Teaching An Old Homebrewer New Tricks

by Gary Gulley on November 21, 2011 · 0 comments

in Brewing School, Philosophy

Me (in red) listening to ABG Engineering Instructor, Dan Del Grande, discuss brewhouse operations at Harpoon Brewery

One of the key components in my master plan to open a brewery has always been to graduate from a professional brewing school. I feel very strongly that a formal education in brewing is crucial for success if you haven’t worked in a brewery for many years. It’s important to not only know how to brew but to know how to brew on a commercial scale and understanding the processes that are a part of that. This includes understanding beer spoiling microbiology, quality control and assurance, laboratory procedures, wort making, fermentation/cellaring (including filtration), mashing and malting biochemistry, cleaning and sanitizing (absolutely crucial), packaging, and many, many other aspects of professional brewing. Most of these things are simply not a part of homebrewing and unless you are aware of them, you’re going to have a difficult time making good, consistent, shelf stable beer on a commercial scale.

Enter the American Brewers Guild. ABG is a distance learning program consisting of lectures on DVD, lecture notes, online forums, online quizzes, open book exams at home (harder than you think), textbooks, all crescendoing with a final week of residency at a brewery where all the students and faculty gather together. The strength of this program versus Siebel – which is located about 3 miles from my house – and UC Davis, is that it is a great option for those of us with families to support. I simply could not afford to attend the other schools as a working father and the sole income for our family. The tuition at ABG is also a fraction of what the other schools charge too, and no lost wages for taking off work for 4 months. It was a no brainer for me.

Now don’t let the thought of taking a “correspondence” course in brewing fool you: it’s an extremely in depth program which has been in operation for many years. Famous alumni include the founders of Surly Brewing and Terrapin Beer Company with many, many alumni working at breweries all over the world. Instructors include Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker, David Logsdon – founder and owner of Wyeast, and Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing. Steve Parkes, who along with his wife Christine own the school, is a graduate of the brewing and distilling program from the famous Heriot-Watt University in Scotland with years and years of professional brewing experience both in the U.S. and the U.K.

Well, as of last week, I’ve completed the program! Well, almost. I’ll explain momentarily. Last week found me in Windsor, VT at the Harpoon Brewery for an intense week of onsite learning. I finally met all my fellow classmates and faculty who, until last week, I’ve only communicated with via the school’s online forums or email. It was a truly amazing week and I learned too many things to list here and made some new lifelong friends.

The final requirement of the school is to work for 5 weeks at a craft brewery. I will be working at one of our local breweries, Metropolitan Brewing. I’ve known the owners, Doug and Tracy Hurst, for a couple of years now and they’ve been kind enough to take part in the ABG program. I’ll be working there from the last two weeks of December through most of January, 2012. At that time, I will have completed the entire ABG course and will be ready to begin the next phase…opening a brewery.

So, if you’re one of the many homebrewers out there considering brewing school, I cannot recommend ABG enough. I feel I have all the tools I need to get started in my own brewery. Check out their website but be aware that classes are full through 2013. So get your application in now and be ready for 2014! Do it.

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