A College that lets you study Beer

(Flickr / Adrian Pike)

(Flickr / Adrian Pike)

People often joke about “majoring in beer” in college. At Paul Smith’s College, a small private college in New York, that could soon be possible.

The college recently approved a craft-beer studies and operations minor. Technically, the minor focuses more on the marketing and profitability of brewing. “The focus isn’t really on brewing, it really is about the business of beer,” said Joe Conto, Assistant Professor of Hospitality Management. Students will also study the legal requirements that come with brewing and selling craft beer.

The “beer minor” (as it’s known on campus) will be especially useful to students studying hospitality, resort, and culinary management – a popular major at Paul Smith’s College. “The craft-beer studies and operations minor complements a major that we think we’re already quite good at,” Professor Conto told Opportunity Lives. The minor will give students a foundation in how to start a craft brewing business.

Conto’s idea for the minor came both from observing students’ interests and his experience in the industry.

“When I first went to college, home-brewing had just become legal,” said Conto. He experimented a bit, but was more interested in the large-scale trends affecting society.

For example, Conto remembers the days when Americans first started to prefer big-box stores – cheap and consistent products, no matter where you were in the country. Today, he said, the pendulum has swung the other way. People are now starting to prefer unique, local brews and regional flavors.

Different parts of the country offer their own experiences, and that appeals to a desire for adventure. “Craft beer is just one example of that larger trend,” said Conto. It is increasingly true for coffee shops, bakeries, and spirits as well.

Next spring, 25 students at Paul Smith’s College will take a Practical Brewing class that uses the same equipment microbreweries use to make their pilot products. Taught by a professional brewer, students will get a chance to learn actual techniques, sometimes spending 6 hours on a weekend going through the brewing process.

Ashlee Doele, a senior, will be taking the class next spring. She is excited for the experience because the class gives her and other students “the opportunity to be ahead of the game when we enter the work force.”

Doele is hoping to work in the hospitality industry, and she thinks that the Practical Brewing class will help supplement what she has learned in her other classes. “This also is providing me with many ideas for future resorts within the hospitality industry,” she said.

Conto is clear about the point of the class. “This isn’t just ‘let’s sit around and talk beer,'” he said. There are important business concepts to be learned.

But when the Practical Brewing class completely filled up (with 25 more students on the waiting list), Conto realized quickly that this would be a successful idea. “I found where my students were gravitating toward, and thought that I could do a better job in training them in the areas they had natural interests,” he said.

Published on Opportunity Lives