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First year of beer brewing program nears conclusion

Five weeks ago, students in Central Michigan University's fermentation science program tapped their first brews.

The Fermentation Science Program was established in May 2015. Designed and run by Cordell DeMattei, students learn and practice the science behind the beer-brewing process step-by-step until the beer is packaged and ready to be served.

The program has 13 students. Most have backgrounds in science and microbiology.

After the beer is brewed, it is served at Hunter's along with the beer made by the ale house. Now several different types of beer made by students can be purchased. 

DeMattei said the program is going much like he expected. 

“Using (new equipment) for the first time, there’s always some problems and things to adjust when you’re going through the brewing process. It has gone even smoother than I expected.” DeMattei said. “The students have done very well and, learning the science in the first semester, it’s really neat to see when they apply it and do all the work, all the calculations ahead of time.”

Many of the students in the program are pursuing careers in brewing science.

“I’d like to go into quality control and work as a lab technician, making sure the beer turns out great every time," said Mancelona junior Paige Windish. "A lot of breweries are getting into that now. I like beer and I like science. The program is pretty much the best of both worlds.”

Along with the students, the program has a lot of help from local businesses. Students practice their beer-brewing skills during class at Hunter's Ale House and Mountain Town Brewing. 

“They get to see what goes on in production breweries and actually work with the brewers in the production brewery to get hands-on experience," DeMattei said. 

"It’s nice to know that people in the community know we have some professionals that are microbiologists that are brewing our beers," said Cheryl Hunter, owner of Hunter's Ale House. "That is very beneficial to our business. I think people come in because they want to try the different beers the program has been making.”

Hunter said the program is also the beer-brewing process across Michigan.

“Having the university being able to teach their students in the microbiology program, all of the different ways to brew beer and how to ferment is only going to make this brewing world, and this industry in the state of Michigan, better," Hunter said. 

The program also works inside Mountain Town Brewing. Brewmaster Buck Dubro said he's happy the community is taking note of the trend of craft beer.

“The program is a win-win for everyone. It’s a privilege working with like-minded individuals," he said. “It helps Michigan’s brewing industry by acknowledging different intricacies as well as pushing the envelope to help continue learning as a brewer.”

Most students in the program were already familiar with brewing beer. Westphalia junior Ryan Simon said he and his brother have home-brewed for the past three years. 

“When I found out about the program it was just something I really wanted to do. I’ve been interested in the craft brewing industry for a while,” Simon said. “I’m going to do an internship this summer at a brewery, but after I hope to get a job doing quality control in a lab or actually brewing.”

Mount Pleasant freshman Steven Swaney said he enjoys being in the brewery and actively learning how concoct a new flavor.

“For me this is like going into a second career for my life," Swaney said. "I was in science and I decided to take the fermentation sciences program and go pro with my home brewing to brew in an actual professional brewery.”

Swaney plans to go into the brewing profession when he completes his degree after the certificate program. He wants to start as an assistant manager at a well-known brewery. 

DeMattei said students are passionate about the program, and he is hopeful for its expansion.

“We would like to see it grow and expand and go into other beverage fermentation and even into fermented foods," DeMattei said. "That’s why we named it 'fermentation science' instead of a craft brew program because we would like the opportunity to expand and possibly even bring in business aspects and event planning aspect.