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Monday, March 7, 2011

NC Brewmaster Program - Students 101: Jeff Vlasman

Back in December I started a small feature on the first batch of students enrolled in the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program at Niagara College. The first student profiled was Mark Murphy, who has been coordinating with his fellow classmates to bring readers of this blog more interviews (with 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 Jeff Vlasman.

Tell us how you came to be in the Brewmaster Program?
I’m the oldest student in the class, at 39, my friends tell me it’s my mid-life crisis kicking in. But like a few of my classmates, I was working in an established career and I was ready for a change. I’d spent the last fifteen years or so moving around western Canada and Ontario working in forestry. My last job was with the local conservation authority here in Niagara and I became aware that this program was in the works. I applied and when the offer of acceptance came in it was time for a tough decision. It was hard to justify leaving a solid job with a steady paycheque, but in the end the opportunity was just too good to pass up.

How did you come about your passion for brewing?
Having moved from place to place I was able to sample the many options for local brews throughout western Canada. The first time I visited a brewpub was when I lived in Vancouver in the late 90’s and I was hooked. I love the idea of having these beers that you can’t get anywhere else and are unique to the establishment.

Before I entered the Brewmaster Program though I had never brewed anything myself. I have always been curious about home brewing but not knowing anyone who was into the hobby I never took the plunge. That all changed this past fall when I purchased a Brew Magic system made by Sabco. It’s basically a complete professional mini brewery ready to go out of the box. It’s a great system and I’m having loads of fun with it. I get lots of offers from classmates to come over and brew, which a couple have. I’ve definitely caught the bug though because I am now constantly looking to add more equipment to my set up. The garage is filling up but I see it as an investment in my brewing education and who knows, it could serve as a pilot system for a microbrewery someday.

So how do you rate the Brewmaster program so far?
We are in the home stretch towards the end of the first year and I can say that I’ve absorbed a phenomenal amount of knowledge and it’s still just a scratch in the iceberg of what there is to know. The instructors all work very hard to help us succeeded and their combined knowledge is mind boggling. My classmates are enthusiastic and I’ve learned a lot from them too. Working in the teaching brewery has been an invaluable experience and I learn more every time I walk in the door there.

The best part about the teaching brewery is making mistakes in a controlled environment. It’s especially true in brewing that the best lessons are had when you screw up, and in that regard I’ve learned tons. You take some gentle good natured ribbing from your class mates, you all have a laugh, but you take away something you can’t learn from a book.

Where do you see yourself in 2013, one year after finishing the program?
With any luck I’ll be working at a microbrewery or a brewpub, looking forward to work every day and taking in the satisfaction of seeing others enjoy the fruits of my labour. There is not a single aspect of the brewing industry that does not interest me so I will keep my options open.

That having been said I haven’t lined up a summer job yet, but I am hoping that I’ll be able to secure something soon. Distance isn’t a barrier; I’m used to going where the jobs are. Niagara College is organizing a job fair in the near future so if any brewers are reading this and are interested I would urge them to contact the college and get involved. I can vouch for the work ethic and quality of my fellow students; it’s always a joy to work with them in the brewery.


Chris said...

Way to go Jeff. I will be looking forward to having a beer made by you.


D Halbig said...

Insightful comments. There is a marketable grad - who is already performing great PR for the program.

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