It's been pretty, pretty hectic since I got back home, and certainly an adjustment. After all, I was in Berlin long enough for the neighborhood bakery to have my Mandel Plunder bagged and waiting for my 7:45 arrival, to occasionally give directions, to be a regular with predictable lunch orders, and to find myself criticizing tourists. There are people who I am going to miss quite a lot, but it is really great to be back home, and now I have lots of countries to visit. This is a little overdue, but I promised an overall review of the program and a survival guide for those attending next year's course. By now, surely only prospective brewmasters are reading anyway.
A lot of people ask me why I chose VLB. Really, it was a pretty simple decision. The options as I saw them were U.C. Davis and Siebel within the US, VLB or Weihenstephan in Germany, or Heriot-Watt in the UK. There are a few other options, but these are the big ones that command respect. I quickly narrowed down the list to Davis and VLB. Siebel is a much shorter program, and has a reputation for having mostly beginners and being a bit more of a party than an education. I think the Siebel program is probably better suited for someone without prior experience, and with minimal time. Heriot-Watt is good but has an emphasis on distilling and (I would imagine but don't know for sure) a pretty big British influence. Davis was a close second for me. It might have been cheaper, but it wasn't in Germany and while I very much respect them, some of Davis' main professors are British. Let's just say that I like British people a lot more than British beer. Germany is the place to study beer if you ask me. Weihenstephan is 100% auf Deutsch, and was therefore not an option for me. If you are fluent, you should look into that program and compare it to VLB.
So I found myself at the VLB surrounded by 13 different nationalities and 28 different backgrounds/levels of expertise. I've had my share of criticisms of the VLB, but overall I still believe that it was the best possible choice for me. If I had the time, I might have done the Diplom- Braumeister program, but I flat out didn't have 2.5+ years to commit. If time is on your side, look into it. VLB staff told me that the Diplom program is quite similar to the Certified Brewmaster Course, but obviously the CBC is much more intensive. I learned a lot in the classroom, in the labs, and from my classmates. I came with a big list of questions and just before graduation I pulled it out, expecting to find a bunch of unanswered ones. I planned to get some last minute answers, but instead I found myself answering most of the questions. So, while there's room for improvement, overall I am satisfied with the VLB experience.
Survival Guide/Advice for Future Participants
- Almost no one in Berlin accepts credit cards. Cash is king.
- Don't expect to learn or improve your German during this program.
- Berlin is a very cheap place to live if you are frugal and avoid the touristy places. Expect to pay around 250-300 Euros a month for rent if you share an apartment. My rent was 170/month.
- You want to live in Prenzlauer Berg. If you want to go super low budget, then let me know and I'll put you in touch with the place that I stayed in Friedenau. It is not as cool or close or fun as Prenzlauer Berg, but it is a little bit cheaper and a very nice place.
- Using the transit system (a must) will cost you 52.50 Euros/month. Get a weekly/daily passes until school starts and VLB gets you the documents needed to get the aforementioned discount rate.
- Every time you hear the phrase "you will come to know this..." in class, write down whatever it is that you are supposed to come to know, and make sure that it gets explained.
- Take note of Burghard's motivation curve.
- Get in the habit (from day 1!) of briefly reviewing what was taught that day and write down questions for anything you don't understand. Then ask those questions in class.
- Do not be afraid to ask questions and to make the class more interactive.
- Bring 4 days worth of dress up clothes. You'll only need them for the 2 excursions and graduation. Everything else is casual.
- Be prepared for 4 months of very cold, very wet weather, followed by 2 months of paradise.
- Use my map in the links section. Add to it (anyone can edit it) and pass it on to future classes.