Day 600: A look back… and a look forward

Well, there it is: Six hundred days since my first day of Brewmaster classes. Hopefully I learned how to make good beer, and more importantly, that I learned how to do it safely and consistently. I’ve definitely met a lot of great people in the local brewing scene, as well as several people in ancillary industries. And my fellow graduates should form the core of a stronger craft brewing industry over the next few years–many have already started work in breweries from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.

But let’s be realistic: As good as the program was, there’s still room for improvement.

If I were the Mayor of Beer, here’s what I would do:

  1. Enlarge the Teaching Brewery. The current space is too small by half. It’s hard to learn about the proper way to do one thing when you are dodging around five or six other people doing other things. (Apparently plans are being drawn up for a larger Teaching Brewery.)
  2. More teaching in the Teaching Brewery. Sometimes I felt that we were learning how to brew by a process of osmosis rather than by structured lessons in proper procedure.
  3. More lab work (and more lab work tied to the Teaching Brewery). We need more lab work in the formal chemistry and microbiology labs to reinforce lecture material. But we also need more lab work tied to the Teaching Brewery. Small teams of 1st- and 2nd-year students should be taking daily samples from the Teaching Brewery for analysis in the lab, testing for yeast viability, IBUs, water composition, microbiological content, etc. More lab work and attention to Quality Assurance is what will take craft brewing to the next level; Brewmaster students not only need to learn about it, but need to live it constantly during the course.
  4. Small business, not large corporation.  With courses like Human Resources and Business Ethics, the current focus of the Brewmaster program seems to be the large corporate workplace. These classes should be replaced by courses that will help us set up and run small businesses. An introductory accounting class would seem to be ideal. There is also an Operations Management class already offered  in other courses that includes “customer service, forecasting techniques, procurement, supply management and just-in-time strategies, aggregate planning, inventory management, materials requirements planning, scheduling techniques, quality management and control techniques, and productivity analysis and improvement.” 
  5. Better central coordination. There does not seem to be any hand on the tiller at the moment. None of the teachers knows what is being taught in other classes, so duplication of material is rife. For instance, we learn about gas laws in Packaging, then learn about gas laws again in Filtration, Carbonation & Finishing. Someone has to take charge, meet with the teachers–or even bring the teachers together–and negotiate some sort of coordinated approach to the program materials.
  6. (While we are mentioning Packaging and FCF, wouldn’t it be more more logical to have FCF first, followed by Packaging, since that is what happens in real life?)
  7. Real world applications. Given that Brewmaster students will be brewing professionally as soon as they graduate–actually many students were brewing professionally before they graduated–more of the Brewmaster program should be linked to the outside world.
    • As I have already suggested, our final project beers should have to be entered into a real brewing competition versus professional brewers.
    • Brewmaster students should be leaving the program as fully qualified beer _________s, whether that be BJCP judge, Ciccerone, Prud’homme or one of several other official designations.
    • Likewise, Brewmaster students should have to judge at several professional competitions as part of the program.
    • Every student should have to belong to the Master Brewers Association of Canada (MBAC), and every student should be required to go to each of the MBAC quarterly technical seminars.
  8. Yeast propagation and cropping. Right now, a fresh batch of yeast is used for each brew in the Teaching Brewery. However  out in the real world, yeast is cropped from one batch and used in the next batch. Part of the problem is the small size of the Teaching Brewery (see Point #1), but there has to be some way to incorporate proper yeast management.
  9. DE filtration. Likewise, filtration using diatomaceous earth (DE) is industry standard, but we do not have a DE filtration system at the college. Yes, DE presents a possible health hazard, so don’t have any DE on site–just have the filter there so we can at least learn to set it up (minus the DE) and clean it.
  10. Proper classrooms.  A Sensory course requiring a delicate sense of smell and taste being given in a science lab full of chemical smells? Again, it seems that a central coordinator should be able to stick-handle problems like this with the college administrators.
  11.  More field trips to breweries. Given the number of breweries within two hours of the college, it seems unrealistic that we only had one field trip in the last month of the two year program. Seeing how breweries are set up and talking to the brewers is important.
  12. Technical seminars. Bring in brewmasters to give 2-hour seminars on technical aspects of brewing: lautering issues with bigger mashes, or care and feeding of yeast in high gravity brews, for instance.
  13. Make student education more important than college profit. Sales of college-made beer (and wine and food, for that matter) produce money for the college. That helps the college, obviously, but sometimes it seems that education takes a back seat to business. For instance, the dates of the very profitable Caps, Corks & Forks dinners are set without any regard to the time needed to properly design and brew beers to match to the cuisine. Again, this may be an instance where a strong central voice for the program is needed.

I’m certain that several of these concerns are already being addressed, and I am actually looking forward to coming back to the college in five years to see the improvements that will have been made in both the facilities as well as the curriculum.

So, that’s my look back. Now what? As a child of the sixties, I was raised to believe that learning is a lifelong process. So I intend to keep learning about beer, and to keep you informed about that ongoing journey through this blog. A Student of Beer I have been, a Student of Beer I shall remain.

What’s coming up?

Well, to be truthful, I haven’t actually thought that far ahead yet. My primary concern was finishing all my exams, handing in my final assignments and passing all my classes. Normally you would think that I would immediately start looking for a job. However, just a couple of days after my last exam, I had to fly out to British Columbia on family business, and I have extended that visit into a two-week vacation and an opportunity to visit as many West Coast breweries and brewpubs as possible. I’ll be writing about those breweries over the next couple of weeks.

Once I get home, yes, I’ll start looking for a job, and I’ll let you know how that goes.

And looking a bit further into the future, I will be attending a beer bloggers’ conference in Boston in late July–I will definitely be blogging about that.


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7 Comments on “Day 600: A look back… and a look forward”

  1. Victor Says:

    Congratulations Alan! All the best for the future!

  2. Thanks for your insights, Alan. Our house just sold yesterday, so I’m now anxiously awaiting September. Hopefully they’ll take your suggestions into account.

    • Alan Brown Says:

      Best of luck, Doug! It really is an excellent program already, and my comments only reflect the improvements I feel could be made to make it even stronger.

  3. oneforward Says:

    Alan, thanks so much for sharing your adventures with us. You are remarkably generous to do so. The College should be thrilled to have a student like you. I’m looking forward to reading about your next adventures!

    • Alan Brown Says:

      Thanks! Writing this blog has been a very enjoyable exercise, one that required me to constantly think about the program from a “wider” perspective. I’m glad that some readers also find it of interest.

  4. Andrea Says:

    Congratulations, Alan! And do make plans for a book as well as a blog…. I never thought a blog about beer could be both technically challenging AND funny, but yours was. Cheers! Andrea

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