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Juniata Science Faculty Teach Brewing Course

(Posted March 12, 2012)

In past years, the Juniata brewing course, offered every spring, has visited area breweries, such as the Yuengling Brewery.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- From major brewing companies like Yeungling and Budweiser, to smaller local breweries like Victory or Straub's, to microbreweries and home-brewers, beer has always been a big part of American beverage culture.

Over 20 years ago, Juniata biology professor Todd Gustafson, now retired, decided to design a course that combined science with popular interest. Jeff Demarest, professor of biology, encouraged Gustafson to get the course on the books. Three years ago, Demarest took over. The course was called "Art and Science of Brewing," and two decades later, it is still offered to all students every spring.

Covering aspects of the history, biochemistry, microbiology, engineering and business of modern brewing processes, the course's main aim is to engender an appreciation for the overall beer-making process.

In accordance with U.S. drinking laws, the class only admits students who are of age, and in addition, those of age must have taken at least high-school level chemistry and biology courses. Non-science students need not fret the curriculum, however, because Demarest offers "crash course" sessions on the fundamental chemistry and biology information necessary to succeed in the course.

The course recently was recognized by a grant last year from the Coleman Foundation, an organization that gives grants to encourage the inclusion of entrepreneurial ideas into college and university courses. The grant provides a $2,500 stipend. Demarest is using the grant funds to take the students on field trips to several local breweries. He explains, "I have a lot of students who think they might like to go into that field."

Demarest and the class will visit Otto's Pub and Brewery in State College, Pa., and Troegs Brewery in Harrisburg, Pa., so that students can get a feel for the different types of business models in the brewing sphere.
Beyond just learning about beer, students get to make the stuff themselves. Over the course of the semester, students brew two 5-gallon batches of beer. Because there are hundreds of thousands of compounds that determine a beer's flavor, it is important for the students to learn how to craft their own brews. This way, students learn what types of flavors and aromas are appropriate for each type of beer.

In his current class, Demarest says the students play detective during a beer tasting in class. "Out of eight beers, one of them was a commercial beer that had defects, and the students could pick it out immediately. There were flavor components that shouldn't have been in that style of beer that happened during the brewing process."

Although Juniata students who complete this course would need more training to open a brewery, the course provides enough practice and study for a student to be hired at an entry-level brewery job.

Brewing science can also could be the golden ticket to a career in pharmaceuticals, believe it or not. Demarest explains, "Brewers at small breweries are constantly being recruited by drug companies because drug companies use bioreactors to produce medications. So all the things you have to control in the brewing process also must be controlled in the pharmaceutical industry."

Whether students take the course because they want to refine their taste buds, understand the chemistry of the brewing process, or even prepare for a career in brewing, the course allows for creativity and experimentation in a subject area you wouldn't expect to find in a classroom.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.