Central Michigan University’s College of Science and Technology is tapping into the art of brewing and is working to create a certificate program in fermentation science.
CMU's program would be the first of its kind in Michigan to provide a hands-on education focused on craft beer and the sixth such program in the United States.
Students would take a mix of advanced sciences such as biochemistry, chemistry and microbiology, with lecture-based and hands-on laboratory courses that cover brewing from farm to glass. An internship of at least 200 hours in a production-scale facility would be required.
Two local businesses, Mountain Town Brewing Co. and Hunter’s Ale House, are key partners in the proposed fermentation science program, which is going through the academic curriculum process and is expected to enroll its first class in fall 2015.
According to the Brewers Association, only three states — California, Oregon and Washington — offer brewing education programs, found at the University of California–Davis, University of California–San Diego, Oregon State University and Central Washington University.
“As of 2013, Michigan ranked fifth in the nation in number of breweries, behind only California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington,” Ian Davison, dean of the College of Science and Technology, said. “This growing industry contributes significantly to the state’s economy, supporting jobs in breweries as well as in farms producing barley and hops. In 2012, the Brewers Association calculated that Michigan craft brewing contributed 11,666 full-time equivalent jobs and had about a $1 billion economic impact.”
In addition to the growing number of breweries in Michigan, two malt houses, a brewing yeast supplier, a brewing system manufacturer and hundreds of acres of hops have emerged during the past five years.
Yet educational opportunities for Midwest brewers are limited primarily to the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and the Master Brewers Association of the Americas in Madison, Wisconsin. Prospective students often face programs with long wait lists.
“The undergraduate certificate in fermentation science will fill a need in the state and across the region for students to learn the science and technology underlying brewing,” Cordell DeMattei, CMU director of fermentation science, said. “This opportunity expands CMU’s leadership in the sciences and provides the training needed by future leaders of the craft brewing industry.”
The program is expected to appeal to students both in and outside the sciences as well as to brewery employees looking to advance their careers. Those who take the program would be prepared for industry wide certification tests such as the Institute of Brewers and Distillers General Brewing Certificate and their Diploma in Brewing Modules.
Students studying fermentation science would gain real-world experience at the Mountain Town Brewing Company Tap Room.
“I am most excited about developing the scientific research component with CMU,” said Jim Holton, a 1995 CMU alumnus and owner of Mountain Town Station Brewing Co. and Restaurant and Mount Pleasant Brewing Company. “To me, the more beer you brew, the better you get at it.”
The facilities at The Tap Room are currently for brewing but Holton hopes eventually to expand into winemaking and distilling. In the meantime, he and Mountain Town Brewing Company’s brew master, Kim Kowalski, are passionate about teaching others the nature of fluid dynamics, the importance of safety and quality control, how to identify problems faster and craft better beer, and develop new brands, packaging and styles.
“What once was a hobby to brew beer requires more skills than ever to exceed customer expectations. I believe CMU is on the cutting-edge of a great program to help educate individuals on the art and science of brewing with an emphasis on fermentation science,” Holton said.
Likewise, Cheryl Hunter, owner of Hunter's Ale House in Union Township, said she’s pleased to be partnering with CMU on this program for hands-on student experiences as well.
The eatery’s expansion into brewing is almost complete, with the recent installation of a 10-barrel brewing system from the Saugatuck Brewing Company. Hunter also has developed an urban hop farm, with 90 plants in a dozen varieties growing in front of the restaurant.
“The brewing of a malt beverage is very scientific … Hunter’s Ale House brew master and Michigan Malt Co. founder, Wendell Banks, and I appreciate the opportunity to share our knowledge and professional experience of how great craft beer should be made,” Hunter said.