New world champion beer sommelier crowned in Munich

The fifth World Championship title went to beer sommelier Stephan Hilbrandt of Bonn.
© Doemens / PHOTOGRAPHY by Andreas Grieger

The fifth World Championship of Beer Sommeliers was held last Sunday at the Munich trade fair just before the opening of drinktec. Interest in the competition had never been higher – most likely because of the current fascination with craft beer. The title went to 32-year-old Stephan Hilbrandt of Bonn.

For years the beer industry slumbered, and the role of the beer sommelier slept right along with it. But as the craft beer sector has exploded internationally, these experts have thrown off the covers and made a name for themselves again. This transformation is visible not only in the training courses being offered to future beer experts, but also in the increasingly popular world championship, where their knowledge is put to the test. This year’s competition attracted a record number of participants and nations: “We really can’t believe how much the competition has grown since 2009,” said Michael Zepf, the director of the event. Preliminary national competitions guaranteed that the level and skills of the competitors were even higher this year.

German beer sommelier wins World Championships

More than 3.000 beer sommeliers from all around the world competed for the title in 2017. 70 of these experts from 15 countries qualified for the final showdown in Munich by successfully completing a range of tests during the national rounds: They had to identify abnormal aromas, recognize different beer styles, conduct beer presentations and take a multiple-choice test covering many aspects of the beverage. In the end, the German Stephan Hilbrandt beat out his 69 competitors.

During the finals, the computer scientist from Bonn took on five other expert beer sommeliers: Frank Lucas of Germany, Felix Schiffner and Clemens Kainradl of Austria, Matteo Toso of Italy and Rodrigo Sawamura of Brazil. Hilbrandt won over the eight-member jury with his comprehensive knowledge and lively beer presentation that focused on the Belgian Trappist beer “Orval.” He will now wear the champion’s crown for two years, during which time he says he has one goal: “As the new world champion beer sommelier, my most important job is to introduce the diversity of beer varieties to an even broader group of people and to get them excited about this cultural good.”

Wide support for the World Championship

The highly respected Doemens Academy in Gräfelfing, near Munich, organizes the World Championship of Beer Sommeliers each year. The competition is also supported by a group of sponsors who are dedicated to the culture and diversity of beer, including drinktec in particular, a large number of brewers, the technology company BrauKon and the Barth-Haas Group – the world’s largest supplier of hop products and services. Trade groups involved in the competition include the Bavarian Brewing Association, the German Brewing Association, the Independent Brewers Association, the Swiss Brewing Association and the Association of Austrian Brewers.

place2beer: The meeting point for beer professionals and craft brewers

Anyone who is curious about what beer sommeliers do can meet and talk to many of them by visiting the place2beer area at drinktec. Visitors to the site just have to look for someone wearing a beer-tap lapel pin. As well, some of the brewers at drinktec who have also earned the beer sommelier title are happy to talk about the special qualities of their craft beers. Guests can also hear talks about fascinating topics such as beer and cheese, or beer and chocolate, and sample a wide range of craft beers. More information can be found on the drinktec website in the event database.

Mareike Hasenbeck

Mareike Hasenbeck is a freelance journalist with her own craft beer blog (Feiner Hopfen), she is also a beer sommelier and an international expert for beer sensory certified by the DLG (German Agricultural Society).