Category Archives: Education

Back to School at Beer University

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Terra State Community College in Fremont, OH are exploring the possibility of developing a Certificate Program focused on brewing

Back in February I participated in a meeting at Terra State Community College. Terra State is located about forty miles southeast of Toledo, OH just outside the town of Fremont, OH. Terra State are interested in developing a curriculum for a Certificate Program around the topic of beer and brewing. I was invited to attend the meeting by Ellen Wardzala who is Associate Dean of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) at Terra State. In addition to Ellen there were three other Terra State administrators in attendance. Also there was Mike Roder, the Founder of Catawba Island Brewing Company in Port Clinton, OH.

Prior to the meeting I did my homework on what other colleges and universities across the country are providing with respect to education in the area of beer and brewing. It is apparent that an increasing number of community colleges and universities are offering programs with such a focus. The website of The Brewers Association lists fifteen university-affiliated brewing programs in the United States and Canada, although a more extensive search of the Internet suggests that this list is not comprehensive.

Several types of brewing programs are offered by colleges and universities. These range from individual stand-alone courses, to certificate programs, to fully-fledged undergraduate degree programs. Terra State’s interest lies in exploring the possibility of offering a certificate program. Certificate Programs in many different areas of study are increasingly common at American universities and allow students to acquire basic knowledge of and expertise in an area of study. My own department at the University of Toledo offers one in Geographic Information Science and Applied Geographics. They typically require the successful completion of four or five courses. Certificate programs focused on beer and brewing at American colleges and universities appear to focus in one of two areas – the science of brewing or the business side of the industry.

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Central Washinton University’s Craft Brewing Certificate focuses in the scientific side of brewing

The certificate program at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA is a four-course (ten weeks per course) sixteen-credit program that focuses on the science of brewing. The four courses that comprise the certificate are Principles and Biochemistry of Brewing, Topics and Strategy in the Craft Brewing Industry, Brew Process Technology, and Brewing Microbology. The program is designed for current craft brewing professionals who are interested in further developing their skills and individuals working in other professions who may be interested in a career change and entering the world of commercial craft brewing.

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Portland State’s Craft Brewing Certificate program focuses on the business side of the industry

In contrast, Portland State University in Portland, OR offers a certificate program that focuses on the business side of the craft brewing industry. Again, this is a four-course program with students being required to complete courses in Basic Business for Craft Beverage and Craft Beverage Business Management. Students then have to take two of the following three courses – Strategic Craft Beverage Marketing, Finance and Accounting for the Craft Brewery, and Craft Beverage Distribution. All courses are only offered online with each one taking four to five weeks to complete. The target audience are home brewers who might be interested in commercializing their hobby as well as industry professionals who wish to advance their knowledge of the business aspects of the industry. While brewing is emphasized in the courses many of the principles taught can be applied to operating and running distilleries and cideries.

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Getting hands-on experience is a critical part of a brewer’s training.

While knowledge attained in a formal classroom setting can be very useful it is only a piece of the training that someone working in (or hoping to work in) the craft brewing industry may find beneficial. The other piece is hands-on-experience and that can come in a variety of forms including an internship, job shadowing, and on-the-job training. Many of the courses of study offered  by professional brewing-focused organizations are hybrid in nature, combining theoretical knowledge with practical experience. The American Brewers Guild (ABG) is one such organization that offers a variety of brewing-focused courses. These include courses in Brewing Science for the Advanced  Homebrewer, Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering, and Lab Practices for the Small Brewery. Some of these courses of study comprise a combination of formal  instruction and practical training. For example the Guild’s twenty-eight week Craftbrewers’ Apprenticeship Program requires twenty-five weeks of formal instruction (via distance learning), one week at a working brewery, and five weeks of on-site practical training at another working brewery.

But spending five weeks in a brewery is not just about getting practical training. It is also acquiring what is referred to as tacit knowledge. Social scientists who study knowledge often make the distinction between codified and tacit knowledge and to to be a successful brewer both are critical. Codified knowledge is that which can be attained from reading a textbook, referring to an instruction manual, listening to a lecture etc. An example of utilizing codified knowledge would be baking a cake using the recipe in a cookbook. However give two people, a novice and a professional chef, the same recipe and chances are the dish produced by the chef will be superior. The difference in outcomes can be attributed to the chef’s tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge are the skills, ideas, and experiences that the chef has acquired over many years of practicing his or her profession. He or she carries this knowledge in his or her head and because it is experiential in nature it cannot be easily shared with and transferred to another individual. It is knowledge that is  difficult to articulate. In a very informative paper Thomas Thurnell-Reed of Coventry University interviewed craft brewers in England. It is clear from these interviews that tacit knowledge is a critical part of the brewers’ knowledge base. Several brewers spoke of the value of spending time in other breweries and seeing how things are done. As noted by Thurnell-Reed “craft skills often draw on tacit knowledge which is often easier to demonstrate than it is to explain and describe verbally” and “being around a working brewery and seeing how things ‘get done’ thus appeals to a sense of tacit knowledge.”

Being a successful commercial craft brewer requires the command and application of wide range of diverse knowledge. Some of that knowledge can be attained from reading, some via the process of formal instruction, and some through on-the-job experience. This knowledge is both codified and tacit in nature. Universities and community colleges can play an important part in helping commercial craft brewers, both current and aspirational, improve their knowledge base, particularly with respect to the scientific and business sides of the brewing industry. This is an emerging student market for institutions of higher education. As such it has the potential to get saturated as more and more colleges and universities recognize and develop curriculum to meet what is surely to be a growing demand. However those colleges and universities that already have developed, or are in the process of developing, their curriculums can get ahead of the pack. And if they provide a high quality product they can establish their reputations and thereby position themselves to be successful even as the market becomes increasingly crowded. So kudos to Terra State Community College for taking the initiative in northwest Ohio.

With respect to the meeting that was held at Terra State I suggested that a valuable next step might be to bring together some local craft brewers in a focus focus group setting and pick their brains with respect to what type of curriculum (both in terms of content and format) might be useful to the craft brewing industry. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of these focus groups.

Further Reading

Thurnell-Read, Thomas. 2014. Craft, tangibility and affect at work ina microbrewery. Emotion, Space and Society, Volume 13, pages 46-54.