I’m totally one of those people, and I took the Certified Beer Server exam last Monday afternoon, scoring an 88% in twelve minutes (the exam is sixty multiple choice questions and has a time limit of thirty minutes.) The test is pretty rudimentary, and anyone that’s worked in beer - hell, anyone that’s drunk beer for any amount of time, should be able to pass it with the requisite 70%. The fact that I did it while serving people cider, coming back in between pours and clicking in answers doesn’t mean that I’m encyclopaedic about beer; it means that the first level is a way to produce revenue for the Cicerone Certification Program. It cost me seventy bucks to take the test.
Now that I’ve done a little too much bashing on an organization that I have a lot of respect for and every intention of giving even more money to (I hope to take the second test and become a Certified Cicerone sometime in the Spring) let me tell you about what the test taught me.
Two of the four questions I missed were about American-stye wheat beer. That seems to make sense, because I’ve always held a grudge against American wheat beers - more specifically, against the people who like them. I think (and I think a lot of beer-lovers think) that there is a time and a place for every type of beer. I wouldn’t drink Coor’s Light on a winter’s evening (give me a Scottish Wee Heavy or a Milk or Imperial Stout), but I sure as heck will quaff that bottle in 20 seconds right after bringing in hay in the middle of August. People who drink American Wheat, and to a lesser extent, German Hefewiezen, have a tendency to stick to that style. They know what they like, dammit, and Starr Hill’s Love is what they want, no matter if it’s ninety or nine degrees outside.
I developed that aversion to American Wheat pretty early in my drinking career, and I think I may need to rectify that. I had some of the usual suspects in that style: Widmer Bros, Red Hook UFO, and the aforementioned Starr Hill Love, and I was a little embarrassed by both the hourglass vase the beer was served in as well as the piece of orange that adorned the rim. Put citrus in my cocktail please, not my beer, is what I thought. Also, I’ve just gotten to the point where I can drink wine out of an actual wine glass, as opposed to a coffee mug; such is my gender-normativity. Drinking out of something that so readily emulates the curvature of a bodacious woman was certainly out of the question.
Which brings me to the next thing I learned that I know very little about: specific glassware for beer. Now, I go back and forth on the real need for specificity in the shape of the container into which different styles of beer go, but it is a piece of the culture of beer and moreover, it’s something I’m sure to be tested on in the spring.
A simple tumbler for all beer is not at all acceptable, but I don’t believe that the English dimpled mug actually enhances the flavor of an ESB, nor do I think that the small diameter at the foot of a Pilsner glass is absolutely necessary. Try and serve me a Trappist beer in either of those two glasses, however, and I’m liable to punch you in the face (not really; I’ll probably just accept the beer and judge you silently.)
As I study for the Certified Cicerone test, which I am sure will be a fair deal more strenuous, I find that there is indeed a good bit I don’t know. Numbers are a big problem; I know how bitter a beer style is relative to other styles, but if you expect me to recite the IBU (International Bitterness Unit) range of a German Dunkel, then you have me mixed up with...someone that knows that kind of thing.
We’re having an unseasonably warm fall here in Central Virginia. So, hand me that Coors. I’ve got a lot to learn.
Sigh… better make it a Starr Hill Love. I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.