Sales of craft beer rose 6.2 percent in the United States in 2016, according to the Brewers Association, a craft beer industry trade group.
Colorado has long been at the forefront of the brewing industry, and the state boasts about 300 craft breweries, says the Colorado Brewers Guild.
While many pioneers in the craft beer industry started out homebrewing as a hobby while working in other careers, a new academic specialty has begun popping up at colleges and universities.
“There is a huge demand for people who are coming into the industry with specific fermentation knowledge,” said Jessica Blatecky, a biology instructor at Arapahoe Community College who is coordinating the school’s new fermentation sciences program.
The program, launching this fall, is ACC’s second attempt at a fermentation sciences degree. Last fall, only seven people enrolled for the first class and it was canceled.
The associate of science program includes two fermentation classes — craft beer brewing and fermented foods sciences — in a curriculum that also includes microbiology. Students must be 21 or older in order to take the craft beer class.
Scott Kerkmans, who heads up the brewing program at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said that industry-specific degrees have become increasingly important in the beer world in the past few years.
“It’s turned from a trade into a profession,” Kerkmans said. “And because of that, you need specific knowledge.”
Jeff Callaway, associate director of fermentation science and technology at Colorado State University, said fermentation-specific education can help students get hands-on experience.
“It’s certainly not required but it is getting more helpful,” he said of the value of degrees in the field.
Littleton’s St. Patrick’s Brewing Co. will help add a practical component to Blatecky’s coursework. St. Patrick’s founder and brewmaster Chris Phelps, who describes himself as a self-taught brewer who learned the principles of fermentation through reading and experimentation, said he believes there is value in a fermentation science degree.
“More and more brewers ask for it as a requirement on a resume,” he said.
ACC has arranged transfer agreements with Metro State and CSU, both of which offer related bachelor’s degrees. Metro has brewery operations and craft brewing and pub operations offerings. CSU’s program, housed in the university’s food science and human nutrition department, is designed to educate students not just on beer but on the myriad other beverages and foods that are fermented.
Non-beer fermented products, of course, include other alcoholic beverages, but also foods such as sausage, cheese, yogurt and pickles, as well as kombucha, an increasingly trendy fermented tea.
“Fermentation is taking any type of sugar and converting it to alcohol, gas or acid,” Blatecky said.
Kombucha and other fermented products are popular in the health food industry, and she sees potential for graduates entering that line of work as well as brewing. But the biggest area of demand for people with fermentation expertise may be quality control at breweries, she said. Callaway said that most CSU fermentation students are hoping to find jobs in brewing or distilling.
Blatecky said that while people with more generalized science backgrounds certainly work in the field, they may require significant on-the-job training.
“You are working with a delicate science,” she said.