Q&A: Roger Mittag (Prud’homme Beer Certification)

Roger Mittag is the founder of the Prud’homme Beer Certification program, a beer educational program founded in Canada. Check out our Q&A with him to find out more about the program. 

CHA: Why did you start the Prud’homme program?

RM: Probably around 2007, I was doing some work with a client, and they said to me, “You should start a certification program because there’s none in Canada and they’re starting up around the world. If you don’t do it, somebody else will.”

I [thought] it would be a good idea [but] I wanted to do a little bit of research on it. So I took a look at the Cicerone program, and thought that their syllabus was very good. It was very diverse, but it didn’t include some of the things that I wanted. I needed something that was Canadian-based. I’m also a big believer that it should be classroom style and there should be different levels that help you to learn. Cicerone is pretty much self taught. And then I travelled to Germany to go see another [beer] sommelier program in Munich and spoke to the people that were running that one. It’s called the Doeman Academy. While their concept was very similar to mine, it was very much compressed. It ran over, about a two and a half week period, and it was relatively expensive. I think it $3000 euros at that time. I’m sure it’s come down in price since the, but I didn’t really see the value in something that compressed. I had done a little bit more research on wine sommelier programs, and looked at one in particular, which is a global leader in wine education—WSET (Wine Spirits Education Trust). And they have a multi level program that is classroom based, so it’s instructor led. You have to go through each one, through each module with a prerequisite to the next one.  so we settled on that format. Spent a little bit of time developing it, and launched it year later in 2008. We launched it as a classroom program and it was a year or two later, I put it into an online format as well.

CHA: What were you doing in 2007 that you had that conversaton about starting this program?

RM: I had worked at Labatts for eight years. I had worked there from 1997 to 2005. 2005, I started my business, Thirst for Knowledge, in hopes of changing the beer world a little bit. Doing a lot of consulting, beer tastings, beer dinners.  When I was at Labatt’s, I was the National Sales Training Manager, so I spent a lot of time developing training programs. And at the same time in 2005, I started teaching at Humber College. So I got a little bit more understanding of how to develop educational programs- course outlines, lesson plans. So it all kind of formatted back in, consulting’s an interesting business, but in the beer industry, it comes and goes, as it probably is in most industries. So I had all the information. I just had to put it together for what I wanted. It’s not like I had it all in 2008, but I had a good start to it.  And it’s just evolved ever since. It constantly changes. Right now, we’re nearing 10 years next year, and I’m pretty happy with Level 1 and Level 2 is. Level 3 is almost as good as I want to get it. there’s not very much to what I want to do to it. A lot of it comes from students who have told me that they want certain things out of each level. I take a look at it at the end of the year, and reformat it if it needs or add something, take some things out.

Hard studying beer. Photo courtesy Roger Mittag.

CHA: Can you explain what the Prud’homme program is right now? Like a quick overview?

RM: The program is what i would consider a beer sommelier program. The design behind it is to give people the skills and knowledge to be able to talk well about beer in multi-different formats and just be comfortable with it. We don’t want people to be beer snobs, but we want them to have enough information to guide people to enjoy beers in many different ways.

Level 1 is called the Beer Enthusiast, and it’s really a beginner’s session. So it doesn’t assume you know anything and goes over the  basics in ingredients and brewing. how to actually smell and taste beer. How to evaluate it properly. Take a bit of a look at draft systems and food pairings. And we go over the history of beer as well. So it covers a range of topics, and not in a tremendous amount of depth, and it lasts about 12 hours in length.

Level 2 is Beer Specialist, and it goes much deeper just about everything. It’s much deeper on the ingredients, a little more about the brewing process, a lot more on global beer history as well as Canadian beer history. More specific on draft beer. We spend a lot more time on beer and food and a lot more time on styles evaluation. So we really get more into styles, understanding what really makes a true to style beer. We also deal with Canadian market insights and trends as well. We try to give people a better look of what the industry holds.

Level 3 is called Beer Sommelier, and it goes much much further in sensory evaluations. We do a lot of blind tastings. There’s a very very large beer and food component to it. We build a draft system, a rudimentary draft system, and we take field trips out to micro-malting facilities and hop farms and breweries, so we can get a better understanding of how the theory all applies. We teach people how to facilitate and lead tastings and dinners, there’s a good component on that as well.

Level 4 is called Master Sommelier. There is very little instruction. A lot of discussion. A beer and food, and sensory component as well. So now they’re trying really hard to analyse a variety of different beers and define them as their style. In the beer and food component, I work with a chef who produces a variety of different types of meals. So in a couple of week, we’re doing soups and beers. So we’ll have five different soups and five different beers. And we do a variety of that. We do seafood, salads, desserts, main courses and soups. And the idea behind that is exploration and not for me to tell people what they should be experiencing, but to allow them to experience a variety of different things and sensations. So when they’re facilitating, or doing anything in their jobs or careers, they [will] have a very good idea of what goes well together. At Level Four, we also teach people how to create a beer portfolio. How to sit down with a client, analyse what their needs are and then come up with a portfolio of beers that would meet their business needs but also fit with what menu they have.

And that’s in a really, really tight nutshell.

CHA: That’s really cool. Honestly, I’ve not heard much about the Prud’homme program. I spent most of my time in BC, in Ontario the last two years, but I’m in Manitoba now, and I’ve heard more about the other programs than the Prud’homme program.

RM: I know. I think that’s my one drawback. Because I’m based in Ontario. It’s relatively strong in Toronto. It’s starting to become stronger in the 905 area. But, we lack in public awareness. Cicerone is a much, much larger program in the United States, and they reach more people. But we’re developing that across Canada. I do have an instructor that’s doing a great job in Vancouver. We’ve done a little bit of work in Alberta, but that’s fallen behind a bit. And you know, in the middle part of Canada, we haven’t really done very much. I was exploring doing something in Manitoba, but I just haven’t connected with the guy to help post it. We’re starting to get some in rows into with Nova Scotia. So I’m doing a pilot project with Nova Scotia Community College, where they put 16 craft brewers and four of their instructors through all the first three levels.

CHA: Oh wow.

RM: Yeah. So I’ve done Level 1 and Level 2. I’m just starting Level 3 with them. It’s really exciting, because you get to know these people quite well. Normally, I don’t to know everyone. I get to see most people at Level 3. It’s fun when you get to walk through Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 with them. And they’re showing a tremendous amount of passion and desire to understand more about beer. So you can see that’s a good opportunity. I’m sort of looking at that as my model to move forward into other provinces. To reach out to craft brewers associations of the various provinces, to see if I connect them with colleges. There is funding out there for this. And I think a lot of people don’t know and don’t explore it. We’re a relatively small company. And I don’t really blame people for not having heard of it.

Blind tasting prep. Photo courtesy of Roger Mittag.

CHA: I know that all your classes are classroom based. Tell me more about being able to do Level One and Level Two online.

RG: Level 1 is very doable online. It takes maybe six or eight hours to complete it, depending on you go through it. There’s a lot of information in it, and it’s identical to the information that’s given in the classroom.

Level 2 is a little bit more complex because of to the tasting component of it. But everything is there and people can do it. I think the big difference between online and classroom is that you get that hands on experience with an instructor and with a bunch of other people that are going to talk. So you get a better experience. I’ve had a couple of people go through Level Two online this year. It’s not something a lot of people do, because they prefer the class. I have to do something with Level Two to reformat it, so that there is a sensory component that I can control and lead. And I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I haven’t spent the time to figure it out.

CHA: That’s fair. I think doing sensory on a computer would be really hard.

RM: Yeah. I was talking to a guy last night, and he said the first time he did Level One, he did it online. And he said, you don’t know if you’re smelling something properly. You don’t know what you should be smelling because you’re the only one doing it. If you had someone else with you, or someone else guiding you, then there’s got to be an opportunity to do that some how. And I got to deal with Level 3 in some component, because there are some people who can’t do the Level 3 in class. But it’s so highly sensory orientated, that it’s really difficult to conceptualize it.

It’s a weird thing to say, but I’m not just looking to graduate people and fill numbers. I really want people to take a lot out of this. So for me, everything that I’m doing is trying to make sure that everyone is getting a quality experience, one way or another.

You go through beer judge certification, or you go through homebrewing, a lot of the emphasis on the feedback is the fixing of flaws that people are doing when they’re brewing beer. So its highly flaw oriented, and my program works the other way. Basically, it says, there may be some flaws, but let’s look and see where the style is first. And if there’s other things there, we can figure it out. There are flaws, where you as homebrewers, where you’ll highlight.  But to me, it’s immaterial. I could care less whether acetaldehyde is showing up in most beers, unless it’s way out of style. You know, green apple’s a very pleasant smell. And it’s probably not supposed to be there in a lot of beers, but most consumers don’t care. I’m more about the amount of oxidation and diacetyl and the big flaws that show quality control problems.

CHA: How do you think your program would benefit a homebrewer?

RM: One of the things that I look at my program is that I don’t focus on craft only. I take a very holistic approach to beer. So there’s a lot of stuff I show in there that has a lot of big brewer background. I think homebrewers can understand a little bit more on why science is important.  It’s not like I’m going to teach people anything about brewing, and I’m certainly not going to be teaching them much about ingredients, especially if they’re homebrewers because they should get there. But we do some background on some history. I think it’s the beer and food component, and the positive aspects that we can go with it. It’s more of an industry approach, so you can see where we’re at within the industry in Canada. But I also think, you know the interesting thing that I’ve heard, and I’ve heard this a couple of times recently. One of my lead instructor gave me a testimonial about this. There’s a lot of people think they know a lot about beer, and then when they come into this program, they start realising they don’t actually know as much as they think. I think everyone can stand to learn a little more.

One thing I forgot to say is, in Level 3, we start serious discussions about glassware-shapes, sizes and what the effect is on every beer. And we get more into that in Level Four. I think that is a big thing a homebrewer can understand. When they’re making a style of beer, it’s more beneficial to think about what they want to end up in terms of experience, and pick the right glass accordingly for that experience. More and more now, I’m starting to find out, what we used to think are the right glasses for certain styles. aren’t necessarily the correct glass.

CHA: What are your plans for the future?

RM: Well, we’re wrapping up all our classes for 2018 and starting to get ready for 2019. Planned all those. My bigger plans are to start stepping away a little bit more from the actual instruction, because that takes a little bit of my time in Level 3 and allows some of my more senior instructors to start doing those. At the same time, start to figure how I can get into Manitoba and Alberta, and the other provinces in a similar way. It’s a little bit about strategy,  about how do we bring this program to the rest of Canada, in a way that people will enjoy it.

Another goal is to develop the corporate side of the business, and that is to run the classes for breweries or for restaurant chains, and not just simply for the public. We do that in a lot of different places. It’s primarily how we do it BC. So that’s a big opportunity for us as well. We’re to get in with more hospitality colleges and culinary schools, and make them understand that having a basic   background in beer is going to help them when they go to look for jobs.

Featured image courtesy of Roger Mittag.

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