Joe Sixpack: Be the BMOC - Beermeister on Campus

Roger Barth started teaching his beer and science course at West Chester University two years ago.
Roger Barth started teaching his beer and science course at West Chester University two years ago.
Posted: September 08, 2011

LONG A nonacademic pursuit on the college campus, beer is now part of the classroom, too.

As students begin their new semesters this month, they'll find numerous full-credit courses devoted to suds, from "Understanding Wine and Beer" at Cornell University to "Beer Tastings and Pairings" at the University of Utah.

Some of the courses, including those at the prestigious University of California-Davis masters brewing program, are naturally designed for food and beverage majors. Increasingly, though, science professors are using beer as an ingenious scheme to lure nonscience majors into their classrooms.

Two years ago, for example, I reported how a West Chester University associate professor, Roger Barth, had launched a chemistry-of-beer class partly to give liberal-arts majors "a thoughtful attitude toward alcoholic beverages."

"It seems most students are interested in two things," Barth told me, "so I thought we'd go with the second one."

No, it's not advanced research, but it's not Beer Pong 101, either.

Barth, who wrote the course's textbook, leads the class from the chemistry of water through the entire brewing process: milling, mashing, boiling, hopping, fermentation, sterilization, bottling and quality evaluation.

Since that report, more than a dozen other similar chemistry programs have cropped up across the country, including courses at Washington & Jefferson, Syracuse, Iowa State, Ohio State and Millersville University.

At Benedictine College, in Kansas, the chemistry lab is used to examine carbon dioxide, color, ethanol content and residual sugars in beer.

At Southern Illinois-Carbondale, the course work ranges from the chemistry of various beer styles to the social impact on brewing methods.

At Central Washington College, chemistry is a key component of the school's Craft Beer Trade program.

What if you're not interested in chemistry?

There are plenty of other beer-related courses on the curriculum.

At Oklahoma State University, "Beverage Management and Controls" may sound like an attempt to see how much students can drink without losing their cookies. But professor Philippe Garmy warned that "this is not a tasting class." Instead, students must design a "beverage concept" for a pub or restaurant.

At Ohio State University, "Wine and Beer in Western Culture" examines suds all the way back to the recipes of the ancient Sumerians.

At Stanford University, "All About Beer: Strategy and Organization in the Brewing Industry" focuses on the success of Anheuser-Busch and the failure of Schlitz.

At Rice University, in Texas, they teach "Art and Science of Craft Beer." It sounds esoteric, but at least you won't go home thirsty: Students must be at least 21 and expect to pay "a small lab fee" for ingredients and samples.

Same goes at Appalachian State University, in North Carolina, where you can get a B.S. in Fermentation. Students are trained at the school's fully functioning Ivory Tower Brewery. The facility is nonprofit and its beer is not for sale, but according to those who've gotten a taste, it's pretty darn good.

Meanwhile, there's a similar pilot-scale brewery up and running at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, thanks to a $100,000 grant from MillerCoors.

Some students naturally hope that beer courses are an easy A. Think again.

Matthew Dunn, who formerly taught "The Art and Science of Beer: History, Technology, and Culture" at Indiana University, said that many students who signed up "were disappointed when they found out that it was a real class instead of a keg stand."

One look at the reading list disabused them of that notion. Among Dunn's required texts: "The Emergence of the National Brewing Oligopoly: Competition in the American Market, 1933-1958."

Which explains the growth of that other grand college tradition: The fake term paper. For as little as $50, students can now download custom-written college term papers about beer.


"Joe Sixpack" is by Don Russell, director of Philly Beer Week. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at www.joesixpack.net. Email: joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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