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Colleges see opportunities in brewing

CMU, KVCC and WMU all offer education that centers on beer.

February 6, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Cordell DeMattei started homebrewing in the kitchen of the microbiology department at Stony Brook, a small college in New York.

It was 1992 and DeMattei was on his way to earning a Ph.D. He had no plans to involve brewing in his career path. Now, more than 20 years later, DeMattei is the director of fermentation science at Central Michigan University.

The school announced in September it would begin offering a one-year certificate program in fermentation science. It joined six other brewing programs offered by schools such as University of California-Davis and Oregon State, Colorado State and Appalachian State universities.

This month, Western Michigan University announced it would begin the nation’s first sustainable brewing degree in a partnership with Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

Both programs represent a growing trend of offering courses catered to those looking for employment in the brewing industry as it continues to grow across the nation.

It’s fitting that two schools have started programs in Michigan, which has grown from three breweries in the late 1980s to more than 150, DeMattei said.

“The opportunities to work in the brewing industry continue to grow at a rapid pace,” DeMattei said. “The opportunities for education have not kept up.”

He said although brewers can make fine beer without any formal education, it will help enhance the entire industry if more brewers know exactly what they’re doing at a micro level.

The CMU program will include four courses and an internship with introductory-level biology and chemistry as pre-requisites. The first semester includes an analytical lab to show techniques used in the brewing process and a class on microbiology. The second semester includes a class on facilities and operations and the importance of sanitation in brewing.

DeMattei said CMU is working to secure partnerships for the 200 hours of internship that students need for completion.

Larger operations such as Bell’s Brewery and Founders Brewing Co. follow strict analytical processes to maintain the quality of the beer, and DeMattei said he hopes with more educational opportunities, smaller breweries will begin to follow that same formula.

The education path also could allow graduates of the programs to start companies that are complementary to breweries or perhaps labs that are used for quality analysis.

“The better quality in the industry, the better for everyone,” he said. “It only takes one or two bad batches to turn a person away from beer for good.”

The CMU program is available to both degree-seeking and non-degree-seeking students. He said he has seen brewers interested in furthering their career opportunities with the certificate.

Schools like UC-Davis and Oregon State offer four-year programs, and Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology, a comprehensive brewing education program, can be too costly and time-consuming for some brewers. DeMattei said he believes CMU’s program will attract brewers from across the country, and hopes the state’s burgeoning industry will retain them.

The program in Kalamazoo takes students through a brewing program at KVCC’s new downtown campus — with a brewery designed by TowerPinkster — and then two years at WMU focused on sustainability. Students can also earn just a 30-hour certificate in brewing process from KVCC.

The curriculum was developed with the help of master brewer Mike Babb, who was a longtime employee at Coors and now teaches at Siebel.

Focusing on sustainability stems from a yearlong look at the industry and talking with leaders, said Ed Martini, associate dean in WMU’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences.

“Sustainability is really critical to the brewing industry’s future,” Martini said. “Given the economic importance that brewing is shaping up to hold, we saw a big opportunity.”

Martini said one of WMU’s major challenges is retaining students in Michigan, and he believes this program will help. He also said its graduates can go on to do many more things than just work in brewing and its supporting industries.

“As in many degrees, the expertise will apply itself in other industries,” he said. “It will prepare students for a wide variety of careers.

“We think it will attract people from across the region and keep them in Michigan, where we think they will have jobs that will continue to grow for many years.”

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