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Breweries Thirsty For Fresh Central Washington Craft Beer Grads

A degree program in craft brewing is in its second year at Central Washington University and beer school graduates are in high demand in a market that’s growing rapidly.

In fact, program Director Steve Wagner said whether students complete a certificate or the bachelor’s degree, the school can’t meet the market’s demand for brewers.

“Basically, breweries contact us pretty often looking for students to work at breweries and sometimes during the year, since students are in school, we can’t fulfill all the placements,” Wagner said. “This is a really good time to be a craft brewing student and to get jobs.”

According to the Brewer’s Association, there are nearly 4,300 craft breweries operating in the United States, a number that rose 15 percent between 2014 and 2015 alone.

A growing job market

Wagner said it’s his personal goal to have a Central Washington graduate working at every brewery in the country. Currently, he says, alumni work at 50 of them.

“We have a lot of students that work as brewers,” Wagner said.

Ryan Brookhardt, the head brewer at Spokane’s No-Li Brewhouse, graduated from the program two years ago. He’s responsible for 16 beers on tap at No-Li, one of the larger breweries in Spokane. The full-blown degree wasn’t offered when he studied craft brewing at Central. He’s considered going back just to learn a little more.

“You know anything from mechanical to electrical to plumbing, to you name it pretty much,” Brookhardt said.

All the stuff when you go to the bar and you’re actually drinking beer, you never think of.

“That’s what’s great about it,” Brookhardt said. “There’s actually a huge amount of work and research behind all of it.”

From homebrewer to B.S.

Every Wednesday night, students at Central Washington University meet in the school’s Brewing Research Lab. Some of them are pursuing a certificate in craft brewing, others are chasing a full-blown bachelor of science degree in the subject.

Megan Myers has just learned how to grind grain to the right size in order to maximize what’s called ‘efficiency’ in beer-speak.

“The size of the grain is really important because if it’s too small, then it’s all going to get stuck together in a ball and you won’t have the enzymes breaking down the starches like you need to,” she said. “But if it’s too big, then the sugars aren’t exposed.”

They are making a sweet liquid called wort from ground-up grain. The next step is to boil it to extract the sugars.

Many of these students, like Matt Jacobi, have dabbled in the science of brewing at home.

“All I’ve seen is just from people doing it online and just kind of learning from what they are doing,” he said. “It’s a whole lot of new stuff to me.”

Jacobi finished his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice 10 years ago, but he enjoyed brewing beer in his kitchen so much, that he opted to complete the program’s 12 prerequisite classes in chemistry, physics, math and economics.

“This program is great for being able to meet local brewers and local companies that need people with an education in how this stuff works,” Jacobi said.

Hopping ahead of the competition

Myers relocated from Brooklyn specifically for this program. Currently, she’s pursuing a certificate, but she’s hopeful about completing the degree.

That could cost between $16,000 and $35,000.

“Financially, it’s a bit tricky,” Myers said. “But as far as having an extra leg up, compared to everyone else who’s trying to potentially get a job in a brewery or open their own brewery, I think it puts us in a really good place.”

There are 23 university affiliated brewing programs in the United States. Two of those are offered in the northwest: Central Washington and another at Oregon State University in Corvallis.