You’ve heard it before — that quip to describe crazy college days: “I minored in beer studies.”
Well, now you can.
Paul Smith’s College, a small, isolated campus in the northernmost reaches of upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains, is among a handful of higher education institutions tapping the ever more potent keg of the craft beer explosion.
Paul Smith’s is offering a new minor degree in “craft beer studies and operations.” Twenty-five students are signed up for the major’s first suds-specific class next month, with another 25 on the waiting list. It’s a three-credit course in brewing, replete with labs and lectures.
Students like Ashlee Doele, a hotel, resort and tourism management major from Maine, are psyched, and they’re taking it seriously.
“Our professor warned us it’s a lot more science than what we expect,” says Doele.
And Doele doesn’t even like beer. At least, not yet. “I’m looking forward to learning how beer is actually made, rather than just sitting there drinking beer.”
Doele and her brew mates will also have to take classes in food chemistry, advertising and promotion, and the business of craft beer.
Paul Smith’s isn’t the only college to offer coursework in beer studies. Hard-core brewers-to-be can attend the Siebel Institute’s Master Brewer program in Chicago, or Oregon State University’s four-year program in fermentation science. Central Washington University, the University of California, Davis and UC San Diego also have programs of varying lengths.
Craft beer has become a substantial industry, with sales up almost 20 percent over last year, employing well over 100,000 people. According to the Brewers Association, the number of craft breweries in the U.S. has doubled to more than 3,000 over the past decade.
Paul Smith’s student Anthony Pernisi of Syracuse, N.Y., who already has an associate degree in restaurant management and 10 years of experience in the beverage business, says this relatively rare degree will give him a leg up in a bustling industry.
Breweries like Dogfish Head were “thinking outside of the box,” Pernisi says, “so I think taking this minor shows we’re not in one box of hospitality. We know many aspects of it.”
New York state, in particular, is doubling down on craft alcoholic beverages of all kinds. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has championed new laws that remove fees and red tape from brewers, distillers and winemakers. There are new incentives for producers who use New York-grown raw materials, like hops, grapes and wheat. Evans Brewing Co., based in Albany, just announced this week it’s tapping what it says is the first beer brewed entirely from hops and barley grown on New York state farms. (It’s an IPA with “a nice hoppy bite and a dry finish.”)
Paul Smith’s associate professor Joe Conto, who created and will direct the minor degree, believes it’s about much more than jumping on the latest “it thing” bandwagon to land a good job.
He contends that artisanal food and drink have become “the new cultural capital” for tourism and travel worldwide.
“People used to travel to find history and things of that nature,” Conto says, but today’s traveler thinks “if you want to know who people are, take a look at what they are eating and drinking.”
One of the introductory classes for the craft beer studies is Conto’s Six Glasses That Changed the World. For the record, they are beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola, Conto says. “I’m the beverage guy on campus.”
He and his students admit to getting some good-natured ribbing on campus. They are drinking for a class, after all.
But Conto says learning about — and tasting — alcoholic drinks as an academic subject allows for “adult to adult” conversations, rather than leaving the exploration to the frat houses and dormitories.
So, no beer pong?
“They didn’t have beer pong when I was in school,” Conto admits. Then he jokes, “maybe quarters.”