Beer School 

VCU gears up its brewing certificate program for a growing field.

click to enlarge foood52_vcu_beer.jpg

In a recent report on MSN.com, breweries ranked fifth among the top 25 industries in the United States. Employment from 2007 to 2016 increased 123 percent.

"Increasing demand for craft beer and microbrews over the past 10 years has fueled the rapid growth of the brewery industry," the report notes. The Brewers Association, the nonprofit trade association of small and independent breweries, says that the U.S. now boasts more than 6,000 breweries, 98 percent of which are small and independent.

And although the business is challenging — brewing is a physically demanding job and running any small business is time-intensive and stressful — the field does have its glories and perks. Given this growth in numbers and popularity, it's inevitable that more people are itching to enter the industry and that more institutions of higher learning are providing these eager students with the resources they need to gain a foothold. This includes Richmond's Virginia Commonwealth University, which announced its craft beer certificate program last summer, comprising two tracks: the craft brewer certificate and the business of craft beer.

Course work for the program has been developed in partnership with an advisory council of on-campus and community partners, including the office of continuing and professional education, the School of Engineering and the biology department, local craft brewers and other experienced industry professionals. As one of the advisors, I've had the opportunity to see the professional education office explore the best options for content, instructors, prerequisites, internship possibilities and other elements.

At a council meeting in late November, the office released a draft agenda for its first course, the craft brewer certificate program, scheduled to begin in February. The Business of Craft Beer will follow at a yet-to-be-announced date. Each noncredit certificate of completion will prepare students for a variety of craft brewery careers.

The 24-week caft brewer certificate program is divided into segments on process and ingredients, engineering and maintenance, safety and Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance, and packaging and operations. The course culminates in four weeks of an internship at a brewery. Classes meet on Mondays and Wednesdays, three hours each evening.

"For either certificate, students will have two evening class meetings per week for three hours each evening, with alternating topics," explains Aimée Walters, marketing manager of the professional education office. "This is a model which we use and have found successful for other programs." In the craft brewer certificate program, for example, classes could alternate between "brewing and quality" and "process and ingredients," followed by "engineering and maintenance" and "safety and OSHA."

Faculty involved in the classes include Fernando Tenjo, an assistant professor in the department of biology who teaches a yeast and fermentation course at VCU, and Stephen Fong, an associate professor and vice chairman of the department of chemical and life science engineering.

Fong has worked with local brewers and students on the science behind the process and the ingredients of brewing and acquired advanced laboratory technology for quantitative and quality measurements of beer. "We are planning on having participants in the certificate program have hands-on experience with the entire brewing process with emphasis on microbiology and analytical chemistry using lab and research equipment at VCU," Fong says.

Among the program's industry partners are Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Stone Brewing, Center of the Universe Brewing Co. and Ardent Craft Ales, providing insight into the knowledge and the skills that breweries would be seeking.

"As with any certificate program, completion will not 'qualify' anyone to work in a brewery on its own," Ardent Craft Ales owner Tom Sullivan says, "but will demonstrate a baseline understanding which will but them higher on our list than similarly experienced candidates that lack the certification."


To enroll in the course, students must first take an introductory class, have completed two college-level science classes and be at least 21.

The introductory classes are held two consecutive weeknights at a different brewery each session. Participants get tours of the breweries.

"The intent of P's and Q's is to provide an overview of beer and brewing, from ingredients to history to styles to flavor profiles to the brewing process," says instructor Lee Graves, a Virginia-based beer writer. "The course serves as a launch pad for the more detailed beer curriculum, but most of all it's to have fun while learning about the multifaceted world of beer in the context of the explosion in craft brewing today."

Another P's and Q's class will be offered before the start of the craft brewer certificate course. The introductory class can also be taken as a standalone opportunity for learning more about the basics of beer.

"For the craft brewer certificate, there will be a preferred prerequisite of a college-level chemistry course and a college-level biology course, or equivalent experience," Walters said. "Our on-campus partners in the School of Engineering and department of biology will be assisting us in reviewing student credentials on a case-by-case basis." S

To learn more, go to craftbeer.vcu.edu.


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