Aspiring Craft Brewers Hit The Books To Pick Up Science Chops : The Salt As the craft beer industry grows, so are options for learning to brew. More colleges are now introducing degree programs to teach the art and science of beer-making.
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Aspiring Craft Brewers Hit The Books To Pick Up Science Chops

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Aspiring Craft Brewers Hit The Books To Pick Up Science Chops

Aspiring Craft Brewers Hit The Books To Pick Up Science Chops

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Hey, it's 5 o'clock somewhere - p.m. So we're going to talk about beer. On average, a new brewery opens its doors every day in this country. When an industry is growing that fast, it gets the attention of universities. More and more are beefing up their brewing curriculum. From member station WMUK in Kalamazoo, Mich., Sehvilla Mann reports.

SEHVILLA MANN, BYLINE: While formal brewing education isn't new, only a few schools have been offering it.

MARK SAMMARTINO: We put it along for a long time with one or two or three or four of these things. And all of a sudden, it's now - it's now taking off.

MANN: Mark Sammartino is with the Master Brewers Association. He says students in the U.S. will have more than a dozen college-based brewing programs to choose from. And as many as 40 more schools might soon start their own degree programs.

SAMMARTINO: If we get to a point where there's too much of either the breweries or the education, you know, where is the breakpoint? But, at the moment, I'm not worried about that. I think we have a long way to go to catch up.

MANN: At the Boatyard Brewing Company in Kalamazoo, CO2 is bubbling out of a tank as yeast ferments a batch of beer. Co-founder Brian Steele says that's a happy sound.

BRIAN STEELE: You know, when we first started here, we probably pitched $10,000 worth of beer. And most of that cause was I didn't treat my yeast as nicely as I should have. So now they are my best friends. And I name all 100 trillion of them.

MANN: Steele didn't study brewing in college. He started at home and then practiced for years at an established brewery. You do need a good palate to make good beer. You can't just ferment your favorite foods.

STEELE: We've seen it all over beer festivals, you know, bacon, jalapeno, chocolate-infused IPA. And then you drink it, and you go, why would anyone do that?

MANN: You also need business sense and a taste for the technical. Beer might only have four basic ingredients - water, hops, grain and yeast - but Steele says a professional brewery runs a lot like a lab.

STEELE: While a lot of craft brewers will kind of pooh-pooh Budweiser, you've got to be impressed with the fact that no matter where you buy their beer on the planet, it always tastes the same. That is exceptionally difficult to do.

MANN: Steele says he likes the idea of packaging that knowledge into one degree. He says as his business grows, he wants to hire workers who already have brewing skills, workers like Ryan Hamilton, who plans to study sustainable brewing in college this fall.

RYAN HAMILTON: A lot of my knowledge that I've gained through the industry has been instructive through, like, kind of an apprentice-style system or self-taught or learned through trial and error. But what I'm looking for now is a deeper and more intense knowledge and training of fermentation sciences.

MANN: While people have been making beer for thousands of years, science has transformed it, and students who set out to learn the science of beer might just end up improving science itself. Brewers have helped to shape fields from microbiology to statistics. And you can thank beer for the PH scale. The chemist who created it worked for the Danish brewer Carlsberg. For NPR News, I'm Sehvilla Mann in Kalamazoo.

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