For some, the thirst for beer and cider knowledge is so great that reading every blog and borrowing every book from the library still isn’t enough to quench their curiosity. For these individuals, the structure and guidance provided by certification programs may be just what they need.
They’re popular, too, with professionals looking to establish their credentials and expertise. Even hobby drinkers are known to dabble in certification programs as a means of gaining a greater appreciation for their favorite drinks—and getting more involved in the beer- and cider-drinking communities.
Curious if these programs might be a fit for you? Here are three beer and hard cider certifications you should know about.
The Cicerone Certification Program provides training on beer styles, how to store and serve suds, the ingredients required and processes for making beer, how to evaluate the flavor of a mugful and how to pair it with food.
While people with advanced beer knowledge may be able to complete the study requirements in as little as six months, the Cicerone program recommends dedicating one to two years to study before taking the exam, which includes both a written test and a tasting/service demonstration. Further study and exams can lead to Advanced Cicerone and Master Cicerone designations.
“This certification helped me gain respect from other beer colleagues among the craft beer business in South America,” says María Sol Cravello, the beer knowledge and education manager for AB InBev. People know the exam is very difficult, which gives her extra credibility with her colleagues.
In addition, the program has led to some exciting opportunities. She is now a proctor and instructor for the Cicerone program, which means she gets to travel to different countries. “I was invited to my first beer competition in Chile because of my certification,” she says.
Sol Cravello is also certified by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), an international organization that trains people to judge beer, mead and cider competitions. Potential judges must pass a screening exam to gain admittance to the program.
Once they complete their studies, hopefuls take a written exam that covers technical aspects of brewing, world beer styles and judging procedures. They must also demonstrate practical judging skills by tasting and evaluating six beers.
Judges who scored high enough on the initial exam can choose to sit for a second exam after participating in several competitions and earn the designation of National or Master Beer Judge. Once individuals with these designations judge enough competitions, they may achieve the title of Grand Master Beer Judge.
The BJCP keeps a running list of upcoming beer, mead and cider competitions on its website. Certified judges looking for competitions can contact the organizers listed on the website. The program currently has more than 8,000 judges and has sanctioned more than 11,500 competitions.
The Certified Pommelier program is for both novice and professional enthusiasts of hard cider. The Level One program is an introductory course for people looking for basic cider knowledge, while the Certified Pommelier designation is for those seeking more in-depth information.
The written exam covers seven areas, including apples, orchards and their history; cidermaking techniques; families of cider and expected characteristics of each; the proper keeping and serving of cider; and social responsibility.
Jana Daisy-Ensign with the Northwest Cider Association says the certification has helped her navigate the industry. “My Pommelier background assists me in confidently curating selections for our one-of-a-kind national cider club; training judges for a regional cider competition; and developing materials to educate buyers, distributors and other gatekeepers about the amazing possibilities of the fermented apple,” she says.
In addition, “I see the domestic cider category greatly benefiting from a shared vocabulary and an understanding of ingredients, process and quality as guided by the [Pommelier] program. When I started working exclusively in cider about a decade ago, there was a lot of misinformation, with many folks assuming cider was a sweet, overly extracted one-note offering.”
That’s no so anymore, she says. Today, a growing cadre of trained, knowledgeable cider professionals is helping to show Americans that cider can deliver complexity and nuance.