Education, education, education...
Knowledge is power.
We love beer. That's perhaps a rather obvious understatement, but we really do, and we want everyone to discover how great beer can be. Central to our plan is education; at the moment there is nothing to stop any brewer from labelling their product "craft beer" (a problem we are already trying to address), and we think a great way to combat this is to help everyone learn more about how beer is brewed, stored and served.
As part of our efforts to improve our knowledge, the whole BrewDog team are encouraged to take part in the Cicerone Certification Program. This is the most widely known and best-respected beer sommelier qualification in the world. You may recall that back in Spring 2013, a team of daring BrewDogs took part in the first ever UK Certified Cicerone exams. Since then, even more BrewDogs have studied for and passed the exam. We now have 22 Certified Cicerones, who work in all areas of the company - we're becoming something of a craft beer Jedi Order. A Certified Cicerone has been tested on all aspects of beer; production, handling, storage and serving, and understanding of flavours, both good and bad. We've caught up with some of them, to see how expanding their beer knowledge across the board helps in their day to day work.
Bowman - Brewing
I thought I knew my styles well, but during my time studying for the Cicerone exam I realised that I had only really brushed the surface. There is so much history and legacy in all of these beer styles that I definitely took for granted. Our beers are all very progressive (as opposed to traditional) in terms of interpretations of styles, but like anything, the more background knowledge you can have on any subject will have a huge influence on what you can bring to the table in terms of recipe development and fine tuning.
Looking at all the myriad American, German, British and Belgian styles in great detail has really reinforced the flexibility and diversity of what we can achieve with malt, water, hops and yeast. Digging into the specifics of these styles has broadened my perspective in terms of what we are looking to achieve with our beer. Colour, carbonation, bitterness, mouthfeel, ABV, flavour, aroma and clarity all create a magical synergy which is both captivating and endless.
Tony - Operations
There are huge advantages to understanding how handling affects beer; it means we are able to better advise our customers on when the beer is at its best, and work with warehouses to ensure effective stock rotation and storage, to ensure beer freshness for all. In terms of our own bars, it also means that we can troubleshoot issues and problems in-house, which can save the cost and inconvenience of calling out an engineer, and allow us to get back to serving great beer!
Zarah - People
Certified Cicerone has armed me with an incredibly rounded understanding of all aspects of beer – from the ingredients through to the brewing process, transportation and storage, right down to the finer details of ensuring that we’re always serving up the perfect glass of beer. Beer quality, craftsmanship and flavour are the crux of everything we do. Certified Cicerone has helped to guarantee that, as we grow, I work with all our teams to keep it that way.
Dan - Quality Control
Sensory analysis is a really important process within BrewDog and is what we base many of our decisions on. We train ourselves within production to detect as many off flavours as possible but being officially examined on the subject added a bit of competitiveness to our taste panels and overall has definitely improved them. Food and beer matching was something I’d encountered but had never really thought about until I began to study for the Certified Cicerone exam. By actively using the principles many people use as a basis, not only has it changed the way I cook and eat, it’s really improved my palate as it encourages you to actively dissect what you are drinking.
Jen - Bars
Here in the bars, it’s all about breaking down misconceptions and finding the perfect beer for the person standing in front of you, whether they’re a hop geek, or just stepped in off the street slightly bewildered. That’s where the knowledge comes in. The more we know about the beer styles, ingredients and processes, the more possible and exciting it is to play out a process of elimination and direction when finding the right beer. A beery game of Guess Who, if you will.
For the team, every one of them is utterly fanatical about beer. We always find it fascinating to find out and share new things about it, geeking out amongst ourselves and customers too. It’s also about not being exclusive or patronising. It’s about opening up this little craft beer world we love so much to those who are just getting to know it, and those who were just looking for a pint of branded lager. An encyclopedic knowledge and a heap of passion gives us the tools we need to pitch it to exactly the right level and get them just as excited about it as we are.
As part of our continuing mission to help people understand and appreciate beer, We will be making the next UK Certified Cicerone exams open to the public, beginning with Equity Punks. If you invested in Equity for Punks I, II or III, you will an email in the near future detailing what this involves. We also hope in future to make the exam available to anyone, but bear in mind it's no mean feat; you'll have to get the books out and study hard! Any questions?