GRCC to offer a degree in beer production

Photo+by+Emily+Cole

Photo by Emily Cole

Beer enthusiasts rejoice. Grand Rapids now has an opportunity for amateur home-brewers to develop their skills through a beer degree at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC).

Seeking to be part of the growth and success of Grand Rapids’ beer industry, the program will train students in the production of beer and management of breweries as part of the curriculum at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at GRCC, one of the highest regarded culinary schools in the nation.

A $2.9 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp, designed to improve and expand programs at GRCC, funded the program, which has been in development over the past year.

According to GRCC, growth in the craft beer industry is exploding at rates exceeding 50 percent per year, and Michigan has tapped into the growth, boasting 146 breweries in the state, according to Pure Michigan.

The positive economic effects of the industry are widespread as well. According to the Grand Rapids Business Journal, small brewing companies employed 115,469 people in 2014, expanding by 4.3 percent from 2013.

Grand Rapids in particular has created a reputation for high-quality craft beer production.

The city  was rated the “Best Beer Town” in America in 2014 by USA Today and is home to 30 breweries. GRCC educators hope to connect students to the thriving field through its production and management program.

Senior Hannah Albers, a chemical engineering major, is intrigued by the degree offering. “I don’t know if I would get a degree in craft brewing, but I would be interested in taking some classes on brewing if they were available,” she said, “Going a step further and having classes or a degree allows there to be a spectrum of beer enthusiasts who want to do more than just enjoy beer but don’t necessarily want to own a brewery.”

The need for highly-trained individuals with knowledge of the beer-making process has become apparent as local breweries grow and expand. “The opportunities to work in the brewing industry continue to grow.

“The opportunities for education have not kept up,” the director of fermentation science at Central Michigan University, Cordell DeMattei, reported to the Grand Rapids Business Journal.

The beer culture in Grand Rapids is a selling point to many looking to be involved in the beer-making business. Albers explained, “A person is more inclined to try something and develop an interest in it if it’s a significant part of the city or regional culture, and all of the breweries around here that run tours definitely help with that.”

The certificate will result from a three-semester program that incorporates classes in biochemistry, nutrition and microbiology to understand the fermentation process, alongside business and marketing classes. The program will also include a required internship at a local brewery.

The program is proposed to begin in January 2016, and GRCC is currently communicating with local brewers to develop field-relevant curriculum for its students.

Albers notes that the degree could encourage students to take their interest in beer beyond their time in Grand Rapids. “This program would also be cool for students who aren’t going to stay in Michigan and want to spread an appreciation for beer to other parts of the country,” she said.

“In my case,” she said, “I’m moving to Texas after graduation and am definitely going to miss places like Founders, Perrin and Hop Cat. But I’m really optimistic that the craft beer movement won’t just stay in places like Michigan, Colorado and Oregon.”