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Students enjoy brewing as extracurricular activity

Since turning 21 in December, Leonard “Carl” Coster fell in love with Michigan craft beer — so much that he started brewing it himself.

“I know that all these people are making great beers, so I figured I’d give it a shot and see what I could do," said the Fenton junior.

In 2014, the craft beer industry contributed $1.85 billion to Michigan's economy, according to The Brewers Association, a Denver-based industry trade group. As the industry grows, Central Michigan University students are starting to take on brewing as a hobby.

“It’s a great experience. If anyone has a slight interest in it, they should go out and try (brewing),” Coster said. “It is the most satisfying thing to be able to sit down at night, after a long day at class, and crack open and enjoy your own beer.”

Coster started his first brew in December. He said a little time creates a great product to drink, for a significantly lower price than purchasing beer from the store.

“At one time, I make about five gallons of beer, which comes out to about 53 12 oz bottles, and it costs about 66 cents a bottle (to make).”

CMU's Fermentation Science program first became available to students in 2015, and teaches students the science behind brewing beer.

Clinton Township senior Justin Manns enrolled in the certificate to take advantage of the growing craft beer industry in Michigan.

Unlike Coster, Manns is learning how to brew beer on a larger scale.

Manns enrolled in the program because he needed to stay at CMU for another semester in order to finish a class. The fermentation program was a perfect way to spend his time, since he already fulfilled the prerequisites for his major, he said.

Manns said his interest in craft beer sparked when he turned 21. He tends to favor brewing IPAs. 

"I'm a fan of dark beers, like stouts and porters, which are usually the sweeter beers," Coster said.

Coster said he likes brewing the beer he enjoys drinking.

“One day I’d love to own my own brewery, but that’s a long way down the road," Manns said.

Manns said making beer is a craft. To be successful and make a beer that stands out, brewers need to be creative.

“I could make the same beer I tried before and it can come out completely different, just because I changed or added a tiny thing," Coster said.

Brewing process

There are several factors impacting how a brew will turn out.

“There are hundreds of different strains of hops, all types of different grains, and then you can combine them a thousand ways," Manns said. "They all act on each other differently.”

In the fermentation program, Manns is learning how to train his palate to taste beer, and what qualities and flavors to look for.

Coster enjoys the art of making recipes his own. When he wants to recreate a beer, he’ll find a recipe online, but make his own adjustments.

Changing ingredients drastically changes the flavor of the beer.

After steeping the grains in water for 30 minutes, Coster said brings the water to a rolling boil and adds the fermentable items, such as sugars, malts and hops. The brew then boil for about an hour.

Fermentable items give the beer a bite, he said.

“From there, you put the brew in your fermenting device," he said. "I use a bucket, and let it sit there for a week. I then move it to a second fermenter, called a carboy.”

Coster said the second fermentation process helps smooth out the brew and remove sediment the grains produce.

After about a half week in secondary fermentation, the brew is ready to be bottled.

“My first brew turned out awesome — it tasted amazing,” he said. “I was really impressed with myself because a lot of people's first brew can come out pretty gross.”It is easy for brews to turn out poorly because the slightest temperature inconsistency or wrong step can ruin the batch, Coster said.

Manns has been learning to brew on a larger scale system, which uses three barrels yielding approximately 102 gallons. While he is confident he can make a great homemade brew, he has yet to try it.

“The big issue is trying to maintain a certain temperature while it’s fermenting, because that’s what creates a lot of impurities in beer,” he said, “I’m not confident I could maintain a consistent temperature in my basement, especially considering Michigan weather.”

Coster said one of his favorite things about brewing is sharing his creations with his friends.

“Having a home brew hobby, I’m able to convince people to try different types of beer that they had no idea they would like,” he said.