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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

NC Brewmaster Program - Students 101: Chris Freeman

Back in December I started a small feature on the first ever students enrolled in the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program at Niagara College. The first student profiled was Mark Murphy, who also provided his thoughts on the first semester in a post last month.

With the assistance of Murphy, who will be coordinating this with his fellow students, I'd like to continue with the student introductions and allow them to provide updates on how the course is progressing. 

So, without further ado, meet Chris Freeman.

When did you learn about the brewing program at Niagara College?
I first read about it in the newspaper several years ago when it was still being developed. When I read the article, I immediately began to dream of what it might be like to run off and study brewing. It was akin to dreaming about what you would do if you won the lottery. I was pretty settled. I had already studied and completed a degree. I was in my early 30’s, had two kids, and a steady job as an office manager. My wife and I had also just purchased our first home in Toronto. I loved beer and had just started homebrewing; but to move and leave everything to begin again seemed like too much of a risk.

What happened between then and now?
My desire to homebrew began to rage out of control! I was fortunate to work with an avid homebrewer who was kind enough to teach me how to brew. Together we brewed a rich amber ale, the likes of which you would never find at the Beer Store or LCBO. It was then when I saw the possibilities in homebrewing. The next beer I made was on my own and I wanted go all out. I made a Christmas ale with everything in it but the kitchen sink: chocolate, vanilla, orange, cinnamon, star anise, honey and I can’t remember what else. Against the odds, it turned out to be a good beer and is definitely one of my most memorable. I also have a keen interest in cooking, so I was drawn to what spices and different non-traditional ingredients would add to a beer. I actually have to be quite disciplined about making a straight up English bitter or porter. For me, homebrewing has been filled with the joys of making great beer and the frustrations of having to dump batches because of bone-headed mistakes. No matter what, I always desired to know how I could change my process to make my beer better.

So what was the turning point? When did you decide to take the plunge?
When I discovered that the program at the college was a go and that applications were being accepted for 2010, I decided I had some serious thinking to do. I liked my workplace, but my passion did not lie in administration and bookkeeping. As well, one night, over a few homebrewed imperial stouts, my brother and I hatched a plan to start our own brewery. The only hiccup in the plan was that neither of us knew anything about the industry or much about brewing beer commercially. This was the moment of truth, were we really going to try and do this?

With the encouragement of my family and close friends, I decided to go for it. More importantly, my wife was on board and she is my most enthusiastic supporter! After going to night school to get the science prerequisite, I submitted my application and crossed my fingers.

How is it going now?
In September, I moved from Toronto to Niagara with my wife and now three children. I have just completed the first semester of the program and it is exactly what I was hoping for. The first semester was a general overview of the industry and the commercial brewing process. Now we are getting all the wonderful things you would never learn as a homebrewer: the biology and chemistry of brewing. The students are all great people who are enthusiastic about beer and incredibly supportive of each other. The teachers are dedicated to the success of students and are doing everything they can to share their knowledge and give us opportunities. And one of the best parts has been that as a full-time student, I have had a more time to homebrew!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very impressive. Makes you think that everyone can fulfill their dream.

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