Wednesday, November 7, 2007

College Credit for Studying Beer

College and BeerThis article came out of the Fort Collins Coloradoan on Monday, November 5th, 2007. Apparently there IS a way to get college credit for drinking and studying beer, at least at Colorado State University there is. Almost makes me want to go back to college. Read on...

CSU class serves up the science of beer

Brewing Science & Technology professor selective

Ali Hamm is a molecular biologist who wanted to explore the idea of organic gardening and plants containing cancer-blocking antioxidants.

Her path led her to beer.

And ale. And lagers. India pale ales. Extra special bitters. Brown ales, porters and stouts.

"If I had an office, it would be here," said Hamm, a Colorado State University graduate student, sitting in the tasting room at Odell Brewing Co. on East Lincoln Avenue last week.

Hamm is studying both hops and brewing science at CSU. As a graduate student, she's conducting research into the kinds of hops that grow best under organic conditions in Colorado.

And she's one of 19 students in Professor Jack Avens' much-sought-after Brewing Science & Technology class.

It's the sole brewing-related class currently offered at CSU in Fort Collins, one of the hottest spots for craft brewing in a state that is now the No. 1 beer producer in the country.

Fort Collins ranks third in the number of breweries and brewpubs per capita - behind Durango and Boulder - boasting at least seven breweries and brewpubs in a city of 130,000 people.

Avens personally interviews each prospective student and sets the bar high for admission. Organic chemistry is just one of the prerequisites to get in to the class that is offered once a year. This is Avens' third class.

Students are currently brewing a beer at Odell, which will be offered on tap there and at the CSU bar Ramskellar. It's got an alcohol content somewhere north of 7 percent, making it stronger than most commonly available beers.

The class is officially titled "Brewing Science & Technology," and Avens said he deliberately focuses the lessons on the process by which beer and ales get from farm fields to the table, as befitting a class offered by the Department of Food Science & Nutrition.

"It's very, very scientific and not at all easy to do," Avens said of the brewing process.

Students in the class have discovered that one of their homebrews was basically undrinkable, they said.

That's not uncommon, said Brendan McGivney, production manager at Odell Brewing. He said home brewers often fail to properly clean their equipment, something commercial brewers work hard on.

"It's all about using stainless and cleaning," he told Hamm and fellow CSU students and homebrew enthusiasts Jill Cadmus and Jake Crawford as they stood in the Odell brewery. "Really cleaning, over cleaning."

McGivney started out making beer at home, and while he was a CSU student, he met up with fellow homebrew enthusiast Doug Odell. When Odell founded his brewery, McGivney came along with him.

Last week, McGivney offered Hamm, Cadmus and Crawford a sneak peek at his new brew, Big Bad Brown Ale, a rich, dark beer with an 8 percent alcohol content.

"The recipe was in my head, now it's in a glass," McGivney said. "That's awesome."

For Hamm and Cadmus, who are taking Avens' brewing science class, the opportunity to learn more about the best ways to make beer was too exciting to pass up.

"Enjoy every sip in one glass," Hamm said.

That's the same kind of advice Kirk Lombardi, regional brewer for the CB & Potts-affiliated Big Horn Brewing Co., offered recently.

Avens' class visited Big Horn, on West Elizabeth Street, on Thursday. After a tour of the brewery, and a discussion of the merits of whole-flower hops vs. palletized hops, Lombardi said it was time to start tasting the beer.

"That's what we've been waiting for you to say all day, Kirk," laughed graduate student Brian Heiwold.

Lombardi then walked the students through what he called a "sensory analysis," a process similar to the one used by oenophiles when tasting wine. Craft brewers are trying to create the same kind of appreciation for beer that wine drinkers have.

That sentiment is echoed repeatedly by Hamm, Cadmus and Crawford, who are trying to create a brewing club affiliated with CSU. While the effort is just getting under way, they're having a hard time wading through the university and government processes necessary to win recognition and approval.

"We have to get the technology and science into it, so people don't think it's just a beer-drinking club," Crawford said. "We want to have a beer-making club, not a beer-drinking club."

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