The four-part course on beer quality is taught by 41-year brewing veteran Charlie Bamforth.
The massive growth of breweries in America—quadrupling over the past decade to 6,372 last year—has also coincided with a growth in homebrewing. Plenty of these upstarts are run by hobbyist who got positive feedback about their beers and decided to go professional. At the same time, though, this industry expansion has also led to an increasing number of formal brewing programs—from classes to complete majors—at colleges across the country. Now, one of the oldest and most renowned universities for brewing in the country is even offering coursework online intended for everyone from dedicated amateurs to pro brewers looking to dust up on some important brewing topics.
The University of California, Davis has been teaching brewing before “craft beer” was even a thing, providing courses in brewing science and brewery engineering since 1964, a time when graduates would typically use their education to find a job at one the country’s big breweries. Though the industry has certainly changed, UC Davis’s commitment to that education has not.
“Lifelong learning is essential in any walk of life if folks are to stay at the top of their game and stay up to date with current thinking, understanding and trends,” says Charlie Bamforth, Ph.D., D.Sc., UC Davis’s distinguished professor and leader of malting and brewing studies, who is behind the school’s new online courses. “There will continue to be advances in the understanding of the complex processes of malting and brewing and in the technology and tools that enable them. Nobody should rest on their laurels!”
With that in mind, this past May, the California university quietly announced that Bamforth had developed the university’s first online brewing program, available to anyone willing to cough up the course fees (which are $385 each), though Bamforth told us that before enrolling you should “already understand the brewing process and the fundamental science that underpins it.” These classes, which focus on Beer Quality, aren’t meant for beginners looking for an alternative to an introduction to homebrewing book; instead, they’re intended for those wanting “to get a good grasp on what needs to be done practically to ensure quality excellence in beer.”
The self-paced, online program built around video lectures comes in four sections—Foam, Flavor, Freshness, and Color and Clarity—with enrollment start dates rotating throughout the year. Foam and Flavor have already been completed, but Freshness begins next week, and Color and Clarity beings in October. Bamforth says that these courses are very similar to what students would find in the classroom. “The material is much the same,” he told us, “brought to even more life by the images woven into the background by the excellent folk who made the films.”
Completion of the course doesn’t come with any sort of certification and can’t be used for credit if you decide to continue on with your brewing education, so admittedly, these classes will only appeal to a certain brewing demographic. Still, for brewers interested in furthering their formal beer knowledge, Bamforth stressed the importance of education.
“I have had great students who have started by working in a brewery and who then came to class for their ‘aha!’ moments when they finally understand why things are done in a certain way,” he explained. “Many students of course take the other route, and take the classes, fall in love with brewing and head from us into the industry. Formal education does not need to be a full degree—it may be relevant classes such as these. However it is important that they are taught by folks who know the business. I guess 41 years spent in the industry, including a lengthy stint with the famous Bass company, qualifies me!”