Fermentation Science Program Taps into Growth in Craft Brew Industry

A new academic program at Eastern Kentucky University will tap into rapidly growing interest in craft breweries and distilleries across the Commonwealth and the products they produce.

This fall, students will have the option to take courses that lead to a Fermentation Science concentration within the University’s bachelor’s degree program in Chemistry. Already, excitement is high for the first such formal program in Kentucky – among students and throughout the industry.

“Brewing is a delicate balance of art and science,” said Paul Segura, brewmaster of the Karl Strauss Brewing Company. “Only when you mastered the science could you indulge in the art.”

And formal education in distilling and fermentation science is exactly what the industry needs, according to Tom Potter, co-author of “Beer School: Bottling Success at the Brooklyn Brewery,” which he co-founded. “EKU is the perfect location. Kentucky has instant legitimacy in the industry.”

The economic implications from the growth in craft breweries and distilleries are “encouraging,” said Dr. Darrin Smith, professor of chemistry and director of the new program. While the craft movement has surged on the U.S. west coast, craft beer producers are starting to migrate east by establishing new and expansion facilities in midwestern and eastern coastal areas. “This will bring more firms where internships, co-ops, and collaborations will be possible.”

Dr. Inge Russell, editor of the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, said, “There is a great opportunity here, both in terms of economic growth for Kentucky and for giving students a skill set that will no doubt be in demand.”

In an interview last year with The Denver Post, veteran brewer John Harris said craft brewers should spend as much money on their quality control program as their brewing equipment. Courses in EKU’s program have been designed specifically to address that and other challenges facing the industry.

In fact, Smith said he hopes to make a quality control lab available to any craft brewers and distillers for product testing. Such a facility would bring in revenue to support the program and scholarships for students. He also envisions continuing education courses on fermentation sciences for the home brewer, local competitions and, yes, taste testings.

And the program will be interdisciplinary. For example, EKU’s Department of Agriculture may be involved in the growing of hops and other crops. “The students who enroll in our program will need to be dedicated to the scientific advancements pertaining to fermentation science across agriculture, biology and chemistry,” Smith said. “Additional courses would be required to understand the role of fermentation products in society in terms of regulations, licensing, taxation and dependency.”

Of course, bourbon has long been a dominant feature of Kentucky culture, with an explosion in production and worldwide sales in recent years. Vineyards and wineries, too, have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, with more than 60 wineries in the Commonwealth today. The EKU program will also be poised to help craft distillers and vintners who, in turn, may employ graduates of the program.

“Fermentation has produced a variety of commodities for centuries but, still, active areas for scientific investigations are possible,” Smith said. “Academia can play a vital role in educating future employees and entrepreneurs about the scientific basis, quality management, responsible use, and the industry’s role regarding fermentation. This is an opportunity for EKU to do something extremely unique and to truly become ‘Kentucky Proud.’”

For more information about EKU’s Fermentation Science Program, contact Smith at darrin.smith@eku.edu

Published on May 01, 2015