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Davis, California

Thursday, May 23, 2024

UC Davis program brews up skilled professionals

UC Davis may often be associated with wine, but unique opportunities also await aspiring brewers.

The Master Brewers Program (MBP) through the UC Davis Extension is the only institution in the United States that offers a university-level qualification in brewery engineering and brewing science. On an international level, MBP is only one of only three programs of this kind in the world.

The program first emerged in 1990 through the collaboration of professor emeritus of Brewing Science, Michael Lewis, and UC Davis Extension. According to the MBP website and Lewis, an increased demand for technical training programs in brewing science led to its development.

“There was a greatly expanded demand for access to the brewing courses and for formal qualifications, and also a need for this if the craft industry was to be legitimate,” Lewis said.

MBP was run on the UC Davis campus until 1995 when UC Davis Extension had to move the program to a new location. A classroom for MBP was then opened up at the Sudwerk Brewery in Davis, an appropriate setting for such curriculum.

Yesterday morning, the class was packed with MBP students, many of which were sporting accoutrement from various breweries. One man sported a Deschutes Brewery t-shirt, while another wore a Toronado Pub logo.

The classroom walls were decorated with diagrams of the brewing process, images of breweries and old beer advertisements. There is even a coffee station to help fuel students through their 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. day.

Throughout the 18-week program, students learn and review information that will be exhibited in an Institution of Brewing and Distilling (IBD) final exam.

UC Davis program manager, Melissa Marbach said the program was actually specially designed in a way to prepare students for the IBD Diploma in Brewing Examination.

“We prepare them for this exam specifically and nowhere else in the U.S. does this,” Marbach said. “That’s what makes our program unique.”

From lectures on yeast and fermentation to packaging and materials, students are exposed to every aspect of brewing science and engineering. While Lewis is the lead instructor of the course and can teach the entire brewing portion, he is sometimes assisted by UC Davis brewing science professor, Charles Bamforth. Other professors who specialize in other areas of the brewing industry also guest-lecture.

“Professor Tim Marbach of Sacramento State teaches the process technology material and Professor John Krochta of UC Davis food science and technology teaches the packaging material,” Lewis said.

Though there are prerequisites for the program, prospective students do not have to have an undergraduate degree to enroll.

Applicants must have completed courses within the subject areas of biological sciences, chemistry, physics and engineering. The course website says “adequate preparation in mathematics” is also required, including a pre-calculus course.

Current MBP student Tom Barek is a University of Rhode Island alumnus that has both his bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering. His reason for transition into brewing?

“I love beer,” Barek said.

Although the program is not too long, Barek said that it can be an intensive 18 weeks.

“There’s a lot of material. It’s not easy by any means,” Barek said. “You can’t just come to class, you have to put the work into it.”

Barek said the course is run in three sessions. The first eight weeks are lectures Monday through Friday, the second session focuses on practice exams while the third session is a review for the exam.

“The exam is broken into three parts,” Barek said. “Say if you pass two and fail the third, you can take the other portion the next year. But you can still find jobs if you don’t pass all three.”

So what job opportunities await graduates of MBP and recipients of the IBD Diploma in Brewing?

“Many aspire to open their own brewery or related business; most others aspire to be head brewer at a microbrewery,” Lewis said. “Several look to enter the large domestic companies as production brewers with a long career ahead of them leading to master brewer at a major brewery.”

Barek is looking for a job where he can utilize both his brewing experience and engineering degrees.

“I’m looking into jobs with companies that design breweries,” Barek said. Barek has even looked into companies as far away as Germany.

Students interested in learning more about the Master Brewers Program can visit its webpage via the UC Davis Extension website. Students can also call 757-8777 for more information.

AMANDA HARDWICK can be reached at features@theaggie.org.


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