By DAVID W. KEEN
When classes resumed this September, it marked the first anniversary of the college’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations program. After a year of educating students on the ins and outs of not just how to create beer, but how to manage the business side of running a craft brewery, those involved have faced some challenges and achieved a lot of success.
The program has been receiving rave reviews. Just recently, it was contracted by the Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse at the Hilton Hotel and Suites in Niagara Falls to make an authentic-style Brazilian beer after the restaurant had difficulty finding one through suppliers.
Last month, three Niagara College beers won medals at the 2011 United States Open Beer Championships in Georgia, and the program’s Canadian National Wheat Beer, which included one ingredient from every province and territory, was included at the Canadian National Exhibition.
According to Jon Ogryzlo, dean of Food, Wine and Agriculture Sciences, the experience gained from starting the college’s Viticulture program years before and the vast amounts of experience brought to the table by Jon Downing, the program’s brewmaster, helped get the program off the ground.
“It was always going to be a challenge,” says Ogryzlo, “but we had been through the process [of starting a new program] before, so we knew what to do. It was just going to be a lot of hard work.”
The program itself was the brainchild of Downing, who had spent years in the industry getting craft breweries off the ground.
“I had been building breweries all over the world – Cyprus, Ukraine, U.S. military bases, all over South America – all over,” says Downing. “When the college was opening its winery, I came to them and said, ‘You should be opening a brewery too!’
It took us a few years, but we finally got approval and began building the program from there.”
For Downing, building the brewery itself was the easy part; it was the process of learning to work within the college system and learning to teach while assessing students that has been the biggest adjustment.
“I had always been teaching when I was putting breweries together, but it was teaching a class, you know, and having to grade students on their progress, that’s been the biggest adjustment, but also probably the most fun,” says Downing.
The program, which boasts the only fully-licenced teaching brewery in Canada, has been a hit within the industry as well.
“We’ve been very aware and very excited about the program,” says Christine Mulkins of the Ontario Craft Breweries Association. “Having a program like the college’s out there means training no longer has to take place inside
Mulkins says the popularity of craft beers has taken off, especially in the last 10 years or so. It’s a trend she puts down to quality.
“Craft brewers are so passionate about what they do, you know? They’re artisans, and you can
taste the difference in the products they make,” says Mulkins.
With the program preparing to graduate its first class this
year, it should only be a matter of time before more and more of those
artisanal brewers are Niagara graduates.
You can find the brewery’s
First Draft beers at the campus pubs, and all of the brewery’s products are available for purchase at
Niagara College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake campus retail store. The brewery is available for tours.
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