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Pawtucket Patriot:
Hey guys,

I am currently enrolled in the American Brewers Guild's "Brewery-In-Planning" brewing course, which is an online course that culminates in a week-long, on-site mini-apprenticeship at the ABG's lab and brewery in Vermont.  The course starts in June, and the ABG describes it as an intensive and comprehensive course on brewing science and engineering for the brewery-in-planning (the ABG says it's the same course as the diploma'd course without the 5-week apprenticeship).

Even though I've been homebrewing for the past 8 years (160+ batches), I want the beer that we produce at Bauhaus Brew Labs to be consistently high-quality, world-class beer.  I enrolled in the ABG course in order to supplement my existing knowledge, hoping that it will help us to achieve our quality and consistency objectives.

Here's the rub.  I attended a beer dinner last night for Summit Brewing Co. here in Minnesota.  I got the chance to talk quite a bit with Gabe Smoley, one of Summit's seven brewers.  I asked him if he had received any formal brewing education.  He said he hadn't, but that he had worked as an apprentice brewer at a 5-bbl brewpub, which he eventually took over and ran for a few years.  I've talked with other pro brewers who have not received formal education either.

This is all leading up to the following question: is it worth my time/money to take the ABG course?  For you guys who have started breweries/brewpubs (Keith, Leos, Anthony, Sean, etc.), did you receive any formal education?  If you didn't, do you wish you would have?

I have a few opportunities to brew with some pro brewers here in the Twin Cities over the next few months.  I'm wondering if taking a few days off of work to periodically brew with some pros would be more beneficial (and less expensive!) with regard to preparing me for brewing commercially.  My father-in-law, who used to work as a research scientist at a pharmaceutical company, will be maintaining our lab and assisting with quality control.  Given his experience, is it still a good idea for me to take the course in order to learn more about brewing science?

Any and all insight and suggestions would be very appreciated!

Brewing is a technical skill. Some people can learn very well on the job, or on their own (books, self-study), but others need help (formal education or apprenticeships). You can learn everything you need to know on the job, but it will probably take a lot longer, and will probably cost a lot more, than either formal training or an apprenticeship.

When the clock is ticking on your lease and you're dumping money down the drain (bad batches) is that really the best time to learn those skills? For some people it might be. I couldn't deal with that.

Also, keep in mind that when a lot of those established brewers started, there wasn't really much in the way of formal training for brewers. UC Davis, part of the OSU curriculum, Weihenstephan, and a few classes in food processing programs at various unis. They were all macro-focused.

There have been a ton of formal winemaking training programs for a long time, and those seem to be positively regarded in the wine industry.   

Something that I considered, when I had the opportunity to start a brewery: There are a lot of out of work brewers in the world. They don't make much money. So hire one to train you, pay them enough to cover relocation expenses, if necessary. If you guys work well together maybe keep them on, because if you're busy you'll need the help.

I think if you don't have a technical background and/or haven't been in some kind of food plant setting, its worth the investment. This is esp. true if you're packaging.

Think about all the things homebrewers don't care about or don't need to know to make great beer:

 - Evaluating raw ingredients (especially malt)
 - Developing a production schedule (considering yeast management, labor availability, tank space, etc)
 - PACKAGING (and producing shelf-stable beer)
 - Liquid transfer, heating/cooling, etc. (Pumps, hoses, sanitary fittings, etc.)
 - Draft system equipment, setup, maintenance, sanitation, options for serving vessel (bright tank vs. keg)
 - Sanke kegs
 - Estimating production costs
 - Inventory management
 - Etc. Etc. Etc.

I'm sure there are a lot of other examples, this is just off the top of my head.

Does the Brewery-In-Planning have a financial/business aspect? If given the choice, I would take a business diploma over a brewing diploma before starting a brewery.

Pawtucket Patriot:
Well, I've got a business background (B.B.A.) and I'm an attorney, so I think I've got a decent grasp on the business/financial aspect.  It's really a question of how well I understand brewing from a technical perspective.  I've got the Siebel textbook (Technology Malting and Brewing) and it's really in-depth.  Is reading that a good substitute for an actual brewing course?  I'm not sure... :-\


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