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Sunday, 15 February 2015 16:00

Brewing Knowledge: Michigan schools to add talent, capacity to growing craft beer industry

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The Mountain Town Station Brewing Tap Room will participate in the new brewing certificate program at Central Michigan University. The Mountain Town Station Brewing Tap Room will participate in the new brewing certificate program at Central Michigan University. COURTESY PHOTO

Many successful craft brewers have relied on a very inexact science to learn and master their craft and bring it to market. For those companies, the do-it-yourself mentality serves as the romantic side of brewing.

However, a handful of Michigan-based higher education institutions are taking major steps to groom the industry’s next generation of talent with brewing-centric degree programs, equipping students with more multidimensional knowledge about the science, engineering and sustainability practices that go into brewing and related industries.

“In Michigan, generally, brewing has worked on more of an apprenticeship basis, but in talking with schools like Oregon State where they have a (brewing) program, they actually have brewers around the nation that look at their students,” said Cordell DeMattei, director of fermentation science at Central Michigan University. “These students have the science background and technical abilities that might be lacking in an apprenticeship model.”

DeMattei is at the helm of a CMU certificate program in fermentation science, which was announced last September and will welcome its first students in the fall.

In January of this year, Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo Valley Community College announced a collaboration to offer the nation’s first degree program in sustainable brewing, which will also kick off in the fall.

Ferris State University is also working to develop a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial chemistry, which implements a separate track for fermentation science.

While these programs are among the few offerings nationwide that deliver an education focused on craft brewing, there are still like-minded higher educational programs in Michigan that focus on other craft beverages, including Michigan State University’s artisan distilling program and the enology and viticulture program at Lake Michigan College.

“I think it’s more of the industry proving that it’s not just a flash in the pan,” said DeMattei, explaining the call to action for CMU’s brewing-centered program, which will accept 24 students in its inaugural year.

“It’s continuing to grow with not much sign of going away,” he said. “Nationwide, many people are shifting their tastes from mass-produced beer to craft beer. It is great to start (a program) earlier because there is plenty of room to play. There are so many breweries.”

HEAVY INDUSTRY INVOLVEMENT

With these programs, identifying industry needs and key points of emphasis took on a truly collaborative effort between the schools and local industry leadership.

The sustainable brewing degree offered by KVCC and WMU implements an advisory board made up of 11 members of the brewing industry throughout Michigan.

The advisory board has met once to discuss what will shape the direction of the program, which entails 96 credit hours, including a 30-hour certificate from KVCC. Students can earn an associate degree at KVCC and move on seamlessly to WMU to complete a Bachelor of Science degree, which involves a curriculum heavy on science.

“I’m delighted that the academic community and the private industry, and the culture of that industry, can come together for an opportunity that will really provide a lot of potential and capacity development for an industry that is really growing,” said Tim Suprise, owner of Arcadia Brewing Co. in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo and a member of the advisory board.

For input outside of the ballooning craft beer industry in Michigan, KVCC also turned to Mike Babb, formerly of Coors, who now teaches brewing at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago.

“He’s worked with a lot of folks in that industry,” said Dean McCurdy, associate vice president at KVCC. “Having someone like that is not just a credibility piece, but he understands the science and signs of brewing. We’ve really made that investment — adopting the idea that you’re only as good as your instructors.”

In addition to the verbal input from the private industry, students in the programs will log their hands-on experience with many Michigan breweries. Central Michigan has a partnership with Mountain Town Station Brewing Co. and Hunter’s Ale House, where students will spend the internship piece of the certificate program. Both companies are located in Mt. Pleasant.

The KVCC/WMU program will offer a similar experience, however, the educators are still assembling the particulars of the industry partnerships.

“What’s great about getting into this space now is that there is a critical mass of brewers in West Michigan — there are enough people doing it that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” McCurdy said. “These practices exist and we can bring them together in one place.”

SUSTAINABILITY TOPS LIST OF INDUSTRY NEEDS

The sustainability piece of KVCC/WMU’s brewing degree sets it apart from all other programs throughout the country. It was an issue that consistently emerged as the primary concern for industry professionals, sources said.

It’s also the component that Suprise of Arcadia Brewing said could potentially garner the program national appeal.

“It’s very clear that in any municipality, there is an increasing demand for sustainability,” he said. “As we grow in numbers and in the impact we have on our community, we all have to be mindful of implementing brewing and packaging techniques that minimize impact on local environment.”

Kris Spaulding, an owner who leads sustainability efforts at Grand Rapids-based Brewery Vivant, is also a member of the advisory board for the KVCC/WMU program. She underscored the importance of sustainability efforts by craft brewers.

“It’s something that’s in the lifeblood of the majority of craft breweries,” Spaulding said. “The market is getting smarter and more selective and educated. I think the market will start demanding (sustainability practices) from anyone who is selling to the types of customers that tend to buy craft beer.”

Under the broad umbrella of sustainability, water preservation and treatment was at the top of the list of concerns among the industry advisers the program surveyed. With WMU’s emphasis on water research and sustainability, the program will work to address this need within the curriculum.

“Water is something we’re lucky enough to have here, and we tend to take it for granted, which is also unfortunate,” Spaulding said. “In many other places in the U.S., freshwater is a more scarce resource. … Over the next 20 years, we see a lot more coming out with government regulating water and water scarcity being an issue.

“It’s important to find people to close those loops, whether that be smarter engineering or newer technology.”

Read 4251 times Last modified on Sunday, 15 February 2015 16:34
Jayson Bussa

Staff writer/Web editor

[email protected]

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