Drinking PerceptivelyIt’s all very different from drinking beer, however critically you think you’re doing it. A judging form forces you to consider every aspect of appearance, aroma, flavor and more. And it does so, much like a dog show, in the context of judging not beer against beer, but by the ideals enshrined in the style descriptions. This requires you to aggregate all your beer style experiences in the database of your brain, and every new judging gives you a few more dots to connect. The result, if you judge enough categories, is a very wide and perceptive picture of the world of beer. As you have heard from me before, styles are not everything, but they are useful in a number of ways. The BJCP makes their style descriptions available for free to anyone who goes to their Web site: BJCP.org, and they’re well worth the bandwidth. There is communion with others, as I have noted, but there is also an amazing dialog with one’s self. Training yourself to be a better taster is not like reading a book. It takes thought, practice and the use of some very funky and ancient parts of your brain, where aromas are processed and emotional memories live. And if homebrew judging is not enough for you, there is a second organization that also certifies beer tasters. It’s a relatively new program called Cicerone, put together by friend and industry insider, Ray Daniels. The purpose is to train, test and certify people in the beer trade, equivalent to the wine world’s sommelier programs, but for beer. Rather than competitions, this one puts the emphasis on presentation of beer, and covers things like draft system setup and the matching of beer with food. The Cicerone program offers three ranks, achieved by ever more difficult and comprehensive exams. While intended for bar managers, serving staff and others in the hospitality business, the Cicerone program does round out one’s beer knowledge nicely. As a result, many beer enthusiasts and homebrewers are adding this badge to their sash. And if you’re already BJCP certified, you’re more than half of the way there. Ray is starting to get a nice complement of training materials together and even offering some in-depth training sessions. You can find more information at Cicerone.org. Whatever direction you choose, certification programs force you to get out of your cave and engage the beer community directly, sharing information and camaraderie, waxing philosophical over a sip of our favorite beverage. It’s a most pleasant way to spend time. And isn’t that why we’re all here?
A brewer since 1984, Randy Mosher is a nationally recognized writer and authority on brewing and beer styles. He is the author of The Brewer’s Companion (Alephenalia Publications, 1984), Radical Brewing (Brewers Publications, 2004) and Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Best Drink (Storey, March 2009).