Beer is serious business By: Kay Witkiewicz
Homebrewing and craft beer are a-boomin’ in the United States of America. According to the Brewers Association, as of December 31, 2011, there were 1,949 breweries operating in the country and 915 breweries in planning, respective increases of roughly 450 operating breweries and 700 planned breweries compared to the same date in 2008. Additionally, the American Homebrewers Association gained 4,500 new members between 2010 and 2011, pushing its total army of beer enthusiasts past 24,000 people. In light of Ron’s recent discussion on sourcing your homebrewing information carefully, an information revolution has naturally accompanied the vast expansions of home and craft brewing. Increasing popularity in both realms has also led to standardization, with the BJCP Guide and path to judgeship as well as the Cicerone Certification Program being prime examples. As fun as our hobby is, there is a more serious side to homebrewing that, if you choose to embrace it, has the potential to turn your pastime into something professional.
Whenever I have a question about any aspect of homebrewing, one Google search will yield hundreds of blog and forum posts, even entire books and articles about my query. More often than not, I find an immediate and appropriate answer that solves my problem. This incredible array of online information is a luxury to us homebrewers and we must judiciously take advantage of forums such as the AHA, Homebrew Talk, and love2learn. Even as our society is increasingly moving toward the digitization of print, nothing exacts more legitimacy than a real book, and in this regard, brewing—particularly homebrewing—has expanded its purview. From John Palmer’s How to Brew—which is how I learned the basics of homebrewing—to Charlie Papazian’s books and, more recently, Gordon Strong’s incredibly insightful Brewing Better Beer, today’s landscape of printed matter solely devoted to homebrewing has evolved just like this exotic diversion has transformed into a welcome obsession. Perhaps nothing signifies the renewed gravitas that beer and brewing demand in our society more than the recent publication of The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster and craft beer demigod Garrett Oliver. With Oxford Companion subjects ranging from American and English literature to law, philosophy, and wine, beer now has its rightful place in this pantheon of cosmopolitan knowledge. With so many resources at our disposal, it is up to us homebrewers to not only use it to improve our brewing practices, but also to add our own experiences to this exponentially growing body of knowledge.
As information about beer and brewing has become more legitimate, these subjects have also become more codified. From the Beer Judge Certification Program and its Style Guide to the Cicerone Certification Program, which has recently made mainstream news, homebrewing and the craft beer industry have assumed a certain standardized mien. By the time you’re reading this, I will hopefully be a Certified Beer Server, the entry-level certification required to achieve the progressively higher qualifications of Certified Cicerone and the elusive title of Master Cicerone. After thoroughly debating whether or not to pursue this qualification, I have arrived at the belief that it is a distinguished accreditation that will solidify my relative expertise in all things beer and brewing. Whether you judge the previous statement to be lofty, self-serving, or the like, it nonetheless represents the ambition of a beginning, but enthralled homebrewer to make the utmost out of this hobby and eventually turn it into a vocation. Personal revelations aside, the test to be a Certified Beer Server covers proper beer serving and storage procedures, beer styles, flavor evaluation, ingredients and brewing processes, and pairing beer with food, all of which you can use to brew better beer and serve it appropriately to friends, family, and strangers. While I believe that these various overall accreditations can be used positively toward brewing better beer, accolades alone do not make one a good brewer. The proof remains in the beer itself, no matter how distinguished the homebrewer. However, I do believe that these available certifications will play a significant role in turning this hobby into a profession, at least at the entry level, as the expansion of craft brewing will ultimately demand further specialization of the homebrewer aspiring to turn pro.
Information and opportunity are growing at breakneck speeds in home and craft brewing. The amount of vetted information available to us now was unthinkable five years ago, let alone at the beginning of the century. I could not be a steadily improving homebrewer without the multitude of online forums and printed publications. Rather than take all this knowledge for granted, it is incumbent on us to use it to brew better beer and to add to it with our own experiences to help others. Furthermore, the various accreditations available to us beer enthusiasts allow us to prove our mettle and bolster our knowledge with actual titles. Certification isn’t everything; good beer is. However, in order to elevate this pastime to professionalism, accreditation will play a significant role as the craft beer industry continues to expand. In the spirit of communication and sharing information, what do you think about the current home and craft beer landscapes and their intersections?