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Friday, January 7, 2011

NC Brewmaster Program - Semester One Thoughts

Part 2 of Mark Murphy's take on year one at Niagara College's Brewmaster & Brewery Operations Management Program

by Mark Murphy
In short, the program has been amazing. I think I’ve increased my beer knowledge 1,000% and have found myself consistently bringing up beer in conversation and introducing new styles to friends and family over the Christmas break.

Niagara College Teaching Brewery
From the school’s standpoint, the program has been a huge success. They received over 180 applications for just 24 spots. I was originally wait-listed but I think persistence paid off, as I called the admissions office weekly for a couple of months to check on my status. Part of me thinks they only let me in so that I would stop calling. Of the 24 students in the program, there are 4 from the US, 2 from the East Coast, 2 from Alberta, 6 from the Niagara region, 4 from the GTA and 6 more from other areas of Ontario. There are a handful of people who have actual industry experience and the majority are college or university educated (including engineering, chemistry, music, business and communications majors). I think our diversity bodes well for future job opportunities as most people will likely move back home after school, which means all 24 of us won’t be competing for the same jobs.

We had seven courses this semester, four of them relating to beer (Intro to Brewing, Sensory Evaluation, Basic Practical Brewing and Brewing Ingredients). Of our four instructors this semester, I would guess that they combine at least 70+ years of industry experience, which is pretty awesome. For the school’s brewmaster, Jon Downing, the teaching brewery represents the 107th brewery opening that he’s been a part of. Clearly, we’re learning from the best.

This semester, we’ve covered topics such as the malting process, barley physiology, brewing water, hops and have discussed brewing equipment from the hot liquor tank through to the fermentation tanks and packaging equipment. In our sensory class we tasted 13 different kinds of malt, smelled lots of hops, explored American, English, German and Belgian beer styles and have run through the entire Siebel off-flavour tasting kit (those were some bad weeks!). We’ve also had presentations from Hop Union, Canada Malting, General Filtration, Criveller Brew Tech (our equipment supplier), Eco Lab and Bill White (who will be teaching us next year). We’ve visited Taps Brew Pub, Niagara’s Best, Sleeman’s, Mill Street and Steamwhistle. As you can see, we’ve been pretty busy so far, and this is followed up next semester with 6 of our 7 courses relating to beer.

The program hasn’t been without its faults though, the major one being that we didn’t start brewing until the end of November. On the plus side we have the benefit of being the first students to use the system, and figuring out all the quirks as we go along. Our first releases “First Draft” lager (a crisp golden lager) and a Canadian Pale Ale are already on sale at the campus retail store.

I think things will start to get really interesting once we’re unleashed on the pilot system and start getting into our own recipe formulation. I know everyone is really looking forward to that.

Stay tuned for a chocolate beer in February to be released during the culinary program’s “Decadence” chocolate and ice wine festival. All in all I’m having the time of my life and can’t wait to find a job in the industry this summer.

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