Be top of the glass this semester at beer “school”
Capital Pint

Be top of the glass this semester at beer “school”

For many, the shuttering of patios is a harbinger of change. Not just cooler weather but also a familiar reminder that it’s time to head back to school. If you’re a beer “student,” that can mean expanding your knowledge of the golden suds in some unique “classrooms.”

(Above image: courtesy of Ottawa Craft Beer Calendar)

This course syllabus is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully there is a class that will help you become your better brewmaster self. As you consider where to apply, note that while the educational opportunities differ, the goal is the same: to help you better appreciate beer.

For details, make sure to contact the “educational” institutions listed:

Course: Head of the Glass
Level: Introductory
Institution: Maker House Co. via Brew Donkey

Brew Donkey has been teaching Ottawans and tourists about the local brewing scene for a few years. Since their tours involve riding in a big, friendly yellow school bus, they are a perfect fit. But rather than focusing on their brewery tours, it is their new program, Head of the Glass, that will help raise your brew IQ.

Quarterly presentations take place at Maker House Co. (987 Wellington St. W.), and each session features a different local brewery. At these events, the guest lecturing brewery presents on specific industry issues and takes questions from the audience. Light snacks and beer keep the participants loose, energized, and engaged. The open-forum concept invites conversation between the brewery folks and their fans with topics that go beyond just beer. For example, Beau’s Brewery participated in the inaugural class, which looked at graphic design and label art, one of the brewery’s strengths. In August, Dominion City Brewing led the meeting examining branding and image.

These events are always free, with bar proceeds benefiting a local non-profit. It’s a great way for people to engage with breweries and to give back. To find out when the next event is, visit

Course: Ottawa Beer Tastings
Level: Introductory
Institution: Learn From Home

Ottawa Beer Tastings is an approachable and interactive way to increase your knowledge of beer with a guided tasting in your own home. Just like your first year in residence, you have the option to learn in your sweatpants (er, unless you’re attending one of their corporate presentations).

Matt Petitpas and Sasha Dunfield of Ottawa Beer Events work with hosts to create a customized event that can focus on specific beer styles or act as an introduction to beer. “Through both our in-home and corporate beer tastings, we try to provide a relaxed and informative session that allows participants to discover new craft beers while showcasing their unique properties,” explains Dunfield. “Our aim is to educate and to open minds to try something other than the yellow fizzy beverage that your grandfather used to drink.”

Typically, each attendee is provided with six five-ounce servings of beer, which are sampled one at a time while Petitpas and Dunfield cover such topics as the brewing process, beer serving tips, appropriate glassware, and style characteristics. Brewing history and the 613 beer scene are given special attention. OBT even does your homework for you by providing tasting notes on the beers discussed, just in case your memory is a little hazy by the time sampling is finished.

Prud’homme Beer Certification classes provide a broader appreciation of liquid gold. Photo: courtesy of Alex + Mantis/Cometa Photo

Course: Prud’homme Beer Certification (Levels 1 through 4)
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Institution: Thirst for Knowledge (online learning available)

Prud’homme Beer Certification, founded in 2009, is an educational series provided by Thirst for Knowledge Inc. that pushes its students to experience beer. In addition to an e-learning online option, in-class courses are available at various breweries across Ontario (check their website for the local schedule).

The four levels to this certification allow students to choose their level of intensity: Beer Enthusiast, Beer Specialist, Beer Sommelier, and Master Sommelier. Beer prof. Roger Mittag has noted a real upswing in enrolment as craft beer has become more mainstream. The program is geared toward those working in different aspects of the industry, from brewers to hospitality workers. The course is all about giving people a broader appreciation for beer and, in the case of the in-class option, bringing together a group with a common interest.

The concept for the series grew from Mittag’s experience working for Labatt Breweries. As an employee, Mittag attended company-sponsored seminars that helped workers gain a more European appreciation for beer: you don’t just drink it — you discuss it, think about it, essentially worship it. Mittag now shares this same type of instruction through qualified instructors across Canada. Past courses have even been taught within the scholastic confines of a local brewery, including Kichesippi and Beyond the Pale breweries.

Course: Cicerone Certification Program (Levels 1 through 4)
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Institution: Cicerone Certification Program

The Cicerone Certification Program is a four-level course that focuses on training students (typically those working in the service industry) to become experts, or cicerones — an old English term meaning “guide” or “mentor.” Founder and director Ray Daniels has more than 25 years’ experience in the industry and used that expertise to start the program in 2007. Grads earn such distinguished titles as Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, Advanced Cicerone, and Master Cicerone. These designations aim to deliver greater beer handling, storage, and service practices. With in-class options generally taking place in the United States, however, Canadians are best to try the online options.

Course: Beer Judge Certification Program
Level: Advanced
Institution: Beer Judge Certification Program, Inc.

Founded in 1985, Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is like the PhD of the beer world. This hard-earned certification is achieved through an online test followed by an in-person tasting exam. Successful completion of the program allows members the honoured privilege of judging the liquid creations of brewers across the globe. There are approximately 5,600 active judges, with an elite 792 holding the distinguished title of national judge. For context, The National Post reports that 6,000 PhDs graduate annually from Canadian universities. The goal of the BJCP is not only the appreciation of, and education in various beer styles but also the development of structured evaluation methods for beer.

Photo: courtesy of Alex + Mantis/Cometa Photo

Clearly, there are options for students looking to expand their beer horizons. If you simply can’t take any of the aforementioned courses but are still interested in the world of beer, there is a plethora of (usually free) material in print and online. My suggestion: talk to beer people — the friendliest in all the land — and sample — a lot. Regardless of how you approach your education, it’s an excellent time to head back to school and get in on the burgeoning craft-beer renaissance.