Meet the Instructors: Trevor Nichol, Mastering Beer Styles

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[Meet the Instructors is a series intended to introduce you to one of the greatest resources the University of Washington Tacoma Professional Development Center has to offer: its diverse team of veteran, industry-tested professionals. The Center’s professional development programs are designed to be rewarding, challenging and cutting-edge. Our instructors play no small part in that, ensuring students are exposed to the most current industry trends while remaining well-versed in the tried-and-true best practices of their professions. We’re excited to share our instructors with you, and their stories are a great place to start.]

Mastering Beer Styles: Exploration and Evaluation is the PDC’s first venture into the world of craft beer. According to the Brewer’s Association, there are nearly 4,300 craft breweries operating in the U.S. That number is only growing, and Tacoma’s thriving beer culture is a testament to that. Looking to serve the growing body of craft beer professionals, this course is designed to take students on an exploration through the world of beer. Over an intensive 10-week, 40-hour curriculum, students will learn the fundamental history, terminology and style characteristics of beers. The curriculum is based upon the information covered in industry standard exam certifications such as the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) and Cicerone. At the helm of the course’s first iteration is BJCP Master Judge Trevor Nichol. Nichol is an industry veteran, knows beer much better than anyone at The Center, and took some time recently to answer some of our questions.

Tell us about yourself and your experience working in the beer industry?

I live in Tacoma with my beautiful and supportive wife, Laura, and our three-legged dog, Bazan (who, coincidentally, has a beer named after him at E9).

I do a bit of mountain biking when I can and I enjoy tinkering and making things in my shop. I make and sell knives. I started, like many people in the beer industry, with homebrewing. That hobby quickly developed into an obsession and I was reading everything I could on the subject. After a while, I started a company with a partner to combine my day job and my passion for beer: a brewery automation systems business.

Working in the craft brewing industry is great; there are a ton of wonderful and passionate people involved, and sharing ideas and information is commonplace. Also, getting to taste a variety of beers and travel a bit for work is always fun.
You’re a Beer Judge Certificate Program Master Judge – what made you pursue that?

While I was learning to homebrew, I met a few BJCP-ranked judges and was intrigued by the idea of getting training in order to better understand the beers I was making and know exactly what I was tasting and smelling. Once I learned about what was involved in becoming a judge, it sounded like something I would enjoy. I signed up for a class and was on my way.
There’s probably a lot of great things about becoming a judge – but let’s start with what you think is the hardest part?

The test is the hardest part. It involves a tasting and written section including multiple choice and essay questions. The tasting portion is graded against other high-ranking judges. It was months of study and prep!
And the benefits professionally?

It can provide you with a leg up for jobs in the industry if you are a higher ranking judge; it shows that you are dedicated and knowledgeable. Some of the biggest benefits of being a Master level is getting to judge in large-scale commercial competitions such as GABF (Great American Beer Festival).
Moving on to teaching, is this something you’ve done before, leading courses about craft beer?

Yes, this will be my fifth year teaching. I started because I saw a lot of interest around the South Sound for this type of training and exposure. Craft brewing has been growing at a staggering pace and with that there are plenty of industry folks—reps, distributors, bartenders, brewers and owners—who can learn quite a lot about beer production and quality. This class provides a competency edge for any of these folks, as well as being a wonderful resource for homebrewers or just "beer nerds.”
What got you interested in teaching this course in particular?

UW-Tacoma approached me about the possibility of working together on this course and I couldn't say no—it's a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved.
How do you feel about this upcoming class – is there anything unique that you’re especially excited for?

I'm very excited to work with 7 Seas and UW-Tacoma to make this the best class I have done yet; we have a wonderful space in which to teach and amazing support from the staff at UWT. I also look forward, every time I teach, to introducing students to beers and styles they would never have sought out on their own. Everyone inevitably learns more about their own preferences and discovers things they like that they never expected to. We will have guest speakers from the industry to provide insight on various topics, as well as having the class hosted at a brewery to provide students with some hands-on experiences.
Who should want to take this class and why? Who do you think would benefit most?

Anyone interested in beer and how to effectively communicate what they are tasting and smelling would benefit from this class. Everyone from homebrewers, reps, distributors, bartenders, brewers, and owners will learn a lot in this class.
Saving the most important question for the last, what’s your favorite type of beer?

This is a tough question. I have many, many favorites— it depends on my mood or the weather, or time of year. I'm a big fan of many Belgian beers, especially Saison, and Sierra Nevada is one of my favorite American breweries; their quality control and respect for the craft is unparalleled.