How to become a beer expert - Part 1

By Sophie Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

There are beer training courses - equip your staff with qualifications now
There are beer training courses - equip your staff with qualifications now

Related tags: Beer

With beer available from 1,500 breweries in the UK, and hundreds of imported beers on the market, knowledgeable staff are essential to making the most of the beer revolution. It’s not just a matter of avoiding spoilage and waste.

Pub goers are increasingly either already beer savvy — which means your staff could look bad if they don’t know at least as much the customer — or actively beer-curious and looking for knowledgeable staff able to inform and guide them.

As well as the customer service aspect, those working in bars and pubs also need the know - how to care for and serve beer to the highest standards from cellar to glass. Trip up on this and serve beer that’s less than perfect, or carelessly poured, and you not only risk your own reputation but that of the beer category as a whole.

If we want this cask/craft ale revolution to be a turning point for beer rather than a short-lived fashion fad then it’s in the interests of pubs to make sure every beer is served in tip-top condition — which brings us back to well trained staff.

Cask Masters

Whether you opt for bespoke training, practical courses, e-learning, or stick to doing it in-house, the bottom line is: training is essential and trained staff have the power to
boost sales.

Ember Inns, part of Mitchells & Butlers, has invested in training some 130 ‘Cask Masters’ to engage with colleagues and customers to share beer knowledge as part of its commitment to cask ale. The training initiative proved such a success that a second phase is now under way.

“I worked closely with Cask Marque to develop a ‘beer engagement course’ which started to cover the really interesting topics of beer types and food matching so we took it on further than just ABCQ (Award in Beer and Cellar Quality),” says retail director Nolan Spratt.

“I’m delighted with the results. In an industry suffering a decline in people coming to the pub just for a drink, by investing in beer training, along with some other activity, Ember Inns has seen sustained cask ale volume growth during the past 18 months and the trajectory continues to be positive.”

Beer training 2

How do you choose the best training method or decide which course is right for your staff?

Cost is obviously a big factor, especially for freehouses, as is the worry that you might spend money on training staff who then leave. That said, training can be an incentive for staff to stay, as can linking training achievements and qualifications to increased pay.

At the more in-depth end of the training market is Beer Sommelier Accreditation from the Beer Academy or the USA-based Cicerone Certification Program, for which exams can be sat in the UK. The benefits of both of these schemes is the focus on understanding beer itself. They go into detail about ingredients, where flavours come from, beer styles, tasting and beer and food matching — enabling those qualified to confidently talk to customers about anything beer-related.

The cost of someone becoming an Accredited Beer Sommelier, exc VAT, is about £560. But the three courses which must be sat and passed before sitting the exam, are useful training in themselves and allow the cost to be spread out. Pubs putting staff through the qualification also need to factor in travel and accommodation expenses as well as some budget for books, beer and food to enable thorough study.

Beer training 5

Becoming a beer sommelier

How do you choose the best training method or decide which course is right for your staff?

Cost is obviously a big factor, especially for freehouses, as is the worry that you might spend money on training staff who then leave. That said, training can be an incentive for staff to stay, as can linking training achievements and qualifications to increased pay.

At the more in-depth end of the training market is Beer Sommelier Accreditation from the Beer Academy or the USA-based Cicerone Certification Program, for which exams can be sat in the UK. The benefits of both of these schemes is the focus on understanding beer itself. They go into detail about ingredients, where flavours come from, beer styles, tasting and beer and food matching — enabling those qualified to confidently talk to customers about anything beer-related.

The cost of someone becoming an Accredited Beer Sommelier, exc VAT, is about £560. But the three courses which must be sat and passed before sitting the exam, are useful training in themselves and allow the cost to be spread out. Pubs putting staff through the qualification also need to factor in travel and accommodation expenses as well as some budget for books, beer and food to enable thorough study.  

Cicerone qualifications

Beer training 4

Although favoured by BrewDog, which rewards qualified staff with higher pay, the Cicerone program seems less well-suited to British pubs because it focuses more heavily on keg dispense than cask. It has three tiers (the top tier is arguably akin to a PhD in beer, so I won’t cover it here).

The basic level is like a combination of the BIIAB Award in Beer and Cellar Quality and Beer Sommelier training. It can be achieved through an online course and exam for about £130. To achieve the next level, candidates are encouraged to read a list of books and resources combined with practical study until they are ready to take an exam. It’s hard to cost the self-study required, but the exam fee is just over £300 (in the US week-long Cicerone bootcamps cost the equivalent of £1,310).

Despite its limited cask beer content, this training has a slight edge over the Beer Academy as the latter doesn’t cover cellar management or dispense, and no longer requires on-trade candidates to have passed the ABCQ. But for about £115, an option is to put staff through the ABCQ and Beer Sommelier accreditation. An alternative to the ABCQ is the Beerista Workshop, from line cleaning company Avani Solutions. Both cover cellar hygiene, line cleaning, keeping and caring for beer and beer quality assessment.

Thrifty options

Beer training 3

What if you run a small, indie pub or bar with little time or money to invest in training? The internet could be your saviour. There are several e-learning options for beer training, most of which feature a test or exam with certificates for those who pass, and some of which are free.

Cask Matters and CPL Training’s Cask Beer Uncovered begins with a short film aiming to inspire pride in British beer. It’s followed by five short films — each ending with a test — explaining the brewing process, what to do in the cellar, choosing what to buy, customer service and pouring technique, and promoting cask beer sales.

Or you could try Greene King’s Beer Genius also on CPL’s e-learning platform. Cellar Genius takes around 30 mins to complete.
A further Bar Genius course covers bar housekeeping, hygiene, service and advising customers on what beer to choose. It includes self assessment checklists so you can see what you’re getting right — or wrong.

“Since we rolled [it] out... we’ve issued more than 1,000 graduate certificates and the feedback has been universally positive. From experienced freehouse operators to our own dray drivers, we’ve had uptake from a range of people in the industry looking to deliver that all important perfect serve,” says Greene King Brewing & Brands MD Chris Houlton.

Training is a must

Current interest in beer training is heartening, but the challenge of getting beer right must not be taken lightly. Especially when so many publicans and employees seem not to drink beer. Whether you drink it or not — and perhaps more so if not — it’s vital that everyone who is or might be involved in keeping or serving beer genuinely understands the drink they are selling. And with a the cost of training starting at ‘free’, no training simply isn’t an option.

For Cask Beer Uncovered, visit here​ and for Greene King’s Beer Genius follow this link 

The Beer Academy is also on the verge of launching its own online Beer Steward training which will cost £10 for individuals or £35 for 10 employees at one pub. Visit here​ for more details.

Related topics: Beer

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