The Hard Road for the Nation’s Top Bartenders • Hop Culture

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1.27.17

The Hard Road for the Nation’s Top Bartenders

Bartenders and beer service professionals have stepped up their game by investing in education.

Written by Kenny Gould

Photography by KG

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In recent years, as craft beer has grown in quality and popularity, the industry has attracted talent more befitting world class cuisine than backyard barbecue. “Master Cicerone” is an accreditation requiring so much study and preparation that it’s akin to becoming a master sommelier — perhaps one of the reasons why only a handful of people in the entire world hold the designation. Brewers now double as scientists and engineers. And bartending, too, has gone from a side job to a full-fledged and competitive career.

At no place is this more evident than Covenhoven, a Brooklyn-based bar known for its extensive tap and bottle list of rare and hard-to-find beers, as well as its bartender education program. In this area, they’re ahead of the curve, arbiters of an industry trend that’s just starting to catch on. 

“We’re not investing in a single show but in the life of a playwright,” says Robert Sherrill, a former actor turned bartender and Covenhoven’s current manager.

“Master Cicerone” is an accreditation requiring so much study and preparation that it’s akin to becoming a master sommelier — perhaps one of the reasons why only a handful of people in the entire world hold the designation.

What he means is that Covenhoven’s employees aren’t fly-by-night artists moonlighting as bartenders, but professionals who see beer service as the beginning, middle, and end of their roads. For this reason, the bar invests time, energy, and resources into challenging their bartenders to become expert craftspeople.

As part of Covenhoven’s education program, all new employees are assigned a reading list. Required reading includes two books commonly seen as “beer bibles”: Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher and The Complete Beer Course by Brooklyn-based Joshua M. Bernstein. Recommended reading, though not required, includes The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Garrett Oliver; The Brewmaster’s Table, by Garrett Oliver; Craft Beer Revolution, by Steve Hindy; Beer School, by Steve Hindy and Tom Potter; and Brewing Up a Business, by Sam Caligione.  

Photo courtesy of Covenhoven

Covenhoven bartenders must also take an off-flavor course taught by Robert that uses the Siebel Institute’s Off-Flavor Sensory Kit, giving them a literal taste of off-flavors. Training includes field trips (like a bike tour that Robert leads to a few breweries in Long Island City, Queens) and a 100-question test.

Bartenders and beer service professionals investing in their education—this is a trend worth keeping.

For the bars investing in their employees, rewards have come in the form of increased respect and spending from consumers: just try squeezing into Covenhoven’s crammed backyard garden on a sunny Saturday afternoon. And the employees who take time to invest in their educations have also reaped rewards. Take the example of Covenhoven’s previous manager, James Case, who was hired as the beverage operations manager at the well-respected Threes Brewing, just up the road.

The rise of career bartenders and beer service professionals shows that craft isn’t a fad, but something more enduring. For years, brewmasters and beer nerds have tried to get general consumers to look at craft beer with the same reverence that they give to French burgundy or Napa cabernet. Now we’re seeing signs that their efforts haven’t been in vain. 

Bartenders and beer service professionals investing in their education—this is a trend worth keeping.

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