Saturday, June 8, 2013

Serious Beer Course

A couple of years ago, I put my name in the hat for best wife of the year and bought my husband the Pacific Institute of Culinary Art’s Serious Beer Course. I think I won that wife thing. When I had a break from my MBA courses this year, I thought it was my turn to take the course.

So why did I take it? I’m pretty passionate about drinking craft beer but I wanted to learn more about the brewing process, history and the styles of beer I love so much. Sure, I could just read Randy Mosher’s book, Tasting Beer, as it is the text used for the course, but I felt I’d absorb a lot more with an instructor and a group of fellow beer geeks in the class.

Chester Carey teaches the course and is a graduate from PICA’s Culinary Arts program (2005). He has his Sommelier certification and is also a Certified Cicerone® - in fact, he was Canada’s first Certified Cicerone®. This guy teaches, judges beer, sells beer (at Brewery Creek Liquor Store) and is part of Re-Up BBQ – one of Vancouver’s popular food carts. Quite the slacker, I know…  Chester’s insight, culinary background and extensive knowledge of beer, tasting notes, food pairing, history etc. makes for a perfect instructor.

The course is eight weeks of serious beer education. It runs Wednesday evenings from 6:00 – 9:00pm at the PICA location on Granville Island. You literally have to walk through one of the kitchens to get to the classroom – good luck walking through and not wanting to graze on the yummy food the students are making. Side note, the culinary team serves inexpensive meals in their restaurant and has a catering division.

Our class of fifteen consisted of people like me who wanted to learn more and perhaps, take the Cicerone® exam one day, those in the industry (beer reps, liquor store sales, restaurants) and home brewers. One third of the class was women, which was awesome to see. We all had a passion for craft beer and other than the two (a couple) who mysteriously dropped out after the third lesson, we had a consistent group with good dialogue. About the couple who left, she was in the food and beverage industry and when he introduced himself he said that he liked beer and there was no way he was going to let his girlfriend know more about it than he did.  Stay classy, Neanderthal.

The class structure each week would start with a slide presentation on that lesson’s topic followed by discussion and then beer tastings! Each night, there were six beers to taste that would complement the lesson. At the end of every class, you were sent away with chapters to read. Here’s how it played out:

Lesson One – Beer Basics, History, Introduction to Beer Tasting

Guess which was used as a "base line" (no taste) beer?

Lesson Two – Brewing Process and we made a German Wheat beer!

Lesson Three – Belgian Beers

Lesson Four – German Beers

Lesson Five – Food Pairing and Off Flavours (beer was also bottled)
Sadly, I missed this lesson (to attend a sour dinner at Biercraft…) and I heard it was fantastic. The culinary students whipped up a beautiful meal that Chester paired with the beers. I’m going to try to sit in on this lesson when it’s held in the fall as I was truly disappointed to miss it. Not only the pairings, but I really wanted to learn more about the off flavours in beer. It’s one thing to read that Diacetyl is buttery but I want to experience the actual taste.

Lesson Six – British Beers

Lesson Seven – North American Beers

Lesson Eight – Final Exam!
Yup, there’s an exam and it covers everything we learned in the last eight weeks. Multiple choice, fill in the blank, short essay questions and a blind tasting where you need to identify the style, the actual name of the beer (if you can) and produce tasting notes. Chester has had over 150 students write this exam and up until now, only two students guessed two of the beer names/styles exactly. A twenty-one year old culinary student guessed all four of them. I bow to you, young grasshopper, what a palate!

There were two quizzes given with the grades not recorded, but it gave you a good sense of your knowledge of the material and what to study for the final. No spoiler alert on what classes had the quizzes...

The final exam is a pass/fail (70% +) and I’m happy to report, I passed!  I’m a Serious Beer graduate and I can’t wait for our weekly reunion parties. That’s happening, right Chester?

The cost of the course is $499.00 (tax deductible), so not a drop in the bucket, but it’s a great course and it definitely gives you a solid platform to build your beer knowledge on. Chester indicated that he plans on doing a Level Two of this course that would include building a draught line, writing beer recipes, making those recipes and working with the culinary team to put together a tasting menu. Those are the highlights I recall and I’d love to take it once time permits. I believe the first offering will be this fall and the perquisite will be noted – i.e. taking the Serious Beer Level One, Beer Industry Professional, Brewer etc. – as this course will assume you have a good knowledge of beer and brewing.

I had a great time in the course learning, tasting and meeting people who are passionate about their beers. So sign up, be a beer geek graduate, and watch the PICA site for the Level Two course!



  1. While it's cool that he's offering a class on how to brew beer, I think you and your husband would be successful just buying the equipment yourselves and making it happen.

    1. It was a quick session for the brewing part but I know all the steps now!