The Keg Keeper, blog post #1
by John Gestautas, Keg Keeper


So, you drink a lot of beer, your mom must be so proud of you…

When I get introduced or meet people and I explain what I do for a living, I can proudly say, I am considered an expert by my peers. Most people will say “that's cool”, but I can tell they are thinking…”it’s only beer!”

Believe it or not, there is a lot of formal education surrounding beer. You can study to become a Master Brewer through organizations like the Siebel Institute in Chicago, The University of California Davis or travel overseas to Germany and attend the brewing institute at Weihenstephan. This will give you the credentials as someone who knows and understands the brewing process and equipment and most importantly the science of brewing. Hey folks, behind all the great flavors you enjoy in beer, underlie a lot of science relating to chemistry and physics and biology.

On a non-professional level, home-brewers are typically self-taught in varying degrees of knowledge regarding the brewing processes and the chemistry surrounding it. What home-brewers really seek to perfect is a quality beer, usually within a particular style. There are many variables in the process of brewing that can make a beer unpleasant to downright undrinkable. The real challenge for home-brewers is making a beer that is palatable and free of defects such as diacetyl (buttery slickness), DMS (a vegetal aroma and flavor reminiscent of cooked corn) and acetaldehyde ( a green apple aroma). While some styles of beer might have any one of these aromas / flavors as expected of the style to some slight degree, for the most part these are considered to be serious flaws to be avoided. A certification in the world of home-brewing is to have a trained palate to recognize those off flavors as well as determining whether a beer is appropriate to a specific style. The Beer Judge Certification Program has a series of tests designed to qualify one to judge beers at competitions for quality and style.

In the world of beer closer to the consumer are two programs that certify one as being knowledgeable about beer in several specific areas. These programs are generally directed and people in the beer industry or beer retailers and servers. The Master Brewers Association of America Beer Steward program is designed primarily for beer wholesalers and has an exam focused on these areas: History of Beer, Brewing, World Beer Styles, Beer Freshness, Serving Beer, Beer and Food, Ingredients, Draught Beer, Evaluating Beer Flavor, Beer and Health, Beer and Regulation. There is a required attendance to a seminar held by retired Master Brewers from highly acclaimed breweries along with review of study materials before being allowed to take the exam.

The other is the Cicerone® certification program. There are three levels for this. An online exam can be taken to become a "Certified Beer Server®". This is really designed primarily for the bar/restaurant industry, but indicates that someone has good general knowledge about the world of beer. A Certified Cicerone® is someone who has been tested on these five areas: Beer Storage Sales and Service, Beer Styles and Culture, Beer Tasting and Flavors, Brewing Ingredients and Processes, Pairing Beer with Food. For this program, it is all self study. They give you some suggested books to read and some other resources are available if you want to pay for it. This test is about 4 hours and consists of short essays, a demonstration which is videotaped and then the dreaded tasting portion. Tasting beer? Dreaded? Actually, this is the portion of the test that most people fail. It is specifically designed to test you for the off flavors I described above in beer, as well as testing style recognition. You really have to train for this specifically or you will be among the 65% of people that don't pass the test the first time. Some people re-do this portion several times and don't pass. There are about 400 Certified Cicerones® and only 4 higher level Master Cicerones®.

So, what do I know about beer? Well, those last two certifications, Master Brewers Association of America Beer Steward and Certified Cicerone® are the two "beer degrees" that I hold. Even though, I graduated from college, worked for many years in a professional industry related to beer, some people think my degree should have been an MBA, but instead, I have a double degree in beer and the respect of the peers in my industry. My mom is so proud.

John Gestautas, Keg Keeper
Master Brewers Association of America Beer Steward
Certified Cicerone®

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