“Craft beer doesn’t have to be uppity or arrogant — actually that’s the last thing it should be.” – Katie Alsip
At Rhinegeist, education is a crucial component of our ethos. In order for us to make great day-to-day decisions, we must understand our industry, and an in-depth, beer-specific education helps us achieve that aim. Educating all employees forges a common bond and language amongst our team, helps us understand how fragile the product we work with is, and lends us a healthy perspective on the specific role each of us plays in the life of beer.
This commitment to internal education catalyzes our external education efforts. The more our beer perspectives broaden, the more effectively we can educate other beer lovers; and, the more beer lovers know about how great a beer can be, the more they will appreciate the quality and consistency of our craft. In a market that is increasingly crowded and complex, we believe it is imperative that as many people as possible experience our product from grain to glass. Our goal as a brewery is to be inclusive, connecting with folks from all knowledge backgrounds and inviting them to share our enthusiasm for taste, tinkering, and community.
Training & Exploration
In broad strokes, beer education takes two basic forms: training and exploration. Training is a vital part of the brewing industry. Learning to brew on your own or with a larger team requires specific knowledge — mastering protocols, remembering processes, getting acquainted with the way things are done. Every job at Rhinegeist requires training, from day-to-day brewing operations to maintenance, distribution, sales, and marketing. If undergone properly, training produces profound, measurable results.
Although less easily quantifiable, exploration is every bit as vital to the health and wellness of our craft. Exploration provides the “why” to training’s “how.” At Rhinegeist, the curiosity, diversity, and growth fostered through exploration (both within the craft beer community and in other areas) is why education is important to us outside of the realm of formal training. Education in this broader sense takes many shapes here — reaching outside of brewing into physical health and wellness, financial savviness, and even personal, philosophical growth. For the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on two beer-related avenues of exploratory education organized at Rhinegeist: the Cicerone education program and Brewcademy, both of which are taught by our Director of Education, Chris Shields.
Straight from the horse’s mouth, “the word Cicerone (sis-uh-rohn) designates hospitality professionals with proven experience in selecting, acquiring and serving today’s wide range of beers.” The Cicerone® Program, which just celebrated its tenth anniversary, consists of four levels of certification. The Certified Beer Server certification provides a basic understanding of beer, how to present it, and how to serve it. All Rhinegeist employees are required to pass the Certified Beer Server exam.
“You meet somebody, learn that they work at Rhinegeist, and the next question is inevitably about beer,” says Chris. “You expect a certain level of base knowledge to be present, as well as a certain level of excitement.”
The second level, Certified Cicerone®, is a big jump. It’s a four-hour exam with an in-person tasting component. We currently have 26 Certified Cicerones on our team at Rhinegeist, which is a great point of pride for us. Beyond Certified Cicerone, one may aspire to be an Advanced or even Master Cicerone, both of which require long treks up snowy Tibetan mountainsides and strenuous, power ballad-fuelled training montages. Not for the faint of heart.
The Cicerone program establishes a knowledge base across our team that translates into passion and proficiency, especially for our many staff members that are interested in beer, but haven’t necessarily had the exposure or formal training that a brewer undergoes (i.e. they haven’t been chasing down beer styles and hounding blogs for the past decade and maybe never had the chance to homebrew on their own). Sponsoring the Cicerone program for all of our employees helps create standards we hold ourselves to, and empowers our team to tell the story of Rhinegeist in a more complete and interesting way.
Beer knowledge and awareness can spark creativity, as well. We’re fortunate to have a production team staffed by brewing professionals with fermentation science degrees, but, in other departments, awareness of the vast variability within styles and diverse means with which these styles are executed, can serve as a catalyst for output beyond literal beer making. Educated salespeople better represent our beer, marketers present our product more authentically, tour guides speak more confidently about specialty offerings, bartenders make more accurate recommendations and are better able to process feedback, and so on. Put simply: when we learn, consumers learn, and when consumers learn, we learn some more — a mutually beneficial education cycle.
Brewcademy: Drink Smarter.
Speaking of consumers learning, let’s talk Brewcademy. Brewcademy brings a forum for education to the public — we love beer, and know there are others in Cincy who dig it just as much as we do, so why not come together and talk shop? We wanted to build a program that fit our style and was intriguing to the average beer appreciator. What we devised is a school-themed series, taught by a certified industry professional, hosted within the walls of our brewery. All classes revolve around an annual theme and focus on various facets of that theme. The inaugural theme is “Styles Around the World”. We covered English styles in the first class, Belgian styles in the second, and German styles in the third. Brewcademy does a deep dive into local, national, and international breweries, rather than just the Rhinegeist portfolio, providing a well-rounded introduction to the featured subject.
“Brewcademy is a program that, among the hustle and bustle of the ever-evolving beer industry, allows us to reconnect with a few important roots” says Katie Alsip, who manages the Brewcademy program. “It allows us to focus on the basics — styles, history, origin, and progression of the liquid we all love. It allows us to connect more intimately with our consumer, and it gives us the chance to be a true and honest resource for beer education. Simply, it adds value — it’s a reminder to the beer-lover, and to ourselves, that we’re not just here to sell you beer. We’re here to be a part of your beer adventure.”
Craft beer continues to grow in popularity, but outside of the industry bubble, we must remember that there are still masses of people that have yet to be properly introduced to our world. Craft beer can be an intimidating thing for some people, and Brewcademy offers an accessible, friendly, non-expert level look at beer education. We hope it makes people feel more comfortable in getting to know craft better.
“Craft beer doesn’t have to be uppity or arrogant,” Katie adds, “actually that’s the last thing it should be.”
Stories Make Us Strong
Our emphasis on education is perhaps best summarized by our Director of Culture, Dennis Kramer-Wine. For him, beer is a major part of the equation, but the beer itself doesn’t resonate as strongly without the culture in which it exists. Education is one of the things that bolsters that culture and sets us apart from other breweries.
“The product and the quality of the product is one thing — after that it’s a question of how people are treated,” says Dennis. “If we can share nuggets of information with people who are truly educated in beer, that tells a story. And stories are what propel us, in a lot of ways. For us to be out in the industry, and out in the world, telling our story — in that way Rhinegeist is strong. And all these things flow together: the brand is strong, the beer is strong, the stories are alive, and they’re there. The more we educate our people about the product and how it’s made, the stronger those stories become, and the more credibility we have in the beer community.”
As long as people yearn to learn, the Rhinegeist team will be happy to teach. We’ll see you in the (beer) classroom!