is pretty fascinating. I’m no expert, but if anyone is interested, they should read books from Ron Pattinson and Jef Van Den Steen (also a founder of De Glazen Toren Brouwerij).
As a chemistry and barley wine nerd I have always been fascinated with the oxidation of higher order alcohols into esters. Essentially this is the transition from something that tastes like a hangover into something fruity and delicious.
Don’t judge a beer by its IBU’s. Just because it says it has 100 IBU’s does not mean it will be overly bitter- often there are enough malts to balance the bitterness.
Vancouverites probably know this one but I’m sure many don’t… the Guinness family paid for the Lions Gate bridge to be built.
In Chile, “IPA” is pronounced phonetically, as if it’s a word: “EE-pah”.
According to BJCP style guidelines, diacetyl can be an accepted flavour component in certain beers, particularly in some English styles. I am so overly sensitive to diacetyl that even the smallest of concentrations taste caramelly, and anything more tastes like straight movie theatre popcorn. It’s regarded as a defect in so many other styles, that I just can’t convince myself that it tastes good anywhere.
Q5. What have you been drinking lately that you would like to recommend to the CAMRA Vancouver membership?
I am drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon right this second while I type, I kid you not. We got back from a group trip to Tofino last night (it’s the Tuesday after a holiday Monday as I write this) and these were in the cooler I just cleaned out. But I probably wouldn’t suggest that to your readers! However, my fridge is always so full of IPAs that I really like to seek out lagers from local brewers. They are hard styles to make well. The Pixel Pils from Fuggles & Warlock is something I’ve really enjoyed lately.
I have just done a couple of collaborations with Gladstone brewing and so have had a unique opportunity to drink their packaged product, which has a pretty limited distribution. Their Belgian Single is fantastic. I believe the owner, Daniel, wrote that recipe, but it is just insanely drinkable and such an underappreciated style.
I am a fan of IPA’s, so I am always on the search for a good one. So my go to beers are any of the IPA’s from Yellow Dog. But the fact is that there are so many high quality beers made in this province that depending on what style of beer you like there are countless options! That is why I love our beer festivals so much ☺
I’ve been really enjoying Boombox’s releases. Pretty much any one they have in stock is a good bet.
While I have a soft spot for really well-made traditional styles, I’m loving the crazy hoppy juice bombs produced by Boombox Brewing, who are now operating out of Dogwood Brewing’s facilities on Marine Drive. They were (and are) members of the VanBrewers homebrew club, like many pro brewers around town.
Four Winds Featherweight IPA. Had you asked me two years ago, I would say that there was no way you’d find me with a “go-to” beer; that was before I started tasting professionally for a living. It can be mentally exhausting to be continuously trying new beers as you search for the off-flavours and perform an in-depth analysis every time. Sometimes, you just want something that’s both familiar and full of (well balanced) flavour, and Featherweight checks all of those boxes for me.