Brewing: The Newest, Coolest College Degree

Animal House John Belushi College

Most kids don’t really know what they want to do with the rest of their lives when they sign up for college at age 18. And how can we expect them to? I know I didn’t. I had interests of course – girls and beer, chiefly. So there was no real niche for me to bury myself in. I’ve always liked to read and write, so I went to school for English, and I ended up landing a sweet gig doing something I like (writing) about something I love (beer).

But what if I were a dude who didn’t like to read and write, but still had that sudsy passion? There may have been nothing for me. But now, the fields of beer and winemaking are growing, and more and more colleges are offering programs that focus on these fine arts.

A recent article in the USA Today states that “a boom in the craft beer industry combined with an increase in food science programs means that more students are graduating college with a different kind of alcohol education.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are about 50 universities in the U.S with food science programs, many of which offer courses on subjects like enology, viticulture, and the fermentation sciences.

Thomas Shellhammer, a professor in Oregon State University’s food science and technology department, says when he was growing up, he knew nothing about these programs, but now, he says students are seeking them out in their Freshman year. At OSU, the food science department began in 2001 with about 40 students. Today, there are more that 120 in the program.

The article cites statistics on the retail dollar value of the craft beer industry, showing that in 2012, the value was $10.2 billion, up from $8.7 billion in 2011. Although domestic beer brands control almost 80% of the market, the craft brewing business accounts for roughly half of the brewing jobs in the U.S., and this is where these students want to be.

The USA Today profiled Eryn Bottens, who graduated from OSU’s food science technology program with a concentration in fermentation science. While Bottens had been a homebrewer for years, he decided he wanted to fine tune his skill set through an actual degree, and he plans to start work at the Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) sometime next year.

While few colleges have programs crafted specifically for brewing and winemaking – and they usually use words like “enology” and “viticulture” to describe them – the number is on the rise. There are even a few universities with student-run breweries on campus, including UC Davis, OSU, Colorado State University, and the Siebel Institute of Chicago.

UC Davis Brewery, Winery & Food Pilot Facility

Part of the UC Davis Brewery, Winery & Food Pilot Facility in California

I find this to be extremely exciting news, and it’s about damn time. According to the Brewers Association, craft brewers currently provide an estimated 108,440 jobs in the U.S. In 2012, there were 2,347 craft breweries operated for some or all of the year. And these numbers do not count all of the jobs provided by the domestic brands. So, of course we need a college program that prepares people for success in this field.

So, in closing, I simply declare, it’s a good time to be a college-bound beer lover.

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