SCHENECTADY — There’s at least one surefire way to learn about beer: tasting beer.
In fact, a new class at Schenectady County Community College called Beers of the World helps refine students’ palates while giving them a sweeping view of beer history. It’s part of a new degree in brewing.
From an early Mesopotamian poem honoring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing, nearly 4,000 years ago to the recent explosion of craft brewing in the U.S., students are developing a foundation of knowledge as they set out on their own brewing careers.
But after the introduction, thousands of years of brewing history crammed into a few hours of lecture and a few chapters of reading, the course turns its attention to the sights, smells and tastes of different beers from around the globe. In another core class, called beer and brewing, students met recently to uncork and taste a concoction of their own creation, as well as to sip on some donated beers.
“This is one of those very well-attended classes,” said Jay Larkin, a professor who heads up the craft brewing program, as he poured drinks for about two dozen students. “I like to see that.”
Students sipped on ambers and stouts, lagers and a Scottish ale. They eyed and sniffed and swirled the drinks, taking note of the colors, smells and sequences of flavors and tastes that unfolded as the liquid cascaded down their gullets.
“Taste them from light to dark,” Larkin said. “Or if you really want to mess with your palate, go dark to light.”
Malty bitterness. Coffee. Oatmeal. Roasted malts.
“It’s almost sweet at first; it doesn’t bite you,” Rachel Stark of Schoharie said about one of the beers. She was referring to the bitter flavor that comes from a hop-forward beer. “Then there’s a little zing at the end,” she added.
Tasting beer is just one step in training the brewers of tomorrow; the industry is flourishing and much in need of well-trained workers. And SCCC students enrolled in beer-related courses are overflowing with ideas and plans, once they’re done training in the finer aspects of the beer world.
A caterer, organic farmer and SCCC culinary program graduate, Stark is looking to add brewing to her cooking repertoire and has already started growing her own hops — a key ingredient in beer making.
She wants to open a farm brewery café that grows much of its own food and brews its own beer. She plans to focus on growing fresh vegetables, raising chickens and making farm-to-table and seasonal meals — coupled with a locally brewed beer.
“I want to marry all that together,” she said.
Tracy Bundege, who has also worked his way through SCCC’s culinary program, is looking to turn his BBQ catering business into a storefront operation that features local brews and, eventually, brews of his own. Working with a partner, he already has a location selected in West Milton, Saratoga County.
“I can take what I learned with my culinary degree and design a beer that compliments my food,” Bundege said.
The students picture themselves working at breweries as managers, brewers, marketers, or starting their own breweries and combining culinary skills with refined beer making — all in an industry people feel is taking off in the Capital Region and that already has reached cruising altitude in other places nationwide.
“I feel like we are out in front of this,” said David Kosineski, another dual culinary and brewing student.