A Certified Cicerone® takes the MBAA Beer Steward Exam

I recently passed the Master Brewers Association of the Americas’ Beer Steward exam. Some friends have asked why I bothered with it since I’m a Certified Cicerone®? It’s true, but I’m also a student of beer, and I’m a teacher of beer. There’s nothing I enjoy more than leading Craft Beer 101 at a local establishment or coaching beer professionals as they prepare for the level one or two Cicerone Certification Program exam.

I was familiar with the MBAA program but never paid it much mind as I’ve been on the Cicerone journey the last several years. But on a recent trip to Asheville for the Beer Marketing & Tourism Conference, a Sierra Nevada representative at the Mills River brewery mentioned it. He told us it was a good way to train their taproom staff and tour guides. I’m not sure they still use it, I think he said they developed an in-house training program based on the first five chapters of the MBAA program. But it made me curious.

When I got home, I looked into the program and signed up. No matter how well you know something, it’s good to keep the skills sharp. I figured if anything, it would be a good refresher. My overall impression of the MBAA Beer Steward certification is it a useful vehicle for learning and certifying beer knowledge. I’m thoroughly in the Cicerone Certification Program camp, but this is a good alternative for taprooms and retailers. If anything, I thought it was more in-depth than the level one Certified Beer Server, but far short of the intensity of the level two Certified Cicerone® exam.

Should you become an MBAA Beer Steward? Maybe. It depends on what your career goals are. If you have no desire to become a Certified Cicerone® but still want to validate your beer cred, it’s a good option. If you have long-term goals in the industry, I think the Certified Cicerone® is a better choice. You’ll need $195 to cover the exam fee, or if you’re in the industry, ask your boss to pay it. It’s a great option for learning more about all aspects of the industry, just not the only one. You can learn more about the program from the MBAA website.

When you register, you’ll receive the MBAA Beer Steward Handbook and a Tasting Journal in the mail. You also get access to the online exam, a 75-questions test to be completed in 60 minutes. If by chance you do not pass, you can retake the exam once more after a 7-day waiting period.

The Beer Steward Handbook is about 250 pages, divided into eleven chapters and four appendices covering the history of beer, ingredients, styles, brewing processes, retail considerations, flavor science, food pairing and more. The scope of the content is nearly identical to the level two Cicerone body of knowledge. It’s not the most entertaining read, but it is well structured, thorough and informative. I knocked it out over a couple of weeks this Spring while enjoying the sunset, good beers and a wealth of beer information on my front porch.

I finished the book on a Friday evening and signed in to take the exam Saturday morning. It didn’t take me long, and I expected as much. I kept an eye on the timer and got to question 50 in ten minutes, then finished with 45:22 to go. That’s 75 questions in 14 minutes, 38 seconds, about one questions every 20 seconds, but your mileage may vary.

I scored 100%, but that’s not a big accomplishment. I anticipated that I’d do well. Having taken (and failed) the Advanced Cicerone exam (twice), nothing on the exam was outside my wheelhouse. For me a was a fun quiz, but if you’re just starting your beer journey, you will find it challenging. I’m not trying to brag, did I mention I’ve failed other beer certification exams? The MBAA exam is not easy. If you don’t know much about beer, the Beer Steward exam will crush you. It is a legitimate measure of beer knowledge. Do not rush in hastily if you haven’t put in the time with the Beer Steward Handbook.

For aspiring Cicerone candidates, the best thing about the MBAA program is the Beer Steward Handbook. While it’s not on the official Certified Cicerone® resource list, I guarantee you will find it helpful. You can buy it from MBAA for $30 without taking the MBAA exam. It’s a bargain, and I wish I had it when I was embarking on my level two journey in 2013.

I’m not saying any of the content of the book was new to me, but the presentation had a different twist. I have considerable beer knowledge, but I still learned new things. You can always learn something new, regardless how much you think you know.

I don’t call myself a beer expert. I know enough to understand just how much I don’t know. I’m a student, and there is always more to learn. In that light, I can highly recommend the MBAA Beer Steward program if you want to increase and validate your comprehension of beer. Or, if you are preparing for the Certified Cicerone® exam, just buy the book.