How to Educate Yourself into a Craft Beer Career

How to Educate Yourself into a Craft Beer Career

Beer is a Science Education

Beer & brewing are an industry and practice as old as civilization itself. There have been research papers on brewing technology in ancient times and how it helped give rise to modern human prosperity. Others believe beer and fermentation is what allowed human religion to develop, help stave off ancient disease, and provide nutrition from what would have become spoiled food sources. Heck, beer even saved western civilization during the middle ages black plague era. However, with all that history and brewing tradition that is literally ingrained in the human species, we have had the unfortunate side effect of developing centuries of brewing dogma that inhibit scientific brewing advancement, innovation, and creative development.

Now, that last statement may be up for debate, especially when one applies such a broad statement to such a broad industry. There are always exceptions to the rule, and that is the case here as well. There are plenty of brewers out there pushing the limit on craft beer, researching and developing new yeasts or beer styles, and just generally going rogue for any creative reason. However, for every brewery out there pushing the limits on brewing science there are ten more brewing beer “how it’s always been done” because they care not to investigate any further and ask “why”. Beer is largely considered an artistic endeavor, which provides a means of enabling for these less than curious brewers to continue doing what they are doing, not knowing why mashing at 146°F makes the beer “thinner”. But for the rest of you, the curious lot, there are resources aplenty to further your education.

We get asked regularly by current brewers, would be brewers, and enthusiastic homebrewers, what is the best way to further their beer education. There are literally decades worth of educational brewing knowledge available, so the first thing you need to ask yourself is “what am I trying to achieve” when furthering your beer and brewing education. Are you a bartender, looking to become the fountain of beer knowledge? A sales rep that wants to be able to effectively sell a saison? Are you a homebrewer looking to win some medals and perfect your hobby? Are you looking to go into a professional brewing career? Are you currently a professional brewer looking to master your craft and maybe one day earn that title “Brewmaster” [side note: Very few of these exist in the world. Let’s stop over using this word when describing any head brewer at every brewery you visit. I am not a Brewmaster, Jane Brewer is probably not a Brewmaster, and chances are you probably haven’t ever even met a Brewmaster. You devalue the accomplishment of true brewmasters when every brewer is referred to as Brewmaster]?

First, let’s talk hobby level fun. There are so many wonderful clubs, organizations, and opportunities for homebrewers to advance their craft. There is the national American Homebrewers Association, which has a directory to find a local homebrew club, and is the host for the National Homebrewers Conference. There is also a plethora of homebrewing competitions where you can refine your physical technique. A big part of that is beer judging. The Beer Judge Certification Program is a fantastic group to get involved with to take your palate to the next level as a beer judge. It will encourage you to learn beer styles, off-flavors, and techniques for fixing common problems. Truly a great program that helped many an award winning brewer get there start (mine included!). There are so many more resources out there just for the homebrewing level a simple web search will take you down a rabbit hole of learning and fun.

Time for the main course. Let’s talk professional education. First, as a bartender or sales rep looking to expand their beer related knowledge (sales knowledge is a whole other rabbit hole, for another day) cicerone is the single highest value program you can complete. Cicerone is essentially the sommelier of the craft beer world. The more prestigious craft beer bars exclusively employee cicerone certified bartenders, other bars will award raises for cicerone certified bar tenders, and most will hopefully pay for you to learn that knowledge as well if you are a current employee. The cicerone program is made up of several levels and consists of written and tasting exams. It becomes increasingly difficult to achieve higher ranks, and less than two dozen Master Cicerones are currently living. By pursuing your cicerone education as a sales rep or a bartender, it will show drive to current and/or future employers and will open doors for career advancement in both fields, all the while enhancing your ability to sell and serve beer.

As a brewer (both current and would-be pro brewers) there are, obviously, plenty of options. In an effort to remain concise and keep this post from growing into a full blown pamphlet, I am going to talk about what I view to be the best value in terms of educational brewing science. There are plenty of places that offer week long to month long “concise” courses. These options are fine crash courses, but everything I have seen shows me that these options are never worth the price and time commitment. You are far better off becoming a member of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas and pursuing an in-depth scientific diploma. There are plenty of schools you can attend to achieve a diploma. The UC Davis Master Brewers Program, the Heriot-Watt Institute, even Cincinnati State has a program coming online soon! All of these programs are really just pathways to what is, in my opinion, the single greatest measuring stick of brewing science and knowledge, The Institute of Brewing and Distilling (The IBD). The IBD, as far as I know, is the only program that is widely lauded by brewers of all sizes from Miller Coors down to your local brew pub. It is the highest level of educational and brewing science achievement you can get, and it is not easy. Chances are you wont be able to stop working to go to classes in London, but fret not. The IBD offers web based classes, remote and self-learning materials, and the ability to take the diploma examinations at a nearby exam location. If brewing is truly important to you and your career, you must make the time to get this degree.

In short, the single biggest thing you can do to either get into the craft beer industry is to educate yourself. It doesn’t matter if you are looking to break into the industry, newly hired, or a 20-year veteran. If you want to advance your career and your brewing skills, continuing education is the only way this is going to happen. It shows drive, character, leadership, self-control, and most importantly it shows that you are capable of the responsibility that comes with career advancement. You may not need to know how to solve a derivative (use Wolfram Alpha!) but you sure as heck need to know the difference between glycolysis and lactic acid dehydrogenase. If you have any further questions on advancing you brewing and beer knowledge, reach out to me through our website contact page.

TL;DR Bartender or Sales Rep should aim for the highest level of cicerone you can.

Brewers go for the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, everything else is less than best.


Bret Kollmann Baker
Chief of Brewing Operations

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