College students tap into chemistry of craft beer

This piece originally aired June 16, 2015.

Beer and college have gone together for a long time, but not like this.

Colorado State University is one of several colleges now offering a major in beer.

"It is fun. And it's a lot of work as well," Jeff Callaway said.

Callaway would know. He left the cutting-edge world of biotech to teach about a beverage that man started brewing 7,000 years ago. And beer, it turns out, is complicated.

"So before the students even get to think about brewing beer, they have to learn biochemistry, microbiology, physics, organic chemistry. There's a lot that you have to do in order to work your way into the lab," Callaway said.

Kate Douglas and Andy Mersch were part of this year's first-ever graduating class. Mersch left a culinary career to get into making beer.

"I like beer-- I like studying beer because it's ubiquitous in society. It's engaging, it's exciting. It's kind of like cooking, but it's lot more in-depth," Mersch said.

A lot of students set their course to work with craft beers like New Belgium, a brewery just down the street. Owner Kim Jordan and her former husband started making beer in a garage in 1991. Today, New Belgium craft beers are shipped across American and even to Sweden.

"America is the best place in the world to drink beer right now. This is where the innovation is happening in beer," Jordan said.

Annual sales are now about $200 million. Craft beers are made in smaller breweries. At New Belgium they have fanciful tastes and names like Skinny Dip for summer or Slow Ride for kicking back.

But little breweries are doing big business. Today the craft beer market is $19.6 billion strong, still smaller than the $101 billion in sales of beers overall. But last year craft beer sales grew 22 percent.

"At this point, the craft brewing industry employs about 115,000 people," Jordan said. "To give you some perspective, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors together employ about 24,000 people."

So to help train more future beer makers, New Belgium donated $1 million to the CSU program. It's a career with a beverage that has a philosophy all its own.

As Benjamin Franklin lovingly put it, "Beer is proof that God...wants us to be happy."