I recently became a beer sommelier, well rather I achieved my accreditation as one, I considered my previous jobs as being an uncertified beer sommelier, as I had much the same role as a (wine) sommelier in a more wine oriented establishment. So what does it mean and is it necessary? Well, the number of beer styles and sub-styles seem to be ever growing and, to the uninitiated, it may seem like a malty quagmire of names that mean nothing. There are the know-it-all beer geeks who pedal internet based knowledge at the bar all too frequently, probably putting off the inquiring neophyte. Enter stage left a qualified pro, who can guide without snobbery, judgement or ubergeekery, suggest food pairings, describe flavours and chat about breweries, making the experience a pleasurable one for the bar, pub or restaurant patron.
There is more than one path to the brother and sisterhood of beer professionals, and I trained and passed with the Institute of Brewing and Distilling’s arm The Beer Academy in the UK (soon to be offered in Australia) . You could choose the Doemens Beer Sommelier course in Germany or the US at the Siebel Institute, or pursue Cicerone certification, again in the US (now offered occasionally in Canada and the UK), or the Prud’homme Beer certification in Canada. The fact that there are a growing number of people and organisations offering courses is encouraging, as it sanctions professionals and offers education in an area of the drinks industry that is growing massively.
Depending on the certification you go for, they are fairly different, but have a common focus. The main thing that you need to be good at is blind tasting. Describing the flavours determining a style as well as identifying faults is an important part of all the programs. This takes practice, lots of it, and mimicking faults in beers to taste is definitely needed to be confident in his area. A strong concept of food and beer pairing is also needed, and you will be tested on your skill at finding sublime matches to enjoy both together. Getting a grip on brewing techniques and the different possibilities created by varieties of malts, hops, yeast and water, as well as a host of adjuncts is a must as well. I found a healthy home-brewing habit is an enjoyable way to do this!
Knowledge of beer service and storage, as well as a good comprehension of beer styles and their flavour profiles are essential too. Not only having this knowledge but being able to impart it in a positive, friendly and accessible manner to a variety of customers, MUST be central to the role of a beer sommelier.
So to all you that aspire, go to tastings, read books, learn about the history of styles, take notes, attend courses and visit breweries, but remember that being a sommelier of any sort means contact with customers in some capacity. Whether it be as a retailer, restaurant server, barman, representing a brewery, or if you host beer events and tastings, you’ve got to relate to a client or customer. The term ‘beer sommelier’ is more than being a certified beer geek, it is about understanding every aspect of the product and getting other people interested and happy with their beer experience, so they come back for more!