Craft beer is thriving in New York state, and somebody has to staff all those breweries not to mention the malt houses, hop farms and other suppliers that feed them. So Schenectady County Community College is piloting a brewer training curriculum as part of its excellent culinary arts program. I got to meet some of the students at a tasting event at Shmaltz Brewery.
There are 15 students in the pilot program, chosen from over 300 who applied. Tracy Brundege and Tom St. Martin are both the 2-year culinary arts program already and working in the hospitality industry; Noelle Garcia is a nurse with a passion for beer. They took a battery of tests which included math and English but also “light industrial”: what do you do when you are driving a forklift and someone walks in front of you? What do the code letters on a fire extinguisher mean?
The course runs 10 hours a week, five hours on each of two nights after work, plus a visit to a brewery on the weekend. At the conclusion of the 13 week program, the goal is to deliver a person who is ready to go to work in a production brewery with minimal training. If this course is like others in the culinary arts program, its graduates should find ready employment based on the quality of education and the work ethic provided at SCCC.
I also spoke with Rich Micheals, the instructor, who is Quality Innovation Manager at Matt Brewing in Utica in his day job. I asked him how much difference there is from one brewery to the next since the steps to making beer are pretty standard. He says that’s true, but “if you ask 10 brewers how to do something, you’ll get 12 different answers.” This is magnified by the specific equipment in use at a commercial craft brewery. Last week the students studied bottling at Adirondack Brewery, and this week they’ll look in on the packaging operation at Shmaltz in Clifton Park.
The tasting event was focused on Brewers Wanted Pale Ale – Work for Beer®, a pale ale (5.5% ABV) brewed with 50% NYS 2-row malt, as well as other American malt favorites, hopped with a burst of warrior, simcoe and mosaic and dry hopped with NYS cascade. The beer will be available in limited quantities throughout New York State. A portion of its sales go to support the SCCC program.
An official public launch party will be held on Wednesday, February 17 as part of Saratoga Beer Week at the Old Bryan Inn (123 Maple Avenue) starting at 6 pm.