In pursuit of further motivation and confidence I booked myself into the Beer Academy’s “Advanced Course” a couple of months back. These courses are popular, you need to book a couple of months in advance if you want to be sure of doing a given date. Whilst the information about it on the website is rather vague – based on what I’ve heard about it the course seems a logical step in continuing my education in beer. The cost of the course, including VAT, is £312… perhaps high if measured in pints of beer, but in a better perspective: less than a decent weekend away.
Why this course? Aside from the UK’s Beer Academy there is also the USA’s Certified Cicerone® programme. The US option is gaining increasing airtime in the UK as the craft worlds intermingle across the Atlantic and US-led BrewDog put more of their bar staff through the programme. (At this time all but one of the UK’s Certified Cicerones are associated with BrewDog.)
The Cicerone programme seems, on the face of it, to be far more thorough and organised than the Beer Academy qualification – although this could be amplified by the more detailed and better presented online presence of the Cicerone website. I expect the main downside of Certified Cicerone is that it would be, unsurprisingly, US-centric… thus probably not covering cask ale and UK styles and practices to to a depth appropriate for someone in the UK. OK, so that is probably not so much of a setback to someone working in BrewDog bars and I wonder if the Cicerone programme does have a real advantage in the context of more craft-led establishments. I figure it’s obvious that BrewDog believe so. It’ll be interesting to see if the concept of craft beer is covered by the Beer Academy, or even just newer/less-traditional beer styles. Cost-wise the two appear similar – but note the Cicerone headline price is purely for an assessment that is probably best preceded with some training or industry experience. It also seems likely to be necessary to fly to the US to complete the assessment as I see no European dates on their calendar… I thought I’d heard about exams in London but that may have been specific to BrewDog staff.
I’m not really in a position to rate the value of one over the other. Just noting that I’m aware that there is another option and explaining why I’m not pursuing it instead. The Beer Academy course is “NVQ Level-1″ which I presume has some meaning and interest to bar staff in the UK. I really don’t know – feedback from UK barfolk on this would be much appreciated. For my purposes the Beer Academy course seemed the logical choice given it will likely be a tight cultural fit to the UK beer scene. It also helps that I can simply pop down to London to attend. That said, I’d love to do at least the “Certified Beer Server” stage of the Cicerone programme as well some day… and not just because I think the shiny badge would look mighty purdy on Colin.
I suppose I began my own casual beer matching by 2010. Since then have experimented extensively in cooking with beer, dangled a foot into the world of homebrew, and have gone as far as learning some cellarmanship skills and torturing my palate. Outside of the CAMRA bar management course this has all been informal “play”, fun but shooting in the dark a bit. So the time has come to see how the subject matter is dealt with in a professional context. Perhaps I’ll also find some new inspiration along the way.
Frighteningly, last week, a week before my booked course was due to start, I came down with a nasty head cold. Five days before the course date I couldn’t taste anything at all. A most unpleasant state… if a permanent affliction I’m not sure I would choose to go on with life. Much to my relief I’m now clear of the cold with just one day to go! I exercised my palate across a variety of beers on Sunday night… just to be sure, y’know…
The course I’m doing is hosted at The Bull in Highgate and runs from 09:30 to 16:30 on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The next decision to make after booking the course was whether or not to commute down to London from Cambridge both days or stay a night or two in the big smoke. A month prior to the date hotel pricing made the latter a definite no-go. But on Sunday, two days before the date, a LateRooms search came up with the goods – a B&B room in New Market House for a total of £112 to stay Monday and Tuesday nights.
This stroke of luck meant I could book a return train ticket for £34.50 rather than two daily peak-return-with-travelcard tickets for £92.60. Ah… affordable public transport? Anyway – the overnight stay means I can take the healthier and more casual option of walking rather than the tube/bus sardine experience. Not bad it only costing £53.90 extra to be much more relaxed, happy, and not a sardine. New Market House is just under a mile from Kings Cross station and The Bull is a about a three mile wander from the B&B. It’s a good thing I like walking. I dare say the location also means I’ll be popping my head into the Southampton Arms and BrewDog Camden, at the least.
I’m planning on writing some notes about the Beer Academy course over the next couple of days with an intention to post a brief impression of each of the two days and follow that with a brief post-digestion summary. The aim being to avoid the usual 2000+ word wall-of-text I’d normally generate for this sort of thing. Stay tuned… if interested.