When Steve Swaney moved to Mount Pleasant with his wife, he realized he needed a change after working in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 20 years.
A graduate of Western Michigan University, Swaney, 46, found what he called a “life change” in Central Michigan University’s year-long certification brewing course, part of the Fermentation Science Program.
Two semesters later, three of Swaney's Friday Fermentation group beers won medals in the U.S. Open College Beer Competition.
CMU's Fermentation Science Program placed second and was awarded four medals in the first U.S. Open College Beer Competition on July 11.
The competition was held for universities teaching brewing courses to determine the top future brewers in the nation. The beers were submitted by students' professors prior to the event and were judged early July in Ohio.
CMU is ranked second among top brewing schools in North America. “It’s outstanding that a first-year program came into this championship and took second place. It really shows how strong of a class was put together," Swaney said. “There was a huge eruption on our group Facebook page where everyone was excited about it.”
Swaney's group won three medals: gold for the "Black Stallion," silver for the "Victory IPA" and bronze for the "Caber Tosser Scottish Ale."
There were five categories judged: IPA, Witbier, German Pilsener, Imperial Stout and an "open" category for students to enter any style of beer.
“Students worked so hard the first semester to learn the science behind brewing, and then spend second semester learning the actual brewing process,” said Cordell Demattei, director of fermentation sciences. “They got to see that if they put the work in, something rewarding comes out. It’s validation that everything we’re doing is working.”
In June, Demattei submitted five beers brewed by students into the open category, and single beers into the IPA, German Pilsner and Imperial Stout categories. Of the eight beers submitted, four awards were granted, one in each category entered. The Victory IPA beer and the Holzfäller pilsner beer both took silver, the Black Stallion stout took gold and the Caber Tosser Scottish took bronze.
“We have a unique situation where we brew in a commercial environment at Hunter’s Ale House, not just a classroom,” DeMattei said. “This allows students to see what it’s really like to brew in a brewery and distribute it to actual customers.”
The fermentation program had 13 students, most with backgrounds in science and microbiology.The one-year certificate program allows students to learn and practice the science behind the beer-brewing process step-by-step until the beer is packaged and ready to be served.
"What surprised me was the science that was involved. There was a lot of biology and chemistry involved," Swaney said. "Being a biochemist, it may have been easier for me, but I was surprised that the class went to such depths with the basic science brewing process.”
The program has a licensing agreement with Hunter's Ale House, which allows students to brew on its system in exchange for owning and selling the products created on the system. The program also works with Mountain Town Brewery Company on their brewing and packaging systems.
“(Hunter’s) has high scale equipment for the students, so it worked out really well,” DeMattei said. “We ended up having a great relationship with them, and it’s great to have that kind of environment for the students to brew at.”
Cheryl Hunter, owner of Hunter’s Ale House, said the beers made by students are more popular than they expected — the brewers can barely keep up with the demand. The beers brewed by students continually sold out through the summer, forcing the brewers to continue making them, Cheryl Hunters, the owner of Hunter’s Ale House said.
The fermentation science certificate is being offered for its second year this fall and spring. The course begins with two classes — Science 320: Fundamentals of Fermentation Science and Science 321: Analyses of Fermentation — in the fall. It continues in the spring with Science 322: Applied Fermentation Science and Science 323: Brewery Facilities and Operations. The course finishes with Science 420: Internship in Fermentation Science, where students are required minimum of 200 hour internship in a brewery or related business.
“By understanding the chemistry, biochemistry, and microbiology involved in the process it allows students design and make great beer and additionally troubleshoot when problems arise,” Demattei said. “Our program offers a balance of lecture, laboratory, and hands on work to give students the knowledge and experience that breweries are looking for when hiring.”
One student from the fermentation program interned for Hunter’s Ale House over the summer. “Hunter’s benefits (from the license agreement) because CMU is a teaching school. A lot of the students are in the microbiology field and they’re instructing future brewmasters in our personal brewery,” said Hunters, the owner of Hunter’s Ale House. “This gives us qualified people to do internships at Hunter's post-certification.”
Top 3 Brewing Schools in North America
1. Niagara College Teaching Brewery – Canada
2. Central Michigan University
3. University of Houston
Metals Awarded to CMU:
IPA Silver – Victory IPA – Central Michigan University
German Pilsner Silver – Holzfäller – Central Michigan University
Imperial Stout - Gold – Black Stallion – Central Michigan University
Bronze – Caber Tosser Scottish Ale – Central Michigan University