‘Beer Heaven’ training sessions underway

“This class was born of a hunger to learn more about beer and better serve our customers,” explained NOffLA Chairman Gary O’Donovan in introducing the class of 28 off-licensees to the NOffLA’s first Craft Beer & Cider Training Programme and its course tutor Dean McGuinness, the ‘Beer Messiah’ from Premier International Beers.

Those taking part in the three-hour introductory session on Craft Beer Diversity would develop their beer-tasting skills, learn how to talk about beer, set about “understanding ‘understanding’ beer’” (as Dean put it) and be able to hone their beer retailing skills in order to make their customers happy because there are “no absolutes” in beer preference among consumers, said Dean.

This being so, those attending would also get an introduction to understanding beer styles and would get the chance to take qualifications in Beer Skills.

Finally, they’d get an outline of what’s involved in Level II of the Training Course.

Dean has based NOffLA’s Programme on the Beer Judge Certification Programme which, with an impeccable sense of good timing for this course, has just revised its BJCP Style Guidelines for the first time since 2008.

The theme for the evening’s tasting of eight beers and one perry (ranging from Deus to Kirin Ichiban to Hogan’s Vintage Perry) was ‘appropriateness’: how appropriate should your response be to a request for help from a customer?

This would depend on the circumstances of the occasion and the level of knowledge sought by the customer.

“If your customer is just popping in to pick up a beer and is in a hurry but want’s your advice there’s no point bamboozling him with technicality,” advised Dean, “Keep it simple and brief.”


Five minutes to the perfect beer

He spoke of ‘five minutes to the perfect beer’ for customers – the five minutes spent listening carefully to what customers actually want and guiding those customers to their own perfect beer choice based on the correct questions from you as a retailer coupled with the customers’ responses.

The course serves to give retailers a firmer footing in handling craft beer and cider queries but it can be built upon to go much much further.

For beer knowledge, whether on the part of the consumer or the drinks industry, can be broken down into different bands or levels to enable off-licensees give an appropriate response:

  1. brand-oriented consumers (who tend to evince single brand loyalties).
  2. those who appreciate beers
  3. understanding beer through formal tasting sessions such as this
  4. an appropriate ‘brewery understanding of beer’ response
  5. a ‘scientific research understanding of beer’.

Most of us, after the first class, weould be delighted to think that we could make it to Level 3…. Now that would be appropriate.




The next Stage One 3-hour training session takes place in the Clarion Hotel in Cork on Monday 9th November.

The Stage Two sessions – a foundation in craft beer & cider – take place over two days on Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th November at a venue yet to be announced in Dublin. 

The Clarion Hotel in Cork will be the venue for the southern Stage Two on Monday 22nd February and Tuesday 23rd February 2016.




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