Day 1

If all goes well, in 600 days I will be a qualified brewmaster. Those who think their glass is half-full undoubtedly have confidence that I will successfully complete Niagara College’s 2-year Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management course. Those who think their glass is half-empty obviously weren’t watching their glass carefully enough when I was around.

Since some of you have shown a great interest in this course, I’ll  give you a day-by-day glimpse into what I am doing, and I’ll try answer some of your most frequently asked questions.

Although I will be spending a lot of time at a desk–there’s classes in business math, computer applications, business communications, chemistry, biochemistry, sensory evaluation, ingredients, etc.–it was very fitting that on our first day of classes today, the 36 of us started out in the Teaching Brewery with instructor Jon Dowling.

Niagara College's Teaching Brewery

Niagara College's Teaching Brewery

Jon started brewing beer in his native England at the age of 14; by age 16 he was working in down in a pub cellar making beer, although he was legally too young to drink his own product upstairs. After he moved to the Niagara region 25 years ago, he set up the first brewpub in Ontario, and has subsequently set up dozens of craft breweries and brewpubs around the world. He was the driving force behind Niagara College’s brewmaster course, the first of its kind in Canada and only the second in North America.

So Jon gave us a run-down of what to expect in the brewery, as well as an outline of safety issues (we’ll be getting more into that in the coming days, including taking a WHMIS–Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System–course). Safety equipment consists of steel-toed Wellingtons (aka rubber boots), and Jon also suggest we store a second set of clothes in our lockers, since beer drenchings have occurred from time to time. Then Jon gave us our first assignment: list every piece of equipment in the brewery that he has mentioned. For the next 45 minutes we pored over the steel tubs, filters, tubing and heaters, comparing lists and trying to remember what exactly he had mentioned. (Next time, take notes!)

Back at home, I also cracked the business math text book. Although it’s been 35 years since I took a math class, this is obviously all going to come back to me in a flash, right? Wow. Ratios? Fractions? Decimal equivalents? Hrm… Okay, maybe it will come back in a series of flashes…

Frequently Asked Question of the Day:  Why become a brewmaster?

Although the sales figures of large multinational breweries in North America are as flat as day-old beer, the craft brewing industry in both Canada and the U.S. has seen double-digit increases for several years. Food and beer pairings have become the hot topic in gourmet magazines, locavores frequent the small brewery or brewpub in their neighbourhood, and the drink of choice of those in their late 20s and early 30s is increasingly craft beer. In the next few years, as more and more people  permanently turn to tastier beers, the craft brewing industry will have to respond. What better time to join the industry than right now?

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7 Comments on “Day 1”

  1. Mommy Says:

    This looks like fun.

  2. Peter McBride Says:


    Many thanks for doing this blog. This allows many of your Project X buddies the opportunity to take this wonderful course at Niagara College vicariously through you.

    I think the hop harvest would have been more fun than your math class but indeed I don’t remember math problems suck as spiking punch and making purple Jesus when I was at school.

    Other than your commute, which can’t be fun, it sounds like you are off to a fabulous start in this new phase of your life.

    Take care.

    Peter McBride

    PS Gord Cooper and I were at Bryden’s last evening and somehow your name arose during our study session.

  3. Alan Brown Says:

    Study well, my friend:
    “A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
    there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    and drinking largely sobers us again.”
    (Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism)

    I believe this means: never order half-pints.

  4. Peter McBride Says:

    I am not sure Alexander Pope said it best, but at least he said it.

    i agree, while a half truth is a whole lie, half pints are half measures.

    On another matter, a curling buddy of mine visited Niagara College recently and came home first Draft Campus Lager and First Draft Campus Ale. I have these offerings from the class that precedes you and I encourage you and the other 23 members of your 24 to do a better job. Though the proceeds from these sales allegedly support student learning, I will not be a repeat customer of Campus Ale or Campus Lager.

    I know your class will do better.

  5. MRiches Says:

    Hi Alan,

    Thank you for keeping this blog. I heard (and read on your blog) that you were recently in my lovely hometown of Victoria, BC. I am glad you got to meet some of the great people in the brewing industry around town.

    I am in the process of redoing some high school courses to upgrade and also to get my brain fired up again. If all goes according to plan I will get accepted into either the Olds or Niagara Brewmaster course next year. I’m sure your blog will be a valuable resource. 🙂

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