Blogging and writing

Certifications and Beer Writing

Last week, American beer writer and blogger Chad Polenz contacted us to ask our views on beer certifications — the Cicerone programme and BJCP accreditation in particular.

It’s not something we have strong views on but we did our best to answer and he used what we gave him alongside responses from a slew of others to inform a blog post entitled ‘What do beer writers think of beer certifications?’ It’s more balanced than the tetchy reaction might suggest, and well worth a read.

We thought we ought to elaborate a bit on our position, insofar as we have one.

If we worked in the industry proper, as opposed to commentating on it from a deliberate distance, we might well consider getting ourselves certified. A scheduled programme of study with milestones and markers is no doubt helpful for many people embarking on careers in hospitality and brewing and, if nothing else, probably improves their confidence.

We also sometimes feel at a disadvantage when it comes to writing beer reviews because we can’t identify specific off-flavours or guess at hop varieties with complete confidence, and avoid claiming any kind of expertise as a result. Studying for certification, to a very great degree, seems to solve this problem.

And yet, as far as we know, few (if any) of our favourite beer writers are certified. In general, they gain their authority by consistently demonstrating their knowledge and experience in what they write, rather than by declaring it; and, in particular, by supporting their statements with evidence wherever possible. They are, perhaps, the kind of people who set their own programme of study.

This post is mostly about flagging Chad’s blog post so if you’ve got general comments, probably best to leave them there, but comments are open below if you prefer.

4 replies on “Certifications and Beer Writing”

Very few wine writers are also certified. If I recall correctly it’s only Tim Atkin (Observer) and Jancis Robinson (FT) who have the masters of wine certification. What this means, IDK.

Certification can help people who want the requisite experience but haven’t obtained by, well, experience. That’s all it amounts to.


I’m no expert on the Cicerone exam, but I know a fair bit about the BJCP, and the clue is in the name; Beer *JUDGE* Certification Programme – It’s designed to teach you how to judge beer at homebrew and professional competitions – not sure why people think it’d be particularly useful to those in ‘the industry’, most judges I know are
merely keen homebrewers

As a side effect you do get a good education in the defining characteristics of beer styles, identifying faults and flaws, and helping the brewer fix them.

To be a BJCP Judge you have to pass both a technical and a tasting exam, showing you’ve got a grasp of the brewing process, where you can influence it, and that your palate is good enough to distinguish flavours, aromas etc. and compare them to the style guidelines

To be a beer writer, you’ve got to be able to string a coherent article together – the more successful writers obviously must know about beer, else they’d not be successful …

Most I’d imagine, the beer writing skillset overlaps with the judging skillset in terms of sensory perception, but the difference is the writer is comparing their perception of a beer to their opinion of what the beer should be, whereas the judge is comparing it to canonical examples of the style, and has proven they have a decent palate.

Just because you can judge doesn’t mean you can write about beer, and vice-versa, though a popular writer should know enough to be guided through the process of judging by a qualified judge – same as we do fro probrewers etc.

(Full disclosure: I’m a BJCP Certified Judge, have judged at SIBA and Nation Homebrew level, and am in the to process of teaching the next batch of BJCP judges. I can’t write worth a damn …)

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