Brewing 101: Olds College gets diploma program in beer

OLDS — Olds College will deliver Western Canada’s only post-secondary diploma program on how to brew and market beer after partnering with Niagara College on Thursday.

OLDS — Olds College will deliver Western Canada’s only post-secondary diploma program on how to brew and market beer after partnering with Niagara College on Thursday.

Tom Thompson, president of Olds College, and Steve Hudson, acting president of Niagara College in southern Ontario, signed papers to signify their intent to deliver Canada’s sole, national post-secondary brewmaster program.

“Driving this unique program is to define and teach the specific disciplines, courses and skills that brewers need to keep Canada beer flowing and dominating the domestic market,” said Thompson before about 75 guests inside the Land Sciences building.

The Alberta-Ontario program will equip students with a spectrum of skills to enter a variety of careers in the brewing industry.

Olds College will launch the two-year diploma program in September 2013. It’s the first time in five years the college has offered a new two-year course. Next year is the college’s centennial so it’s doubly special, said Thompson.

“There’s an old adage that you should pick your partners carefully because it’s harder to separate than to join,” said Hudson.

“We feel we’ve picked a really good partner for this program.”

Students will take courses related to brewing, communications and technology, as well as the business behind the brewing industry. The program has capacity for 24 students each year.

Niagara College’s teaching brewery will graduate its first 21 students this June after launching its program in 2010.

“When we first launched this program, people thought we were going to attract a frat-type crowd,” said Sean Kennedy, vice-president academic for Niagara College.

He said it’s a tough, science-based program designed to meet high industry standards. It’s also an arts program because it’s all about crafting different beers. Last year, students made close to 90 different beers, including a chocolate-based one.

Niagara’s brewmaster program is modelled on the success of its 14-year winemaking program. It’s fundamentally driven by employer needs. Chris Heier, who is starting microbrewery Half Hitch Brewing Co. in Cochrane, said this program will help him find skilled people. A lot of new breweries are popping up in Alberta and British Columbia, he added.

“It will benefit us tremendously to have skilled brewers, especially 45 minutes away from our brewery,” added Kevin Wood, co-owner of Drummond Brewing Company in Red Deer. “It will definitely benefit our workforce and educate people on good beer.”

Olds College’s teaching brewery will be on the north side of campus, within the Pomeroy Inn and Suites at Olds College that’s now under construction. When finished in July 2013, the hotel will include a 2,000-square-foot addition for the teaching brewery that includes state-of-the-art equipment.

The brewery will have a separate entrance so it won’t have any impact on hotel guests. Beer brewed in the program will be served in the hotel restaurant and lounge. This will help to increase the brand of the program and the product, said Thompson.

“Most importantly, it provides students with an experiential learning component,” he said.

Jason Dewling, vice-president academic and research for Olds College, said the hotel provided some of the capital costs while the college will provide some of the incremental costs associated with the development. It’s a unique private-public partnership, he said.

The colleges have two agreements — a memorandum of understanding showing how the colleges will work together and a memorandum of agreement drilling down the details.

“When we start in September 2013, we’ll have a shared curriculum on the core brewery components,” Dewling said. “There’s some supplementary business communications courses that each institution will have some latitude on. It’s going to be considered one program offered in two locations.”