Despite those warnings about the realities of a career at a small brewer, it doesn’t appear that the demand for education in craft brewing is slacking at all. If anything, it just continues to expand as the industry gets more sophisticated. Indeed, Jim Francis, who is the director of the Beverage Business Institute at Colorado State University, says the impulse to launch an MBA and ?certificate program for brewing operations and wholesale distribution management was to fill a big hole. “There’s lots of programs on the art of brewing,” says Francis, whose location in Fort Collins, Colo. — the so-called Napa Valley of beer because of the confluence of craft brewers like New Belgium and Odell Brewing Co. located there — is hardly coincidental. “But we found it to be a niche that had an incredible void in formal academic training and certificate training on the business side.” To fill that gap, the curriculum at Colorado State will include training on issues like supply chain and demand management, branding and marketing, public policy, and legal issues.
If there’s any lingering doubt that those who study brewing at university are the ones doing keg stands at frat parties or tailgating with a hat equipped with beer funnels, take the case of Anthony Bledsoe. Currently the Brewing Operations Manager at Hawaii’s Kona Brewing Company, Bledsoe attended UC Davis and graduated with a degree in microbiology. Originally, Bledsoe had his sights set on becoming a clinical lab scientist, but he first had to take additional courses to qualify for that position. While he was working odd jobs and taking classes in the San Francisco Bay Area, Bledsoe’s girlfriend at the time signed him up for a weekend course in home brewing. “That really kick-started me, and before I knew it, I was at the UC Berkeley library checking out all the fermentation science and brewing textbooks I could find,” he says. “I was hooked.”
It was enough to completely alter Bledsoe’s career path. He landed a job at a brewery in Berkeley and then returned to UC ?Davis and the school’s master brewers program. Not just anybody can take the course; it requires a college-level background in subjects like biological science, math, chemistry and engineering. During his return trip to Davis, Bledsoe got an in-depth education on all of the scientific and engineering factors — from “grain to glass,” as he puts it — that go into making quality beer. Part of that training, he says, includes the use of one’s senses in the brewing process — something Bledsoe says people outside the industry mistakenly see as drinking all day. “The cheapest analytical tools brewers have are their eyes, nose and mouth,” he says. “For this to work, a brewer must be able to identify finished beer defects and link them to raw-materials deficiencies or process deficiencies.”
Bledsoe started at Kona Brewing in 2009, doing quality assurance before taking on his new position, in which he oversees the team charged with making Kona’s beers. He uses the skills he learned at UC Davis every day, he says. For Mattson Davis, the president of Kona, the availability of trained brewers like Bledsoe is invaluable. “We look for a science background in our brewer hires, which is essential for making great beer,” he says. “Brewers like Anthony need to prove they’ve put their scientific knowledge to work.” As the head of a brewing company, Davis is happy to see that getting workers with the training Bledsoe has is getting easier. “The more education and institutional programs offering aspiring brewers technical and ?scientific knowledge, the better beer we’ll have out there,” he says. “And better beer means more enjoyment of hand-crafted beer.”
Arkansas-based writer CHRIS WARREN is a big fan of his local craft brewer, Diamond Bear Brewing Co. He is eagerly looking forward to the chance to serve on the volunteer crew that bottles and packs the beer ?— in exchange for a few samples, of course.