Beer schools

By Gregg Smith

Quiet rules the classroom as students direct their attention to a worksheet. Next door classmates huddle over books, thumb through reference manuals, scan tables and consult graphs. In yet another part of the school calculations fill scrap paper as more students peer through microscopes and check petri dishes. All seems normal, except here the pupils have every moment, topic and ounce of concentration focused on beer. Beer? Can you get in on that? Sure; by enrolling in one of the country's growing number of brew schools. With a curriculum designed to transform you from beer drinker to brewer your school selection could even lead to a degree in Brewing Science and Technology.

Be honest; has the thought of opening a microbrewery ever crossed your mind? Maybe as a consumer you fell in love with beer and contemplated a career change. Perhaps you've gained a little experience by homebrewing. Would that provide a sufficient background? Maybe. Will you encounter unexpected problems? Probably. How much more should you know? Lots, and at a college of brewing you can get everything you need, from science and theory to application and hands on practice. Surprisingly these institutions do not represent a new trend, they've been around for centuries.

Most well known among the world's brew schools, Weinhenstephan in Bavaria, north of Munich, was founded by a monastic order in 1040 AD. Beer was important to any monastery or abbey as an essential food staple. Thus, the apprenticeship of new brewers became an important brewhouse duty. Centuries later the training at Weinhenstephan was formalized and now the beer world looks to it as a center of brewing science.

America too has a history of brewing education. In the late 19th century thousands of breweries operated in the US; understandably, schools were established to meet the demand for knowledgeable brewers. Though many of America's brewing schools faded, a few continue to supply the educational needs of the industry. From handling barley to analyzing fermentation products, they teach all the necessary elements for putting a great beer in your glass.

Siebel Institute of Chicago, oldest among America's brew schools, traces its roots to 1868. In that year an immigrant with a doctorate from the University of Berlin established "John E. Siebel's Chemical Laboratory" on the city's north side. By 1872 he changed its name to the "Zymotechnic Institute" and opened a brewing school as one of the services provided. By 1882 this school for "practical brewers" formed an internship agreement with a local brewery owned by Michael Brand. Surviving prohibition by adapting the school's resources to baking and refrigeration technology, it returned exclusively to brewing studies following repeal and has maintained that focus ever since.

Siebel's curriculum contains everything from seminars to diploma courses. Completion of their "long course" which culminates with the award of a diploma, requires ten weeks of intensive study according to Dave Radzanowski, the Institute's Vice President, Educational Services. "We run two long courses per year with about 40 brewers attending each course." When asked to describe the profile of those who enroll, Radzanowski first outlines Siebel's entry requirements. "Brewers need to have 2 - 3 years experience for the long course, so a good many students come from larger, established breweries. Typically foreign companies account for about 60% while most of the remainder work for large breweries in the US." In fact Radzanowski himself reflects this profile. Prior to accepting his position at Siebel he was Director of Brewing and Vice President at Joseph Huber Brewing Company. He also graduated from the Institute's long course. For Radzanowski, and many others, Siebel has always represented the best in American brewing education, but as of late another has attained near equal status.

On the west coast, the University of California-Davis developed its own noteworthy brewing school. In fact, the traditional branch of the college now boasts a formal, four year baccalaureate degree in Brewing Science and Technology. Not overlooking microbrewers, they've also established certificate bearing extension courses.

Most demanding among the extension school's curriculum, the "Master Brewers" course encompasses all aspects of the brewers art. During each session approximately 25 students follow a rigorous 5 1/2 month schedule of lectures and practical exercises which readies them for a career in brewing. Overseen by a distinguished staff which includes Dr. David Ryder and Dr. Michael Lewis, the most unique aspect occurs after completion. Ms. Debbie Roberts explains the UC-Davis work can lead to additional certification "It prepares graduates to sit for the Associate Membership Examination of the Institute of Brewing in London."

Long courses at both Siebel and UC-Davis offer everything a person entering the brew business needs to start up a new facility. But what if you simply can't commit that amount of time? Maybe you'd prefer a shorter, more intensive course. Fortunately, this scenario yields a greater number of options. Better yet, your choices include a content spectrum which runs from largely theoretical to a more hands-on approach.

How do you locate short courses? To begin you could call the Institute of Brewing Studies in Boulder, Colorado. As a division of the Association of Brewers they'll happily suggest schools their members have attended. You can also refer to beer trade magazines which regularly feature brew schools among their advertisers.

As one of the short course brew schools, The American Craft Brewers Academy in Torrance, California provides novices and others with training which combines the brewhouse and classroom. Open to anyone, it uses a Bohemia Systems brewery combined with lectures from Dr. Paul Farnsworth, Dr. Joseph Owades, and Michael Jackson. Convening four times per year, with a class-size of about 35, the schooling covers common methods, techniques, calculations and problem solving over a span of nine consecutive days. Use of these "turnkey" brew systems (one supplied in a complete package, ready to start by 'turning the key') has become a frequent practice in brewery design. Thus, selecting a school could be easy as inquiring about training from the equipment supplier.

Customer training options vary from a one day overview to 2 weeks of instruction. On request, manufacturers will also arrange internships at a previous customer's facility. Typical of this type, Alan Pugsly's Brewing Projects furnishes training as a purchase incentive. First time brewers train at either Kennebunkport, Maine on a 7 barrel system, or on the larger 50 barrel system of Shipyard Brewing in Portland. For ten days the students don't merely study beer; they live it. Arriving early each morning, they participate in all phases of the brewing process. Between grinding grain, mashing-in, sparging, brewing, cooling the wort and pitching yeast, they dive into texts and equipment manuals for a comprehensive introduction to brewing principles.

In response to demand for introductory courses the older, established schools have expanded their scope as well. At Siebel aspiring microbrewers usually choose either the comprehensive 8 week session titled "Microbrewers Preparation Program" or the 2 week "short course." Radzanowski says classes have "...about 25 to 50% of the students from major breweries with the majority coming from micro's, while in lab courses it's about 50 - 50." At Siebel the "Microbrewery and Pub Brewery Operations" course has the greatest concentration of microbrewers. Hosted by a local brewery, a senior member of the Siebel staff, in cooperation with the facility's brewer, examines all aspects of brewery operations. A very full week takes students from grain storage to filtering and kegging in a fast-paced combination of workshop and classroom. Similarly UC-Davis also offers concise training packages.

What do these schools see in the future? Siebel's Radzanowski thinks there will be a continuing evolution of the school's mission. "We'll initiate more advanced and refresher courses along with our 'On the Road' seminars, which usually draw about 100 people. As the industry's needs change we'll change our courses." Indeed many others have already adopted this approach. The Master Brewers Association of the America's presents a rotating series of seminars. On March 9 - 21, 1997 they'll host a beer packaging course, and follow it up on September 21 - October 3, 1997 with Brewing & Malting Science, both conducted at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In addition, they'll present a 4 day overview of the brewing process designed for non-technical brewery employees in May.

How effectively do these schools prepare you for the world of beer? Quite well; walk into most any medal winning brewery and you'll probably find a brew school graduate manning the kettle. A far greater proof of excellence sits on your beer store's shelf. In any other rapidly expanding industry you'd expect quality to suffer growing pains. Not so in microbrewing. Think about it. If anything, American microbrews have actually gotten better over the past few years. In no small sense credit goes to the rising number of brew school graduates. Consider it a pendulum swinging toward the past, a return to tradition that starts in the classroom.

Gregg Smith


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