“You have to be a scientist, physicist, and artist to be a brewer,” says Tim Yarrington, instructor of Brewing and Fermentation Science at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport. He has been teaching in the program since it was introduced two years ago, at the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year. In May, the two-year program had its first graduates, and all had jobs lined up, he says.
Ryan Hampton of Williamsport was one of those graduates who had a job waiting for him before May. He accepted a brewing position at Berwick Brewing Company in Berwick. “I wouldn’t have got there without going through the program,” he says. Success in the program requires a unique skill set, including proficiency in science, math and a creative flair.
“That’s why brewers are unique individuals,” Tim says. The science and math is a must to ensure that the student knows the mechanics of the brewing process. The creativity part comes in place when it comes to taste and flavor. Look at any craft beer section at a store, he continues, and you’ll see combinations of everything from cucumber sour to orange creamsicle to passionfruit. Some of the flavor combinations are things that most people do not associate with beer, but brewers are able to put these ingredients together to make a quality, good-tasting product.
Prior to enrolling in the Brewing Science and Fermentation program, Ryan was a home brewing hobbyist. He feels the math and science basis of the program especially helped him in acquiring the skills to begin working in the brewing industry. “It allowed me a leg up in some areas,” he says of his education. “Without going through the two years with Mr. Yarrington, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
And, eventually, where he’d like to be, which is running his own brewery one day.
The craft beer industry has been steadily growing in recent years. In 2018, craft beer brewing was a $27 billion industry, according to the Brewers Association.
“You go to just about any bar and you find tap after tap of craft beer,” Tim says. He also notes that Pennsylvania is the top volume producing state for all beer in the entire country. “We’re in a state that represents almost every level of beer. We have Sam Adams, Yuengling, Straub.” He has formed relationships with some of those other breweries in the state, including Yuengling. These relationships have been helpful in providing internship opportunities for students. Job prospects for students graduating from the Brewing and Fermentation Science program are currently “very good,” he continues.
Tim, who lives in Spring Mills, Pennsylvania, is a professional brewer himself. He has been director of operations at Elk Creek Café + Ale Works in Millheim for twelve years. During his time there, Tim has crafted more than forty unique beers. He originally started his working career in construction, and eventually discovered the unique field of brewing science, and admits, “Once I discovered brewing, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.” In 1995, he graduated from the Master Brewers Program at the American School for Malting and Brewing Science and Technology, University of California, Davis. (This after earning a bachelor of science in wildlife science from Penn State.) He has worked at a brewery in Manhattan, as a freelance brewing consultant, and has since won national awards for his brews. It was his expertise that attracted Penn College to him. Tim was asked to help develop the curriculum and teach in the program.
“One thing about Penn College, among others, is that they’re really focused on industry trends,” Tim says. “The college was aware of the growing craft beer industry. They knew they had the ability to start it [the program].”
Penn College’s Brewing and Fermentation Science program is the only program with an education background, Tim continues. Most programs are certificate programs. Students successfully completing the program earn an Associate of Applied Science degree. Penn College’s program is also unique because it is recognized by the Master Brewers Association of America, a professional science-based brewing organization.
“I really believe our industry needs educated entry-level hires,” Tim says. To qualify for the program, a prospective student must be twenty-one years old by the second program year—that’s when the fermentation part of the course begins. The age prerequisite makes it hard to recruit for the program, as they cannot recruit at high schools. Some potential students also do not realize that the program has a science heavy background. Prerequisite courses include chemistry, mathematics, and microbiology. Still, through marketing and word of mouth, the program has managed to attract students with the science ability and creativity needed to thrive in the brewing industry. Many of them have previously earned degrees in other areas and are returning to school for a career change. One recent student originally studied philosophy, Tim notes.
The college also more recently added a four-year option for younger students. One is an applied management program, with the option of taking brewing and fermentation science as a minor. You can call (570) 326-3761 or go to pct.edu for more information all these programs.
“Then they get business management and some economics, on that end of things, which is never a bad thing,” Tim muses. The college currently is exploring adding a one-year program, he notes.
“Consumers are starting to expect and demand consistent quality,” Tim says. So, brewers need education and the understanding of the science of brewing to maintain this quality. The curriculum is designed so that students not only get hands-on experience, but also the science education background that goes into understanding how to maintain quality in the brews. Though the field of craft brewing is ever evolving, it is maintaining this quality that is going to be key to success for years to come, in addition to creativity.
“I hope the industry, as it matures, will retain its fun and creative side,” says Tim.
That’s something we can all drink to.