Shippensburg University has created, if only by accident, quite an alumni network in the craft brew industry.
It’s a byproduct of the reality that the brewing community is small.
There are about 350 active breweries in Pennsylvania, said Alison Feeney, Shippensburg professor and author of the book “For the Love of Beer: Pennsylvania’s Breweries.” If each of them has two brewers and a couple of other workers, there are only about 1,000 people involved.
“Chances are they all know each other. They have often learned from each other, collaborate with each other. They are the most collaborative, supportive group,” she said.
Someday, if things keep going the way they have been, that alumni network may become more than coincidental.
If there’s a stereotypical craft brewery owner, it just might be Dave Hamilton of Burd’s Nest Brewing who started dabbling in brewing his own …
Shippensburg University was recently awarded a $71,701 grant from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to create courses and programs to support the craft brewing industry with a multidisciplinary focus on science, technology, engineering, fermentation and management skills.
The grant funding won’t be available until July, so Feeney said the program is in the planning phase. They have hosted a forum every six months with brewers from around the state to assess their needs. So far, she believes courses will fall under topics of quality control, sensory testing and chemical biology. She’s also discovered a need for accounting and marketing classes.
Feeney hopes to offer one or two courses in the summer.
Although a group at Shippensburg has started looking at developing an undergraduate program to fill the need in the brewing industry, the school is moving ahead with a program of short courses focusing more on workforce development training than on a traditional degree.
“These people don’t really need degrees. They don’t even need credits most of the time. They need skill sets,” Feeney said.
Feeney’s connection to the classes comes through her work teaching geography and earth sciences. Usually, she teaches a geographic information systems course, cartography, regional geography and geography of the United States and Canada.
The Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation asked her to map the state’s breweries. Though it may be, as Feeney said, “one of our most broken laws in Pennsylvania,” drinking is illegal in state parks, and the foundation wanted to come up with a way to coordinate events with nearby breweries.
At that point, there were 159 breweries in the state.
Carlisle brewers and tourism officials agree there’s still room for growth in the borough’s blossoming microbrewery scene.
Now, according to the 2018 statistics from the Brewers Association, 354 craft breweries produced 3,719,475 barrels of beer to make Pennsylvania the number one producer of craft beer in the nation.
Feeney expected Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to be home to most breweries, but ones in locations like Berwick and Carbondale got her attention so she set out to visit them.
During the visits, Feeny would ask plenty of questions about the reuse of buildings that is so common to the brewpub scene, but the conversation would always turn to how the brewer got into the business. More often than not it all started as a hobby.
“They will admit there’s a lot of trial and error in that, especially when you go from a small system up to a big commercial system. It’s just a huge learning curve,” Feeney said.
That’s when the idea of continuing education classes started to germinate.
There are few places for brewers to go to learn their craft. Internships are one avenue, but those often start with tasks like mopping floors or washing kegs so it takes some time to work through the system, Feeney said. People who work but are thinking about brewing as a career change can’t take the time for internships or travel to study.
Feeney has also found that some of the brewers know beer, but they don’t know the business side of things such as marketing.
“There’s all levels of learning there,” she said. “You can’t just learn it from one aspect. The fact that we have faculty on campus from history, sustainability, chemistry, biochemistry, engineering, we have all those sorts of facets.”