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Monday, May 3, 2010

Brewmaster & Brewery Operations Management Course Update

I'm sure many of you have heard about Niagara College and their efforts to bring the first two-year 'Teaching Brewery' to Canada (two page article in the Spring issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine by Bill White).  If you haven't, well, here's the deal.

Niagara College has a beautiful campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake just off the QEW.  The college has made quite the name for themselves with their one of a kind Winery & Viticulture Technician program, something they introduced to North America ten years ago.  That program, which has been extremely successful, led the brain-trust at the college to explore the possibility of developing a Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program that would span a two-year period.  That was three years ago, and as I learned on Thursday, during a visit with a small contingent of individuals representing the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB), the college has all their ducks in a row to welcome the first batch of successful applicants.

As mentioned, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit the NOTL college with OCB members (the OCB are listed as partners in the college's course description, and it was noted how much the association has helped with assisting in the development of the program), and one member of the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, to speak with the individuals in charge of the new program, and to get a tour of the college grounds.  The group of us were led into the college's state of the art Wine Tasting Lab where we received a hearty update on the progression of the program and to have any questions answered by the Dean (Jon Ogryzlo), Coordinator (Steve Gill), and Chair (Craig Youdale) of the Food & Wine Services Division.

Ogryzlo welcomed everyone to the campus before going straight into his presentation, which provided a brief overview of the academic guidelines and a look into course outline.   He mentioned that the two-year course, once in operation, will be the first of its kind in North America and it will provide the industry with highly skilled individuals upon graduation, something OCB members believe is key to enhancing the commercial brewing community for years to come.  Ogryzlo also provided some future ideas that the college has in mind for the Brewmaster program involving the talented individuals in the acclaimed Culinary Services division within the college.

Craig Youdale was next to present and he began by praising the work Niagara College has put into developing the new program since the idea became a reality.  "Jon (Ogryzlo) and Steve (Gill) have spent ten years building the tremendously successful wine program, so I believe this program will be exceptional, and successful, right from the start."

Youdale spoke about the program outline and offered some administrative numbers that backed up his belief in the program.  "We received 165 applications for the first intake of students.  Extremely, extremely positive program numbers for a new course," he said.  "College's often have to look for students when introducing a brand new program, the wine program did, so these numbers indicate that a program like this is needed."  Out of those 165 applications only 24 could be accepted, and as of Thursday, the program was already full as the successful applicants responded to their acceptance packages right away.  Youdale also mentioned that there were a number of international students accepted into the program along with a number of females.

The program outline was discussed at length and individual courses were touched on.  Things certainly sound great.  Students will be brewing right from the start and there will be a pilot system built within the new brewery for individual brewing assignments.  There are also courses on the history of brewing, sensory evaluation classes, packaging, sales and branding, and much, much more.  See the list below.

Gill was next to speak and his presentation centered on the brewery, which will be erected on the campus by August 1st.  It will be a 1600 square foot fully operational 5hl brewery with 10hl fermenters and will be able to accommodate two brews a day.  The pilot system, as mentioned above, will be a 60 litre system.  Gill mentioned that all the beer brewed will be sold in the on-site Wine store (which will be renamed Beer & Wine Store) and at the college bar, and all dollars generated will be put back into the program, essentially having the brewery pay for itself.

The college wants to become centre of brewing excellence in Canada and one day act as a research centre that could be utilized by breweries across the country.  To measure the success of the 'Teaching Brewery' Niagara College will form an Advisory Counsel of professionals from the brewing industry to review student feedback, talk to employers of graduates, and to assess the skills graduates leave the college with.  The college hopes to attract these professionals from all over Canada, having them meet twice a year.

The day ended with a spectacular lunch prepared by culinary students before we headed for a tour of the Winery and the wine retail store.  The drive home gave me time to think about what was said during the day and left me with this conclusion: Students who were lucky enough to get accepted are in for a solid program.  The college sold me on the program values and the curriculum and I have no doubt whatsoever that the Brewmaster & Brewery Operations Management course will be a success right from the first day.

*Pic #1: (top row left to right) Gary McMullen (Chair, OCB - Founder Muskoka Cottage Brewery), Gill, Ogryzlo, George Eagleson (F&M), John Hay (President, OCB), myself, and Mary (OCB).  (bottom row left to right) Rob Creighton (Grand River), Paul Dickey (Cheshire Valley), Representative from Ministry of Agriculture, Adrian Popowycz (Black Oak), Ron Keefe (Granite)

*Pic #2: Niagara College Brewery Sketch

*Pic #3: Craig Youdale addressing the group

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