The Science of Suds in Craft Brewing


The Science of Suds in Craft Brewing

South Texas College now have an opportunity to get an education in craft beer fermentation.
South Texas College now have an opportunity to get an education in craft beer fermentation.

For the 38 percent of Americans who name beer as their “go-to” after work wind-down, there’s nothing quite like a cold brew at the end of a rough day. And with small-batch brewing now accounting for nearly a quarter of the market share, the craft beer craze has become a way of life. But how much do we really think about the “craft” in craft beer?

At South Texas College, students will be doing more than just thinking about it. Thanks to a unique Texas Workforce Commission-backed partnership with local breweries like Mission’s 5×5 Brewing Co., STC students will have the opportunity to get an education in fermentation. The upcoming program will respond to high demand. The number of craft breweries in Texas has ballooned from 60 to more than 280 in the last eight years. This makes it one of the state’s fastest-growing industries.

“Brewing science is very much hands-on – you can read it all day long, and not understand it,” says George Rice, director of operations and co-owner at 5×5 Brewing Co. “We’re getting the region ready for everything this industry is going to be.”

The Brewery Apprenticeship program will be another one of the college’s unique endeavors in matching regional skills to workforce needs. But with no precedent set for the regional brewing industry, the new program will navigate uncharted waters.

“As far as we can tell, South Texas College’s 5×5 Brewery Apprenticeship is the only one of its kind,” says Texas Workforce Commission spokesman Francisco Gamez. “In Texas, apprenticeship programs have traditionally been associated with trades such as construction, electrical and plumbing. South Texas College has listened to industry in their area and implemented a unique program.”

Filling the need

The need for tech-savvy brewing professionals is swelling in Texas. According to the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, the industry accounts for $5.2 billion in annual economic impact, ranking third nationwide. Meanwhile, the number of craft breweries has more than quadrupled in Texas since 2011, creating a dire “skills gap” that threatens to paralyze industry growth.

“We have a skills problem here in the Valley,” says Rice. “It’s a specific trade, lots of science and math. We honestly don’t have the labor force here for it.”

The Brewery Apprenticeship program will draw from the certification curriculum of the American Brewers Guild, which provides an academic foundation for the complex science of craft brewing. What will really make the program unique, however, is the hands-on experience students will gain through live brew projects at 5×5, using real industry facilities and technology.

“Lots of things go into this process that anyone else would probably overlook – looking at nuances, details, slight differences with consistency,” says Carlos Margo, associate dean of Industry Training and Economic Development at South Texas College. “5×5 needed employees to get a little more advanced when it came to tech skills.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, average brewery salaries have increased by 25 percent in the last 10 years, rising to a national average of $67,236. With Texas trailing only California and Colorado in craft beer production, good things are brewing for future STC apprentices.

“They’re going to be getting paid more, with potential to be more marketable,” says Margo. “[5×5] has a good ability to deliver a lot of beer wholesale, and wants to make sure that employees have a consistent education. That’s the goal here.”

Right for the job

For aspiring professionals in South Texas, the craft beer boom provides a unique, outside-the-box opportunity to turn a passion into a profession. But what kind of person gravitates toward a career in brewing?

“Nerds,” says Rice, in his pointed, military-tempered manner. “A lot of science, math biology, chemistry. Tons of mechanics: hydraulics, fluid dynamics … math and science all play into it.”

According to Rice, the actual brewing accounts for only about 15 percent of a brewer’s job. The rest of the time is spent cleaning, sanitizing, milling and mashing, formulating, and handling finished products. The goal is to cultivate a product that’s not only well-balanced and pleasing to the palette, but consistent between every bottle, can, growler and pint glass.

“In brewing, it’s all about consistency,” says Rice. “Math needs to be on point. Chemistry needs to be on point.”

“It is very scientific,” adds Margo, who considers brewing very much a STEM career. “There’s the malting process, biochemistry, looking at biochemical change with enzymes, being able to evaluate beer. People make their own beer, but it’s very different – not consistent, not very scientific.”