Grand Rapids Students Learn Beer Making

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Sheldon Korcal, a Grand Rapids Community College student, says he’s been hooked on craft beer since downing one of Founder’s Brewing Company’s flagship beers — the Dirty Bastard scotch-style ale.

Korcal, 23, of Comstock Park, is enrolled in the college’s new Craft Brewing, Packaging, and Service Operations Certificate that launched this summer in response to Michigan’s booming beer industry, MLivereported.

“I like the science behind it,” said Korcal, as his 15-member class worked on different aspects of brewing a batch of IPA (India Pale Ale). “The process is pretty interesting. I want to do work I enjoy.”

Bill Pink, vice president of workforce development for the community college, said with the more than 200 breweries statewide, there is a growing demand for skilled personnel. He said the college worked closely with West Michigan breweries in developing the certificate program.

“The need is there and will continue to grow over the next several years,” he said.

Brett Langschied, who teaches the course along with John Stewart, said there is a wide range of students enrolled in the class all seeking different career paths in the industry.

Jason Richards, 31, of Grand Rapids, a cellar operator at Founders, said he enrolled to become more well-rounded in his brewing knowledge.

“I am trying to put more tools in my tool belt to make myself a bigger asset to my company,” he said. “I don’t want to just make beer, I want to make good beer.”

Langschied said every time the class brews a beer it is a learning process because they are constantly making improvements.

“As a class, they get to learn how to utilize different techniques in order to achieve the same goal — making good beer,” said Langschied, who added that the students are split into teams to learn all aspects of the process.

While many certificate and degree programs have emerged in the state and across the country, none can tout having their own brewpub. In September, Pink said those of drinking age can taste the IPA, Hefeweizen and other beers the class has brewed.

“Just like the Heritage Restaurant serves as a lab for our culinary students, the pub would work in the same way,” Pink said.

Pink said it will be called the Fountain Hill Brewery and feature Peter’s Pub, in recognition of Peter Secchia’s donation toward the craft beer program.The naming of the pub was the decision of the college.

A grand opening is being planned for the pub, located in the Applied Technology Center, next to the Heritage Restaurant.

The single donation helped to reduce the college funding needed to complete the $935,000 project, according to Lisa Freiburger, GRCC’s vice president for finance and administration. The amount of the donation was not released.

In all, she said they used the donation received, state funding from the Skill Trades Equipment grant, and college resources to cover the cost of the project.

“This is truly a grain-to-glass to customer program, which I think separates it from other programs in the state,” said John Stewart, a program instructor and director of brewing operations at Perrin Brewing Company.

“Most programs focus on certain aspects of brewing science, sustainability, draft training, etc, but this program is designed to give the students familiarity with the entire process starting with raw materials and brewing styles, all the way through to the service of the final product to the customer in our on campus brewpub.”

The art, science and technology of brewed beverages is the primary focus of the program, including topics such as brewing microbiology, biochemistry, sensory analysis, nutrition, and other fermentation principles, according to the college.

The two semester, 29-hour credit program, is delivered through extensive hands-on laboratory and operational experiences, including fieldwork experiences and an internship at a brewery or brewing- related operation.

“That is truly unique to get the full craft brewing experience and makes the program applicable to students with a wide range of goals in the industry, not just for training brewers, but pub management, sales and marketing, draft installations and management, just to name a few of the possibilities,” Stewart said.

A study commissioned by marketing group Experience Grand Rapids released last fall reported a lot of people visit Grand Rapids just for its craft beer – to the tune of a $12 million economic impact. More than 42,000 beer tourists visit the city annually, spending $7.05 million directly at craft breweries.

There are more than two dozen in the area, including the new Creston Brewery that opens today, Aug. 10.
Keeley Dunn, 27, of Grandville, is looking forward to the internships associated with the program. She thinks it will help identify specifically what area of the industry is a good career fit for her.

Eighteen spots are opening up this fall for the next cohort of the class.

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