Author: Ganesh Vancheeswaran

As the craft beer movement steps into its second decade in India, it is time to start enhancing the knowledge levels of the beer community as a whole, and for more professionals to get formally certified on beer. 

Abhinav Reddy was elated. He had received an email from the Cicerone Certification Program informing him that he had passed the Certified Beer Server (CBS) exam. From then on, his name would be featured on the Cicerone website in the list of Certified Beer Servers. This, and the certificate he was awarded, were proof that he had made the cut. By scoring this certification, Abhinav joined nearly 14,000 other beer lovers and industry professionals across the world as a CBS. 

“I took the exam purely out of curiosity and interest. I wanted to improve my knowledge of beer, though I had no professional objective in taking this exam,” he says. Abhinav, who works as a front-end developer with a start-up in Hyderabad, is part of a growing group of people in India who, driven by a deep love for beer, are keen to improve their knowledge levels on the brew. Admittedly, this is a nascent trend, but one that shows a lot of promise. 

This is one of the indications that the decade-old craft beer movement in India is slowly maturing. The first decade was all about introducing the market to the idea of craft brewing, and the principal styles of beer. As more craft breweries and beer recipes emerged across India, a community of craft beer lovers rallied around this development and rejoiced in it. However, as a community, we still have so much to learn about this drink: its wonderful history and evolution, the nuances regarding its styles, the brewing process, the ingredients, pairing beer with Indian food, evolving Indianised craft beer recipes, and so on. All this is stuff that beer-geeks would trip on. But for industry professionals, this is vital knowledge that can help them make great beer and serve it well to customers.  

If the seeds of the craft beer movement were sown in the last decade, it is now time to start nurturing the sapling. There is scope to improve the knowledge level of people working in every role in the beer industry: from brewers to wait staff. Learning aspects that are relevant to their role will not only help them make and serve better beer, but will also help them advance their career prospects.  

Anudeep Reddy, Sales and Marketing Manager at Brewnation, and a Certified Cicerone, says that pushing up the average knowledge level about beer should be the collective effort of brewers, pub owners, managers, serving staff, influencers and PR agencies. “We have to relentlessly drive beer education among consumers and other stakeholders, in order to witness a craft beer revolution and take our beer standards up,” he says. 

Which is where formal certification comes handy. This not only helps the industry do a better job, but also instills confidence in consumers that the professionals know their beer really well. Worldwide, the two principal certifications available are the ones offered by Cicerone and BJCP. 

Here’s a short primer to both, based on conversations with professionals in the craft beer industry, and information from the official websites of BJCP and Cicerone.

BJCP

BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) is a non-profit organisation that encourages the advancement of education of people who are concerned with the evaluation of beer, mead and cider. It certifies and ranks beer judges through an exam and monitoring process. With its background in the home-brewing movement in the USA, BJCP is mainly aimed at helping those in the brewing line.

Around 30 people got certified in the first BJCP exam in 1985. Today, BJCP has a membership of 13,195, of which 7,525 are active members. All members of BJCP are known as judges. Around 1000 judges join the ranks annually. Under this program, your ‘judge’ rank is determined by the combination of your exam score and your experience points. 

To start with, you have to take an online entrance exam – the Beer Judge Entrance Examination. On passing this, you qualify to apply for the four principal levels. These levels are arranged in a hierarchy: you have to pass one level in order to qualify for the next higher one. Someone with a passing score in the relevant exam, and fewer than 5 experience points receives the rank of Recognized Judge. Judges with a score of 70 or above in the relevant exam, and who have accumulated at least 5 experience points receive the Certified Judge rank. A score of 80 or above in the relevant exam, combined with 20 experience points, earns you the rank of National Judge. Judges achieve the Master Judge rank by scoring 90 or more in the relevant exam and acquiring 40 experience points. In all cases, at least half the experience points for a given rank must come from judging. 

The term “relevant exam” indicates that there are different exams under the BJCP framework. To progress from one level to another, you have to pass the specific exam mandated by the BJCP rules. More details are available on the BJCP website, the link to which is given below. 

In addition, the Apprentice rank was created to encourage those who don’t pass the exam to remain active within the program, and to take the exam again in future. 

Experience points in BJCP

The BJCP awards experience points to judges who participate in AHA/BJCP Sanctioned Competition Program events, in BJCP exams, or in Continuing Education Program events. AHA refers to the American Homebrewers Association. The number of experience points awarded varies, depending on the size of the event and the job an individual performs. There are two types of experience points: Judging points and Non-judging points.

You can earn Judging points by judging in a registered beer competition, including Best of Show (BOS) judging. On the other hand, you earn Non-judging points for serving (or assisting) as a competition organiser, a steward, an administrator (or assistant) for a BJCP exam, or participating in a Continuing Education Program event.

The BJCP program dives deep into the art and science of brewing, and helps those who are concerned with brewing and the evaluation of beer. Mead and cider also come under the purview of this program.

Hannan Hashim, a BJCP Certified Judge, says that the starting point to prepare for BJCP is to try various styles of beer. From there, you have to go deeper into the brewing process. “Being a BJCP judge is not just about drinking beer and finding notes. The main objective of the judge is to help the brewer identify what’s good and bad about their beer, and help them make it better – technically and stylistically.”

For more details, including the levels, the evaluation process, fees, etc. click here.

Cicerone Certification Program

The Cicerone Certification Program (Cicerone) gives you a rounded knowledge of beer –  spanning brewing, storage, distribution, handling and serving beer. For this reason, it offers something to everyone who works (or want to work) in any of the various roles in the beer industry. The first level of this program is apt for those in customer-facing roles, such as serve staff and pub managers. On the other hand, those who want to gain deeper professional expertise in beer can think of moving to higher levels of this program. 

This program has four levels of certification, arranged in a hierarchy.

Level 1 – Certified Beer Server (CBS)

CBS is mainly aimed at those who serve beer to customers at pubs, bars, taprooms and restaurants. Knowing that the way the serve staff engage with customers and serve them beer makes a great difference to the customers’ experience, this level focusses on the fundamentals. Handling beer the right way, using the right and clean glassware, and pouring properly are a few of the aspects covered. Apart from industry professionals, several beer-loving consumers have cleared this level purely out of interest. 

The CBS exam is a 60-question multiple choice exam, administered online. A score of 75% is required to pass. Candidates must also pass a short quiz about the Cicerone program. 

Level 2 – Certified Cicerone

When you clear this level, it means you have acquired deeper knowledge. The Certified Cicerone exam allows individuals to demonstrate that they possess a professional body of knowledge and essential tasting skills related to beer. Those who pass this level earn the right to use the title “Certified Cicerone”, and display the logo on their card and correspondence. A grade of 80% overall and at least 70% in the tasting part of the exam are required to pass. Aspects in which your knowledge is tested include: keeping and serving beer; beer styles; beer flavour and evaluation; beer ingredients; brewing processes and pairing beer with food.

Level 3 – Advanced Cicerone

The third level of certification under Cicerone requires a solid understanding and distinctive expertise of beer, as well as an excellent ability to detect and describe its flavours using both consumer and brewer vocabulary. 

According to Cicerone, such knowledge is acquired over several years of additional study and tasting – even after clearing Certified Cicerone. Those who pass this level have extensive style knowledge, hands-on experience managing beer service, direct familiarity with brewing process and ingredients, and frequent experience in beer and food pairing.

The Advanced Cicerone exam lasts the better part of a day, and includes written, oral and tasting modules. A grade of 80% overall and at least 75% on the tasting portion are required to attain this rank. 

Level 4 – Master Cicerone

Master Cicerone is the fourth and highest level of the Cicerone Certification Program. Those who acquire the Master Cicerone certification demonstrate encyclopaedic knowledge and in-depth understanding of all issues related to brewing, beer and beer service. Clearing this level means you have an exceptionally deep understanding of brewing, beer and pairing. It also means that you have mastered every technical and aesthetic aspect of beer. 

A score of 85% overall is required to pass.

For full details on the Cicerone Certification Program, click here.

Preparing for Cicerone 

One of the challenges in preparing for Cicerone is that authentic information on various aspects of beer is not available in a streamlined manner. Though the Cicerone website offers some resources, this is not enough. To plug this gap, a group of industry professionals have set up an online learning platform. Known as Certified Beer Server Study Group–India Chapter, it specifically helps those who want to prepare for the Cicerone Beer Server (CBS) certification. This group is hosted on Facebook. 

Gautham Gandhi, Director (Brewing and Innovations), Singularity Beverages, and one of the founders of this learning platform, says, “We share credible and accurate knowledge about beer, and help people prepare for the CBS certification. Apart from industry professionals, we have a number of beer-loving laymen as members of this group.” Himself a CBS, he adds that entry to the group is free, and that people with all knowledge levels are welcome.

You can join this group using this link: Certified Beer Server-India Chapter.