The times, they’re a-changin’ … and for the better, may I add.
As craft beer continues to penetrate American culture, educational institutions are beginning to find value in the liquid, too. There are several brewing education programs around North Carolina, including a few classes here in our own port city. Waterline co-owner and brand manager Mark Anthony Mueller teaches Craft Beer 101 and 102 at Cape Fear Community College (CFCC), where math instructor and Skytown Beer Company assistant brewer Jody Hinson also tackles Homebrewing Basics.
I had the privilege of sitting down with the instructors over a couple of pints at Waterline, where the classes are held.
encore (e): Who approached you? How did this get started?
Mark Mueller (MM): So, the dean from CFCC approached me after I did a presentation for the downtown Rotary three years ago. Around 200 people attended. They gave me 15 minutes to talk about craft beer in Wilmington, and we went on for 45 minutes. It was the first time anyone had gone over their time with one of these presentations. The audience asked questions; they were engaged.
Afterward, I was contacted by CFCC to start developing a program. They wanted to start with a two-year program right out of the gate, but I advised them to slow down and start with just a few classes to gauge interest. I was concerned initially about finding instructors.
Jody Hinson (JH): Yeah, it’s important to find people who are going to have the level of commitment necessary, but also people who are going to be comfortable getting up in front of that classroom. So Mark reached out to me because he knew about my teaching experience.
MM: One of the main reasons the college wanted to get this program started is they were seeking to increase enrollment.
e: Who are these classes for? Professionals, amateurs, newbies?
MM: I wanted to design a program that would accommodate service industry, folks interested in becoming part of the industry or starting a business, and people who just want to have fun and learn about beer. From what we’ve seen so far, there have been even ratios of these three demographics.
e: Do these courses count toward any degrees?
MM: Right now, no. They’re just continuing education classes. But I did speak with the dean, and if in the future there is a two-year associates program, these credits will retroactively count toward said degree.
e: A couple more housekeeping things: How much do these courses cost? How many hours? How often do you meet? Do you have to be a student at CFCC?
JH: Mine is $95 and it’s 12 hours of instruction for five total classes.
No, you don’t have to be enrolled in the college. You just sign up and pay for the classes individually.
MM: Each of my courses are $65 and six hours. We meet three times.
e: Jody, how does the homebrewing class work? Do you brew?
JH: At the first class, after I hand out the syllabus and explain a few things, I let my students choose a beer we’ll brew and eventually drink. They select the style, then I go to Wilmington Homebrew Supply to pick up the ingredients.
We meet on a Saturday for our long class—it’s five hours long—and we do the full-on brew day. I let the students do everything. We’ll meet a week later for secondary fermentation, the next week we keg the beer, and at the final class we drink the keg, and discuss the beer and the class. I encourage my students to bring growlers so they can take leftovers home.
I’ve had multiple students who have been sent from professional breweries because the businesses find the formal instruction important.
MM: Also, it’s good to know, while people don’t have to take all three classes, it is set up to be a series. Students can start with me and end with Jody. One of our success stories is Bryan, the cellar operator up at Salty Turtle Beer Company in Surf City.
e: Mark, what about you? Tell me about your classes.
MM: I start with the history and science of beer, which are directly related. I do emphasize that I don’t want to get too involved in specific information the students could spend their own time looking up. If they’re hungry for that information, they’ll find it on their own. I don’t need to waste time by making them memorize all of that. I try to keep the information applicable to their specific needs.
JH: It’s also about reading the crowd.
MM: Absolutely, and that’s exactly why I like to ask them at the end of each class if there’s something they’d like me to cover the next time we meet.
JH: Yeah, that’s why I let the students pick the recipe. I want them to be excited about what they’re doing.
MM: I also like to make sure everyone has a better understanding of beer styles and why they like or dislike them.
For example, if they like a certain kind of IPA, I’ll start asking them questions to find out why and then break down for them the science behind those flavors and how they can find more things like that.
e: What are the long-term goals for the program?
MM: The five-year plan is implementing an associate’s in brewing science. The 10-year would have the program shift over to UNCW for a bachelor’s.