There aren’t many places where it’s appropriate to drink beer at 9:30 a.m., but for a class of Schenectady County Community College students on Friday morning, they were in one of those places.
“It’s for education purposes only,” said Jay Larkin, SCCC beverage management assistant professor, as he led his beer and brewing class in a testing Friday. “As long as you can walk out of here learning something, we’re covered.”
Beside Larkin, student Tracy Brundege of Rotterdam Junction fiddled with a keg and carbon dioxide canister as he powered a stream of beer from a plastic bucket, where it had fermented, into the keg where it waits to be drunk.
“Smell it. What does it smell like?” student Dan Kravitz asked Larkin.
“It smells like beer,” Larkin said with a smirk and a deep whiff of the glass full of golden brown ale — a German Alt to be precise. “I’m not even kidding you.”
“Does it smell like Germany?” Kravitz asked.
“Does it smell buttery, like movie popcorn, because then it’s ready,” said Brundege, who learned the skill in a separate brewery training program hosted at SCCC.
The class of about 10 students was in the final stages of the homebrew kit they worked through to learn the basics of brewing beer — mash, boil, ferment, condition, filter, package and bottoms up.
But soon the college will be going far beyond the basics, offering a two-year associate’s degree and certification in craft brewing, a class of beer-making turning hobbyists into business owners and gaining in market share on the big brand names.
And with recent success and gains in popularity and credibility, those in the industry are looking for skilled and well-trained professionals ready to keep up with the growing demand.
At a ceremony this week, Jeremy Cowan, owner of Shmaltz Brewing Co. in Clifton, donated $1,500 to the program — money raised from the sale of a special brew called Brewers Wanted. He said the brewery has been looking to fill a position for over three months.
“We need brewers; I’m not sure if anyone realized,” Cowan said. “I don’t want this to be an abstract thing, somebody can actually start working here soon.”
Rich Michaels, with Saranac Brewery in Utica, is helping to run a training program currently at SCCC — a forerunner of sorts to the broader degree program. The training program will graduate 14 students in May. Michaels said Saranac has six open positions it is trying to fill.
“There is a need for skilled and educated brewers,” Michaels said. “That is definitely a challenge right now.”
That’s where the college hopes to step in. The degree program starts in the fall, with classes offered in brewing operations, beer production and beers of the world (“The course concentrates on the basics of beer appreciation,” according to the course listing).
David Brough, dean of the school of hotel, culinary arts and tourism, said the college plans to purchase its own brewing equipment and possibly find an off-campus facility to house its own learning brewery. The students working through the program will have a chance to visit breweries in the region, Brough said, but won’t get into actual beer-making until the second semester and second year of the program.
“They will get into making beer in the second year, so we have some time with that,” he said.
In the meantime, the college plans to build on existing partnerships with local breweries. Through the training program, which was created by the breweries themselves, students have utilized equipment at Wolf Hollow Brewery in Glenville, Rare Form Brewing in Troy and Mad Jack Brewing at the Van Dyck in Schenectady.
Students will also be encouraged to use their core science and writing classes to gain important skills for understanding complex brewing techniques. The final requirement will be that the students complete an internship in their last semester.
“It really represents what true partnerships look like,” SCCC President Steady Moono said. “The students will be industry-ready; when they are done, there are jobs waiting for them.”
Kravitz, who started working as a brand ambassador at Shmaltz about a month ago, has his eye on a long career in the brewing industry. He obviously knows his way around a pint glass and readily lists his favorite breweries in the region or describes the flavor contours of a summer lager or pale ale.
And he thinks the Capital Region is ripe for more breweries, including one he can call his own.
“I would love to be able to homebrew, but that’s not the goal,” said Kravitz, who lives in Burnt Hills. “I want a brewery with a restaurant on a farm, and I want to age cheese. That’s the dream.”
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.