Students tap into OSU’s fermentation science program for brewing expertise
With a clink of glass, a hiss of compressed air and a chunk of machinery, a line of beer bottles moved through the automated production line at Oregon State University’s small on-campus brewery Thursday afternoon.
One by one the bottles were filled with frothing amber liquid and then capped as a group of people in white lab coats and beer-spattered safety glasses looked on.
Welcome to OSU’s Brewing Analytics Series, a trio of short courses for working brewers and serious amateurs looking to break into the industry: Microbiology for the Brewer, Beer Analyses and Quality Assurance.
The first two combine online course materials with labwork, while the third involves a tour of university and commercial hop and barley breeding operations.
Some 18 students from around the United States and Canada converged on Corvallis this week for the culminating sessions of the intensive classes.
“These courses were designed with the professional brewer in mind,” said Tom Shellhammer, a professor in OSU’s fermentation science program and the lead instructor for the Brewing Analytics Series.
“It doesn’t really show you so much how to brew as how to do it right.”
And a growing number of professional beer makers are looking to OSU for expertise in the production process. The university’s fermentation science program has grown along with Oregon’s reputation as a leader in the craft brewing field, with more than 200 undergraduate students enrolled last term.
Mark Maher just opened Feckin Brewery in Oregon City with his father. It’s a big step, and he signed up for Brewing Analytics to shore up his brewing knowledge.
“I’ve been home-brewing for a couple of years — no formal training, just books and YouTube,” said Maher, whose family also owns Maher’s Irish Brew Pub in Lake Oswego.
“I learned a lot from other brewers, but coming here really helps me.”
Jack Hendler, who co-owns Jack’s Abby Brewing in Framingham, Mass., said he needed to upgrade his skills and the OSU class was the best fit for him.
“We’re in the middle of a big expansion, and we really need to fine-tune some of our processes, our quality control,” he said. “There’s a few options, but this program is very hands-on, which is what I needed.”
Jesse Watterson, a three-year veteran of Allagash Brewing Co. in Portland, Maine, said he was looking for a mid-career refresher course.
“I know a lot about the process, but it’s good to reinforce my knowledge with science,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot in my week here.”
Melinda Reis works on the manufacturing side of the beer biz at Marks Design & Metalworks, a Vancouver, Wash., outfit that builds production-scale tanks for microbreweries. She came looking for ways to improve the company’s product line and ended up learning from her fellow students as well as the course instructors.
“It was good to step into our customers’ shoes for a week,” Reis said. “It’s been extremely valuable.”
There was plenty to learn. On Thursday afternoon, the students were getting some lessons in accurately measuring levels of carbon dioxide and dissolved oxygen in beer as a batch of steam-brewed lager went through the bottling line at OSU’s pilot brewery.
After filling, there’s a pause to allow some foam to spill over each bottle’s neck before the cap is crimped over the top. That allows the CO2 in the beer to push out excess oxygen, a process called “fobbing” that is a key step in high-end production brewing.
“Beer is really sensitive to the presence of oxygen,” Shellhammer explained.
“Most of the big guys and some of the craft guys can get pretty compulsive about keeping their dissolved oxygen levels low.”
Contact reporter Bennett Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-758-9529.