Day 598: Reflections on 4th semester

Alrighty, it’s time to take a look back at 4th semester courses.

The Brewing Industry: This course is central to the overall program. Jason Fisher pulls no punches in laying a great big reality check on us. Want to open a brewery? Get yourself a million dollars. (Or better yet, 1½ million.)  Contract brewer, bricks & mortar brewery or brewpub–what beers should you be brewing (or not brewing)? What are your key metrics? What is your competitive edge? What are your distribution channels? Will you make any money? The only problem with this course is that we needed to hear this stuff way earlier in the program–2nd semester if possible.

Brewery Management: Mike Arnold is a highly organized hard-nosed businessman who just happens to make beer, and he passes on a lot of essential info about running a business: step-by-step instructions for how to incorporate; how to avoid expanding before you’re ready to expand; several tax-saving loopholes; whether to lease or buy; basic accounting; critical path planning; making and pitching a business plan (to real brewers and bankers). The only problem I had with this class was that Mike’s instructions for assignments were either verbal–leading to misunderstanding later on–or the written instructions were vague.

Beers Sales & Promotion: During the first half of the semester, there was too much abstract marketing theory, and not enough practical examples. For instance, instead of just talking about proper store set-up, perhaps we should also have seen photos of good and bad examples of store layouts. Ditto good branding versus bad branding, or good use of social media versus bad use of social media. Then during the second half of the semester, our major assignment was to plan tours of the Teaching Brewery during the college’s Spring Open House. However, that involved event planning, which had nothing whatsoever to do with sales and promotion. This class needs a major re-think if it is to be at all relevant to the Brewmaster program.

(Small digression: Up until this semester, we hadn’t learned anything about the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) or the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). Then during the first three weeks of the fourth semester, that’s all we heard about in all three of these classes. It was a classic case of overlapping curriculum, and again emphasized that there seems to be very little oversight or coordination of what is being taught in the Brewmaster program. But I digress…)

Specialty Brewing: This semester, our big project was to brew up our very own custom-designed beer. To my way of thinking, this was too open-ended and needed a link to reality. I would suggest that every student beer has to be entered into a professional beer competition in any category except the “Open” class–in other words, students have to choose a specific style, brew to the style, and then put it up against professional examples of the same style.

Beer Evaluation and Judging: Dan MacKinnon is a really nice guy who knows his stuff. Unfortunately, the material he was planning to teach us this semester about tasting panels, statistics and reports had already been covered by Mark Benzaquen in 2nd semester’s Sensory Evaluation. In addition, this class–which largely involved trying to detect tiny levels  of off-flavours in beer–was held in a chemistry lab; the strong chemical odours made the whole tasting exercise rather impossible.

Human Resources Management: In theory, this looks like a good bet, right? If I’m a brewmaster, I should know how to manage my staff. In practice, this course concerns management on a large scale in a corporate setting. As such, it held little if any relevance to the person who is off to work at a small brewery–which is pretty much all of us.

Overall, the final semester mainly concerned the business of brewing. As a result, the material covered was a lot drier than previous semesters. I would suggest mixing some of these courses into the other semesters so the fourth semester seems a bit more lively. This would also make the 4th semester more palatable to the student who is not planing to open his or her own brewery.

Much of the work this semester revolved around group assignments. Of course this meant that 90% of the work got done by 10% of the students. If group assignments are all necessary for these courses, then this is another reason to move some of them to other semesters.

Up next: my thoughts on the overall Brewmaster program.

 

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