Brewing A New Course
Beverage science specialization is part of new offerings for fall 2013
Student in a Beverage Science Technology specialization class head out to a local vineyard for some hands on experience.
While some students are enjoying alcoholic beverages at the bar, others are learning how to make them in the classroom.
A new specialization on the science of alcoholic beverages was added this semester in line with MSU’s desire to keep up with changing job markets and student interests.
“The basic driving force was contacts with industry,” said Kris Berglund, a professor of food science and human nutrition who is in charge of all the alcohol-making classes.
Michigan has a quickly growing beverage industry and a need for trained people — a void MSU wasn’t filling, he said.
The beverage specialization includes three new classes: Food Science 481, which is an overview class of the wine, beer and spirits industries; Chemistry 482, which teaches the fundamentals of winemaking; and Chemical Engineering 483, which teaches beer, cider, brandy, vodka, gin and whiskey production.
Chemistry senior Alex Hansen picks grapes Tuesday at the vineyard of the Horticulture Teaching and Research Center. The class, CEM 482, is part of the new beverages science and technology specialization. Danyelle Morrow/The State News
The Beverage Sciences and Technology specialization is the newest addition to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and is open to anyone who meets the prerequisites for the classes, including being at least 21 years old.
A growing industry
The beer, wine and spirits industries have grown rapidly in Michigan during the past decade, experts say, making it a prime area to prepare students to enter.
The push to get the beverage specialization at MSU came from the Michigan Brewers Guild and others that have expressed interest in trained graduates, Berglund said.
Major changes in micro-distillery license laws in 1996 and 2008 have prompted a boom in the spirits industry, Berglund said. The laws for breweries and wineries are always gradually changing, but have been established for a long time, he added.
There are about 81 wineries, 65 breweries and 14 distilleries in Michigan, according to Drink Michigan.
“That’s why they’re so much further ahead,” he said.
Some universities have majors in beverage sciences, but Berglund said MSU won’t do that because it would limit students’ job prospects.
“We don’t want people to be stuck,” he said.
A specialization that can be added to any major allows students to open doors to more opportunities. The majority of students in the beverage classes are food science, chemical engineering and chemistry majors, Berglund said.
He added that there are at least double digit numbers of students in the specialization, but not all the students in the classes are participating in it. There are people in the classes that want to make beverages as a career, and others that just want to understand it.
“It sounded like it would be a good time,” said Tim VanSumeren, a chemical engineering senior who is not in the beverage specialization.
There’s a lot of useful information and science in the class, he said. Plus, a lot of his family members like wine, and the class will help him relate to them, he added.
Horticulture senior Tom O’Brien is a student in one of the beverage classes who is doing the specialization, but doesn’t know it if will be a career path for him, he said.
“It’s really practical, applicable and profitable,” O’Brien said of the beverage classes.
Work in hops is something that interests him, he said. But, he also has started a grape landscaping business with friends, where they set up small vineyards in people’s backyards.
All of the beverage classes are taught completely off-site — it’s a field trip everyday.
On Tuesday, the winemaking class was at the Horticulture Teaching and Research Center to pick grapes. The 29 students in the class will test the grapes for sugar and acidity during the next class to see if it will be a good year for wine, Berglund said.
At the end of the semester, students will make their own wine and be allowed to take it home, he added.
“I like that it’s a lot of hands-on (work). Coming out to the vineyards is fun,” said Hannah Schramm, a food science senior who plans on finishing the specialization.
She added that on the first day, the beverage class was at a family vineyard and winery.
The beverage classes meet off campus because MSU’s Ordinance 21 prohibits consumption and possession of alcohol in classrooms, lectures halls and other places on campus.
MSU’s changing offerings
Two other programs also have made their debut at MSU this fall, and they are part of the constant changes the university makes to keep up with the times.
In addition to the new beverage specialization, Experience Architecture is a new major, and Arts and Cultural Management is a new minor. There also are 11 new graduate programs. Between spring and fall 2013, three undergraduate programs were discontinued, along with many more graduate programs.
Since the beginning of the university, thousands of programs have been created and just as many were deleted, Acting Provost June Youatt added. The changes have to do with student interest and changes in industries and professional standards.
“We shift resources to things that are more valuable,” she said. “We’re doing something right by changing it all the time.”