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What's on Tap

By Selena Fragassi


Something is brewing at colleges and universities as microbreweries and wineries start to crop up on campus, giving planners something to “cheers” about.

There’s something in the water in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since ending its “dry” spell in 1969, the town has become a literal mecca for beer distributors in the know of the natural resources of the Cache la Poudre River that distributes fresh snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains throughout town. “It makes [Fort Collins] an ideal place for brewing some of the nation’s best beer,” says the Visit Fort Collins website, and the river’s desirable properties have, in essence, created the “Napa Valley of beers” with nearby institutes like Colorado State University catching on to the growth potential.

“It’s become almost a fad for breweries to come here. They are all over town,” says CSU Conference & Event Director Dezarai Brubaker. The campus will soon add to the mix, opening their own microbrewery in the fall, which will become the 21st in town behind respected brands like Odell Brewing Company and New Belgium.

The latter, in fact, donated $1 million and equipment to CSU’s new project, which will in kind be called the New Belgium Fermentation Science and Technology Lab. It is being built adjacent to the campus’ popular Ramskellar bar where “you will be able to actually see the process of fermentation and all the barrels while enjoying a drink by the glass windows, the same as if you went to any other microbrewery in Fort Collins,” adds Conference Coordinator Elodie Vigneron.

The New Belgium Fermentation Science and Technology Lab (and the smaller Anheuser Busch Foundation Quality Lab already in place) are primarily learning tools for the 125 or so students enrolled in CSU’s newly offered (and quite rare) brewing degree program—but the conference and event services department is also looking forward to promoting its brews and activities to the public, including conferences and visiting groups.

“A lot of groups that come to campus have found the brewing in Fort Collins to be very exciting, but up until now we’ve set up tours off-campus at New Belgium and Odell. Now we will be able to give that experience right here and offer packages where you can watch beer being made and then do tastings of the small batches,” Brubaker envisions. Her team is also planning on promoting Ramskellar more and more as a venue option especially since the bar, first built in the ‘60s, received a recent facelift as part of the Lory Student Center upgrades in October 2014.

“So if you have a conference and then, in the evening, you want to have a reception at the bar, it has multiple TVs, pool tables, and music,” says Vigneron noting the laidback setting is great for a more informal social event or as an addendum to a meeting. “Some conferences are looking into that for the summer with the Olympic Games and World Cup events. Our international clients want to watch those sporting events while they are still attending their conference. We are particularly excited that we can promote the idea to them since many have no idea about craft brewing, and that’s one more level of interest we can provide right here. ”

The Growing Buzz

In Canada, the craft beer craze has also hit a fever pitch.

“The movement really began in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, but what we are seeing now is a larger percentage in the market being taken by craft beer, and the response in stores is to carry more of them on shelves. With that economic boost it’s become impetus for people to go and make their dreams come true, open a microbrewery, and be their own boss. Not all of them make it but a good portion do—and the thing is there’s enormous capacity for growth. It’s not slowing down, it’s gaining speed and will do so for a long time to come,” says Dale Wood, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry at Bishop’s University in Quebec. He’s also the founder and co-owner/operator of the campus’ brand-new Bishop’s Arches Brewery (opened in August 2015) and says that the popularity and attention paid to microbrewing was “absolutely essential” in getting the university to come on board with the idea.

“It actually started with a course I began offering about seven years ago called ‘The History and Science of Brewing.’ I developed it as a means of introducing chemistry, biology, and biochemistry to non-science students. And those students continuously asked why there wasn’t a lab to go along with this idea. A lot jokingly said, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could actually brew beer?’” recalls Wood. “The more I developed the concept, I thought that’s a good question. Why can’t we get a brewery going?”

He originally pitched the idea to the university about three-and-a-half years ago. “They said yes right away as they recognized the multi-disciplinary aspect of a microbrewery, not only for the science department, but it had elements of business, financing and accounting, entrepreneurship, even fine arts as students in graphic design could contribute with the beer labels. It touched all aspects of the university.”

Bishop’s also realized the revenue potential. Though the brewery was considered an academic project and was therefore eligible for renovation funds supplied by the provincial government, the university did have to buy fermenters and appliances, which was done with the recognition that the brewery would be able to generate money to pay back the debt.

“So we decided if we were going to make beer we might as well sell beer to generate revenue for the project and the university, and so from the beginning we looked at getting proper permits to brew and sell,” says Wood, noting they mostly have four to five varieties ready for purchase at any time. To do so, the university had to complete a federal and provincial process, which provided the two permits.

Testing the Limits

If you’re wondering how on earth a brewery would be approved for a college campus, well in Canada, consider that Bishop’s has the benefit of having a lowered drinking age. In Quebec, it’s only 18 years of age so “our students come in from the first year and are legally able to participate. That’s something that is critical to us,” says Wood.

It’s less common in the States since the legal drinking age is a hard 21 years. “We are the only Division 1 University to have a bar on campus and can serve alcohol in our athletic venues,” says Vigneron of CSU where the Lory Student Center, and its ballroom, have liquor licenses. “It’s really the culture of where we are. Brewing and craft beers are essential to tourism and our community. It’s provided a lot of jobs here and brought revenue. And brewing is now becoming an art and science so it’s been a perfect fit for places like New Belgium to partner with us to legitimize what they do with even more expertise and acknowledgement.”

Brubaker does admit, “We had a discussion several years ago about underage drinking and over-drinking and really wondered if we should we be selling beer on campus, but I think our new fermentation lab is the answer to give it more credit; it’s more about having a learning living lab for educational purposes rather than just having a bar on campus.”

Not that responsible adults can’t enjoy its rewards.

The Toast of the Town

“All of [the events] are buying kegs,” says Wood, noting that faculty and student events have proven to be the most popular, including beginning of the semester, holiday, and graduation parties. “But any group that wants to have our beer available, we are more than happy to accommodate them.”

For now there’s no restaurant or bar attached at Bishop’s as there is at CSU and tours are more difficult because the facilities only fit up to 12 people, “but who knows what the future will bring,” says Wood, as the program continues to attract attention.

As well, he says, “Conference Services does a good job of making people aware we are available and planners are taking us up on it.”

So, too, at Colorado State, which not only hosts the 300-person Master Brewers Association of America Conference every year, but Vigneron also remembers a recent American Society of Virology conference that was actually able to make their own brew, fittingly called Hopatitis. “We made about 12 kegs for the conference and gave everyone a beer glass with the logo of the conference and the name of beer imprinted on it. It was a big hit,” she says.

Something to Wine About, Too

Beer, however, is not the only idea fermenting on campus. At California’s Sonoma State University, the Wine Business Institute is also a burgeoning department that, since 2008, has been offering undergrad and MBA programs and also launched a new online course. “We are still the only place in America where you can earn a graduate degree in the wine business,” says Director Ray Johnson, and enrollment is skyrocketing.

Rationally speaking, Sonoma State is in the “perfect triangle” for such a platform. “Napa Valley is to the right, Sonoma County to left, and just to the south is San Francisco so there’s a nexus of world-class wine production at our back door,” he furthers. “It’s turned out to be good niche for us as folks who already have great careers in wine production are doing masters with us as the industry becomes more professional and people are focused on getting numbers as well as quality right.”

There’s no production done at Sonoma State; rather, the focus is on “how to bring wine to market and make money,” says Johnson. However, the campus nonetheless has a lot of intersection with various partnering wineries such as the Wilson Winery and Kokomo Winery where students can shadow winemakers. Johnson’s department can also set up tours for visiting groups, working directly with alumni at the Sonoma County Tourism division.

In June, Sonoma State will also break ground on the new Wine Spectator Learning Center, projected to open in 2017. “For us it will become a showcase of programs around wine that we can share with the public, the wine industry, and the broader business community. We’ll be able to bring people to campus to host events around wine,” Johnson says. “For consumers, that might mean contributing to their programs by bringing in alumni who are connected with the university and work within the wine industry, or for example, bring on board Cuban sommeliers who are visiting northern California. We have great partnerships, and the university can offer a broader view of the industry that’s not just commercial. People call on us to be the objective look at the industry as a whole.”

The educational component is a huge part of what separates universities from the run-of-the-mill brewery or winery experiences, says Wood.

“I think what we can offer is the academic aspect. We can answer questions from procedure to in-depth science, so depending on the level of the group or what they are looking for it can be a fun or educational experience with a tour and tasting,” which is something universities hope attendees can remember long after the last sip.

Get Connected

Bishop’s University
Sherbrooke, Quebec
(819) 822.9651

Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado
(970) 491.2633

Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park, California
(707) 664.3513