Brew U: Now College Students Can Minor in Craft Beer
Students can now focus on craft brew for course credit.
— -- Plenty of college co-eds enjoy schooling peers in their beer knowledge, but now a New York institution is inviting students to actually minor in brew.
As of spring 2015, Paul Smith's College, a private, four-year college located in the Adirondack Park in upstate New York, will officially offer a minor in "craft-beer studies." And if the current cultural climate is any indication, it's sure to be a popular course of study.
"Regionally, in the Northeast and where the school is located, I found a good deal of action in the craft brew world: brewpubs opening small breweries, our graduates getting into the industry either in the production or promotion or management end," said Joe Conto, director of the Hospitality, Resort and Tourism Management program and the professor who designed the college's craft beer minor. "And there has been a significant shift toward food and beverage tourism across the country."
To wit, the number of the craft breweries in the United States rose more than 15 percent between 2012 and 2013 -- with the current total at 2,768, according to the Brewers Association.
The minor offered at Paul Smith's College joins an increasing array of ale-centric educational offerings across the country, such as at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina and the University of California (Davis).
At Paul Smith's College, the course load requires much more than just sipping suds.
"Because it has the word beer in it, it automatically sounds sexy," said Conto. "But it's just a product that has a relatively high profit margin. The basics of whether you are selling this or any other product are the same, and you could still lose your shirt if you don't what you're doing."
Students must take a series of business courses in management, marketing, advertising and promotion, as well as classes in brewing and the business of beer.
Beyond breweries, students will be introduced to tier industry areas, such as brewpubs, specialty retail beer stores and the sales and distribution of craft beers to restaurants, bars and other outlets. Lectures by guest speakers and site visits to beer-related firms also figure into the curriculum.
At the completion of the minor, Conto said, his students will be equipped to pursue careers not only as craft beer entrepreneurs but in many diverse applications.
"Our goal is to prepare students for all the management, administrative and operations opportunities the craft-beer industry has created,” Conto said.
This is important, he added, as the rapid growth of craft breweries in the U.S. will result in the inevitable closure of some.
"It's super volatile," said Conto. "Any time you have so many people getting into the same business, there is going to be a lot of fallout. Not everybody is making equally great product or in a sustainable manner. So we're not encouraging people to open their own craft breweries but to work with those that are already developed.
"In the next 5 to 10 years," he said, "we will see the dust settle and know what the new normal is going to be."
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