Sensory Scholarship Behind the Hops and Grain

The Rise of Beer Education and Its Merits in Today’s Brewing Industry

By: James Burt

“…We got the history of beer styles and sensory classes every semester. We then were working a five hectolitre craft beer system and rotated in groups of three to oversee all the brewing of the group’s own batches. Then every third week we worked on the pilot system. I think the program now has more pilot system for students…”

Unlike other students that pursue engineering, humanities courses, or trades, Kensingston Brewing Company’s head brewer Johnny Briggs described a comprehensive course that combined theory with practice in an active, team environment not often found in traditional academia. A former film production graduate and practitioner, Briggs drew on his work as an LCBO employee and regular connoisseur of well-brewed beer to gain entrance to Niagara College’s two year brewing program, emerging as one of the course’s first graduates.

“It was helpful,” Briggs said. “It got you the credentials you needed and you could work in the industry you wanted to be in thereafter.”

With the rise of independent breweries across Canada, the demand for knowledgeable beer professionals in all facets of the industry has never been greater. This includes the actual brewing aspects along with the tasting, tourism, and sales avenues of large and smaller-scale beer manufacturers. Programs continue to spring up at various institutions across Canada, giving students firsthand experience in both how to make a variety of beers to how to taste or educate the public on it.

“Breweries today can’t do it all—they need to hire staff that know what they are doing or what they are talking about,” says The Beer Sisters’ Crystal Luxmore, a Certified Cicerone and Prud’homme Beer Sommelier. “The public is more educated these days, so if someone is doing a brewery tour or trying to demonstrate the taste differences in beer, they need to know terminology and precise details about the beer itself.”

Luxmore, a freelance journalist, was seeking a direction with her career when she hit upon her love of beer and realized she needed some education in it to further her pursuits.

“I needed a beat to cover, and it was easy to commit to beer,” she said. “My newspaper helped by paying half of my Prud’homme Certification training. The classes there were all about presenting beer and, as it turned out, building a network for yourself in the industry since you’re around so many others interested in what you’re interested in. The Cicerone is more challenging though—you need eighty percent to pass the blind tasting. It’s been helpful as I’ve been given travel opportunities as a result of completing it.”

Prud’homme Certification, started by beer industry veteran Roger Mittag, was designed as a tier-level education qualification to address the need for smart practice in the brewing industry. So far, it has facilitated the chance for many students to examine everything from glassware to tasting to draft line maintenance, and allowed many to enter the industry immediately with their acquired knowledge.

“One key focus of the program is the sensory element,” said Prud’homme instructor and People’s Pint co-proprietor Doug Appeldoorn. “A lot of students don’t know that their beer palates can be trained so they can blind taste beer and examine what elements are present in it. This also leads up to our draft system maintenance portion where students actually build a draft system in our Level III portion, giving them as hands-on understanding of how beer should be kept at as high quality levels as possible.”

“The beer industry is both a fun and hard business,” added fellow Prud’homme instructor Matt Sieradzki. A native of Kenora, Ontario, Sieradzki moved to Toronto and built on his career in bar and restaurant management by completing the high levels of Prud’homme. Later, he became both a professional beer sales representative and educator. “We constantly see people in bars today handling glassware carelessly or even being unhygienic by sticking their fingers right in a poured beer pint. I tell students they are here to get the tools they need to work in a taproom or pouring situation properly. Each class is different too, so we can address all students’ needs or interests to what they want to achieve by focusing on a multitude of beer-related topics. Be it better sales representation information for their brewery or proper serving techniques, the desired effect of our program is to get them both excited about and to understand the pride behind serving good beer at every point in their careers.”