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Mike's Mix: DCTC Brewing & Beer Steward Technology Program

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Every Saturday, Mike Augustyniak finds the best mixologists in town to see what they're stirring up. This week, he's going back to school to learn about Dakota County Technical College's new brewing program.

You've heard of craft-brewed and home-brewed beer, but how about college-brewed beer?

Students at Dakota County Technical College are doing just that – but not in a dorm room. Instead they're using a new state-of-the-art classroom, and it's part of an accredited college program.

My beer education took place as an 'independent study' course that definitely wasn't organized or accredited. Like most people, I learned that beer uses water and yeast, malt and hops…but that's about it.

But Ian Campbell isn't most people -- he's one of the first 55 students who will graduate from DCTC's new Brewing & Beer Steward Technology program.

"My wife and I were sitting in a pub on the Oregon coast and she was like, 'You should try this. You should go do this...go to school for this.'" He agreed; and, with a full-time job and a 4-year old at home, the DCTC program made it possible for Ian to reach his goal.

What the students are learning is practical, even though it's not always glamorous.

"I would say the most valuable information I've drawn is the internship portion of the certificate where you get out into a brewery," Campbell told me. "You spend eight hours a day filling growlers, filling bottles, capping bottles. That is the job. Like, if you want to brew beer and stand around with your buds drinking beer or whatever, stick to homebrewing."

Instructor Jeff Merriman helped develop the course.

"One of the programs in a brainstorming session, that sort of comically got thrown out there, was beer. I think we had a good laugh, but then somebody [said], 'Wait a minute -- why couldn't we? Is there a program in the state of Minnesota that focuses on this type of thing?'"

It turned out the answer was 'no.' So they asked around, and built a program to train the people local breweries are looking to hire.

"We do some brewing here, of course, because we need to be able to understand how to monitor the science of fermentation, but primarily what we focus on is the more hands-on training," said Merriman

The equipment is everything you'll see in a commercial microbrewery -- grain, fermentation tanks, keg washers...even a tap and draught system for students to learn on.

"Remember about 40 percent of foam is still beer. So you're letting that beer run down the drain, and when beer runs down the drain you're losing profitability," Merriman told me.

It's a program that touches many science disciplines.

"We talk about chemistry, we talk a little bit about engineering and the physics; obviously, when we talk about the draught systems we're talking about gasses and pressures."

The only grades are 'pass' or 'fail,' but ongoing sensory analysis helps students identify what's right and what's wrong with their brews. I asked Campbell how much beer the students are really drinking.

"You know honestly not much."  Laughing, he added, "most of my research takes place at home."

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