It’s not uncommon to find students sipping suds on a Saturday night. At Paul Smith’s College in upstate New York, however, some students will now be sipping during classtime as craft beer will soon be a part of the course catalogue. The college announced this month that it will introduce a minor in craft brew studies with the first course slated to run in spring 2015.
Unlike other programs that focus on brewing, Paul Smith’s curriculum will focus on the business aspect of craft beer, according to Joe Conto, the director of the Hospitality, Resort, and Tourism Management program at the college
Students will take a combination of lectures and labs, including marketing, entrepreneurship, the business of beer and a brewing lab. In-class exercises will feature lectures by industry professionals and visits to regional beer-related firms. They will also have optional electives on the food and beverage industry.
“We are not trying to create brewers,” says Conto. “We’re putting folks in the world of hospitality and tourism and culinary arts that have a particular knowledge of the craft beer sector.”
All full-time students enrolled in a degree program are eligible to sign up for the minor, says Conto. The program will not add to a student’s tuition cost and will fit into a typical four-year schedule.
The craft beer industry is booming, and Conto says the brewing minor is a way the tourism-focused college is responding to the growing trend.
The Brewers Association reported a 15% increase in the number of craft breweries in the US, jumping from 2,401 in 2012 to 2,768 in 2013. There was a 20% increase in sales, with over $14.3 billion spent by consumers in 2013 alone. Currently, there are over 110,000 craft brewing jobs in the US.
Many students would jump at the chance to add beer studies to their class schedule. Aiden Bothwell, a junior at Southern Maine Community College, says he would add the minor to give him a competitive edge in the professional world.
“Having knowledge about the beer industry would be helpful not just as a hobby but if I opened a business in the field,” says Bothwell. “No options are off limits in college and they should have classes that allow students to find their career path.”
Beyond breweries, graduates of the program will have employment prospects in brewpubs, specialty beer stores and distribution companies.
Conto says the Northeast — in particular New York — is considered a mecca for craft breweries, and he sees it becoming the beer version of Napa Valley, complete with “beer trails” and similar marketing ventures. To make it in the industry, Conto says students must be fluent in distribution, sales and promotion of the popular product.
“You can make beer all day long but if you can’t get it to market, if you can’t get people at the other end to purchase it, you won’t make any money,” says Conto.
Many universities already offer similar programs. Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College in Asheville, North Carolina has a two-year craft beer program, which focuses on brewing and marketing. Likewise, the University of California at Davis offers master brewing courses.
Jen Tiedemann, a senior at Emerson College in Boston, calls herself a beer snob. She’s never bought the same brew twice and recently received her bartending certification. However, she says she thinks of it as more of a hobby and less of a career.
“While I’d probably take the classes for fun, I’m not sure if I’d ever take on a minor like this,” she said. “I feel like future employers wouldn’t be very impressed, unless I was getting a job in brewing.”
Students brewing, and possibly drinking, for credit also poses the question, does age-sensitivity factor in? Conto says the beer-specific courses will only be available to of-age juniors and seniors. Overall, drinking will not be a facet of the curriculum.
“Students don’t need a course to drink beer and I haven’t yet had a student come to me with that idea,” says Conto. “The focus here is gaining business experience with a spotlight on a particular industry.”
Beer in general, Conto says, often has a negative stigma attached, which he hopes will change. In one of his classes, Conto uses a mental exercise where he asks students to compare their vision of a wine drinker to a beer drinker. He says for years beer has been for the lower class man and wine for the elite. However, that’s changing, and, with it, the need for those well versed in the product and the industry.
“As the industry changes and grows, we need people that can lead it,” says Conto. “In terms of class, beer is now finding its place close to wine. It has a level of interest that it didn’t have before.”
Katy Rushlau is a senior at Emerson College.
Filed under: CAREER PATH, VOICES FROM CAMPUS Tagged: beer, brewing, career path, craft beer, Emerson College, Katy Rushlau, paul smith's college