General Certificate in Brewing Attempt

November 14 2018

I’ve been fairly focused the last couple of months studying for the General Certificate in Brewing (GCB) examination. The GCB is administered by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD) and is sat in testing centers globally. The test covers a melange of subjects and theory related to commercial brewing and is offered in two distinctions, Bright Beer or Cask and Craft Beer production. The pass rate, averaged over the past two years is 57%. On Tuesday November 13th I sat the Cask and Craft Beer specialization examination.

Thoughts on the online learning material

The online learning material was far easier to digest than the PDFs of yesteryear. At the time of writing, the IBD no longer offers the raw PDFs, which in my opinion, is for the better since the previous material was similar to reading a textbook. The online learning material also comes with sample questions following each section. While the don’t exactly mimic the style of the actual examination (online tests are multiple choice while the examination is a mix of multiple choice, x choice of n, and diagram identification), they give a good indication of the level of detail one needs to memorize.

Thoughts on the GCB as a Homebrewer

[PERSONAL OPINION ALERT] If you do not value you my opinion (and I encourage you not to) you might want to skip this section.

This test is intended for commercial brewers. Taking it as a Homebrewer puts one at a significant disadvantage. Of the eight topics this examination covers, five of the eight sections are extremely interesting, two of the other three are a bit of a drag, and the remaining module was half stimulating.

The learning materials I found interesting were Introduction to Brewing, Raw Materials, Wort Production, Fermentation, and Maturation. These five sections, while comprehensive and aimed at the commercial space, contain a wealth of information regarding topics that homebrewers can reasonably relate back to their hobby. Of these five I found Fermentation and Maturation to be the most informative and I even printed out the material for reference when brewing at home.

The two sections that were less enjoyable for me were Hygiene and Engineering/Utilities/Environment. The Hygiene section was primarily comprised of cleaning products, their composition, safety procedures when using them, and application in a Clean in Place (CIP) system. This section was extremely hard to conceptualize for me. I haven’t used almost any of the products mentioned and I don’t believe I’d be able to recognize CIP specific equipment in a brewery. I absorbed most of the safety information and the general CIP process, but I didn’t memorize every chemical agent and their caveats which definitely came back to bite me on the test. The only agent I think I truely memorized was phosphoric acid and even then the only reason for that is because it’s what Star San is comprised of.

Engineering/Utilities/Environment was also less than thilling for me. The Engineering section was forty some odd slides, half of which were different types of pumps and valves. The extent of pipe and duct work in my garage brewery is flexible hose from my mash tun to my kettle. I feel like this section was more interesting than Hygiene, but the main drawback is I really wasn’t able to relate much of the material back to what I’m familiar with. Utilities and Environment were slightly more interesting but after trudging through what seemed like an endless Engineering section I was fairly soured on this discipline.

Of the eight subjects, I found Quality to be the only one where half of the content was great, and the other half a bit mundane. This section, unlike the previous two, wasn’t dull to me because I couldn’t relate it to Homebrewing, rather it was boring because it reminded me of my day job. The majority of this section discussed quality management systems, hazard detection, and documentation. It was literally the brewery equivalent of site reliability engineering. While these subjects are critical to a professional brewery they’re pretty mundane to the average hobbyist. When I work on personal programming projects I hardly adhere to best practices, especially if I'm just hacking away at something. Hell, the code running this website doesn’t even follow a style guide *GASP*. Are the topics in this section important? Yes, and they’re critical to any production facility. Are they boring? I plead the fifth.

The portion of the Quality section I found enjoyable was the Microbial Contamination sub-section. This section pertains to the previous five interesting sections and discusses where off flavors or even pathogens can develop.

Thoughts on the actual test

Luckily there was a testing facility about fifteen minutes from my place in CO. It appears this isn’t always the case however. When I was living in San Jose they originally assigned me a testing facility in Sacramento which would have been extremely inconvenient.

The test more or less met my expectations. Given that I’d taken all of the online practice tests I wasn’t really surprised with the difficulty of the questions. It’s a hard test that requires careful reading and a solid grasp of the vocabulary. I do have one slight complaint however.

I ended up taking the Cask and Craft Beer specialization for little other reason than it’s a much cooler sounding name than Bright Beer. During the examination, there were at least two questions that referred to topics I believe are more related to the Bright Beer distinction. One referenced Bright Beer Tanks and another mentioned High Gravity Dilution. While there was some discussion on these sprinkled into the Hygiene section of the online material, it seems strange that these are mentioned in the Cask and Craft Beer test at all.

Truth be told, I’d actually prefer a joint Bright Beer and Cask/Craft Beer program with an additional five or so questions on the exam so that cross contamination (get it?) of questions doesn’t occur. That being said it’s significantly easier to criticise than implement so take my outlook with a grain of salt (or a whole shaker).

How’d you do, Chris?

Results will be released in December. Given that I didn’t give the Quality or Hygiene section anywhere near the care they deserve I’m predicting a high fail or low pass.

UPDATE: I passed! Onto the Diploma in Brewing exams.