Dan Schwarz, co-owner of Lift Bridge Brewery, learned how to make beer in his friend’s garage. Indeed Brewing Co.’s Josh Bischoff unofficially apprenticed at a brewpub. Jace Marti, August Schell’s assistant brewmaster, traveled to Berlin to soak up some sudsy knowledge.
Minnesota is overflowing with more than 70 breweries. But for those seeking a formal beer education, the state, and much of the Midwest, is dry.
Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) plans to change that. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system recently approved a 21-credit Brewing and Beer Steward Technology certificate for the Rosemount school.
The college will start offering the program in August, said Todd Jagerson, the college’s chief information officer who is spearheading the brew certificate effort.
It will allow brewers to hone their skills and be an entry point for people hoping to work in the growing field.
“To have completed some kind of formal training, that you at least can have the basics — the fundamentals down of brewing, I think that could open a lot of doors and maybe take a lot of stress off potential breweries that would like to hire them,” Marti said. “Then you don’t have to train those people yourselves.”
With more than 50 breweries popping up in Minnesota over the past five years, there’s a big demand for qualified brewers, said Schwarz, who is president of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. About 2,200 people work in craft breweries and that number is constantly growing, he said.
Filling a niche
A lot of people who apply for jobs at Lift Bridge or Indeed have a passion for beer but no formal training, Schwarz and Bischoff said.
“Right now, in order to get an internship or get into an existing brewery, you’re kind of applying to these places like, ‘Hey, I want to do this, but I’ve been brewing in my garage or basement.’ That doesn’t sound very professional,” said Landon Williams, a student at DCTC who originally suggested the program to Jagerson.
Williams wants to open a hard-cider business using apples from the 2,000 trees on his parents’ farm in Welch, Minn. But when he looked into popular brew training programs in the United States, he found they were expensive and would require him to move to California, Illinois or Vermont.
That is starting to change, he said.
A few Wisconsin schools are forming programs. In January, Madison Area Technical College launched a certificate program similar to Dakota County Technical College’s.
Kevin Appleton, the Madison college’s craft brewing program director, has some advice for DCTC: “Partner with local businesses and local breweries,” and “be prepared for classes to fill very quickly.”
Seventy-five people have registered for the Madison program, which includes three core courses. One prepares students to get their Cicerone Certification — essentially labeling them a beer sommelier. After that, there’s a class on the science of brewing and a practicum at a local brewery.
At DCTC, officials have a lot to do before the August start date. They are still forming a curriculum for the two-semester program. Courses will cover brewing chemistry, history, maintenance, product development, sanitation and more, Jagerson said.
The school also has to hire instructors, buy expensive equipment and get a license from the state to brew at the school. Though, Jagerson said, the equipment and license won’t be needed until later in the class. The 21-credit program is projected to cost students $3,984.96, according to the college.
Local, technical talent
From massive fermentation tanks to a conveyor belt system capable of canning 42 India Pale Ales per minute, Indeed’s brewery, like others, is packed with equipment that has to be maintained.
Brewers said there is a growing need for people who understand the technology and can fix specialized gear.
“When it comes down to it, brewing really is a manufacturing business and it does involve equipment that needs maintenance and repair,” Schwarz said. “It’s not something people think about, but it is a critical part of the brewing industry.”
Students at DCTC are a natural fit for that niche, Jagerson said.
“We’re a technical college,” he said. “We can do this stuff.”
He’s confident the program’s students will be picked up by local companies. In a survey of Minnesota breweries, 77 percent said they would hire a graduate of the program. Those that said ‘no’ were mainly too small to take on another employee.
“We’re brewing local beer,” Schwarz said. “Having local talent would be huge.”