In a world where beer is no longer simple, people serving it must know something of what they’re doing.
Acclaimed brewer Neal Cameron offers insight into insight.
We’re big on education in Australia. We are in the top ten most educated countries in the world. And until successive governments savagely degraded our TAFE system, we had arguably the best vocational training system in world, including a myriad of options for training hospitality staff to world-class standards.
Compare this then to a recent experience whereby four of NSW’s top brewers took some time out to drink in a Sydney craft establishment. When served a beer that was not only in dirty glasses but was clearly infected (flat, cloudy, sour and buttery), the server refused to exchange the beer, stating emphatically that there was nothing wrong with it and that was how it was meant to taste.
There are two issues here. Firstly, the customer is always right; if four beers are bought back with a clear statement of fault, this should be accepted and the beer willingly replaced. Secondly, the server – who was almost certainly a craft beer advocate (tattoo’s, piercings, beard, female) – was not able to recognise a deeply faulty beer.
The esteemed group rightly chose to remain incognito rather than force the issue, but surely to god, if a venue is charging a high price for premium craft beer, and there is a problem, our professional beer servers should be the ones picking this up before it gets to the customer. I am sure we would expect our chefs to know if food is off, our baristas to know if a coffee batch is faulty and our sommeliers to know if there’s a problem with the wine. If not, we are simply paying them to be flexible automatons.
We know that chefs must be trained, as must baristas and definitely sommeliers. Is it therefore not evident that servers of quality beer should be properly trained?
Acquiring training in beer is becoming easier. The big brewers provide free training (although you may get what you’re not paying for), there’s the Beer Judges Certification Program (BJCP), run mainly by volunteers, and there’s the Cicerone training and qualifications.
Certified Beer Server and Certified Cicerone (beer sommelier) qualifications are becoming the standard in America and around the world. Without one of these certifications, getting a job in a venue or even a brewery is unlikely. Even the big breweries like SAB-Miller are making the qualifications a prerequisite of employment throughout the entire company’s workforce, to promote a vibrant beer culture.
And as with all things beer, Australia is rapidly catching up with the US in the spread of beer qualifications.
And as with all things, if you’re not keeping ahead of the game, you’re going backwards.
Neal Cameron is director of the Institute of Beer (IOB), brewing director for Beer Farm, and one of country’s most experienced brewers.
The Institute of Beer is the exclusive licensee of the globally renowned Cicerone training in Australia, and a venture formed by Cameron, former Woolworths national liquor purchasing & marketing director Ian Kingham, and brewery aficionado Dave Phillips.