A Lot on Tap with Launch of Brewing Degree Program in Eden
Tucked between Elaine's Antiques and medical clothing retailer Hometown Scrubs on Eden's main street is what's now the country's first brewing sciences program offered by a community college.
The storefront in the 600 block of Washington Street has at different times been home to a dance studio, a beauty salon, a karate school and a florist.
But beginning this month, it will welcome the first students in Rockingham Community College's Center for Brewing Sciences.
It's a program designed to produce future brewing technicians for local big-time brewers such as MillerCoors, which operates the state's largest brewery in Rockingham County, and a growing number of craft breweries and distillers.
"It came out of Rockingham County because it fits here," RCC President Michael Helmick said Thursday to kick of the program. "We're trying to be innovative. We're trying to be not your typical community college."
The new program was born out of Helmick's desire to launch a new curriculum program when he joined the college a little more than two years ago.
Pieces like a son-in-law who is a home brewer, and early meetings with local MillerCoors officials and the owners of Piedmont Distillers in Madison helped lay the foundation for creating a brewing and distilling program at the Wentworth-based school, Helmick said.
Different pieces established that there was both the interest in developing local brewing knowledge, and the demand from a work force standpoint, Helmick said.
At a brewery, each brewmaster is accompanied by 20 to 30 brewing technicians to help with the brewing process. It's those skilled workers RCC will now be turning out.
Following the creation and early success of a continuing education brewing program, work began to develop a curriculum, with visits to brewmaster degree programs at Appalachian State University, University of California at Davis and Niagara College in Canada, a community college with a brewing program, said Jan Overman, vice president for academic affairs at RCC.
Part of the challenge was creating a program that had credibility, a strong scientific foundation and would prepare students to sit for professional certification by the Institute of Brewing & Distilling, Overman said.
"Yes, it was a challenge," she said. "Changing the mindset that this was going to be a curriculum where people just come and drink."
The result is a two-year associate in science degree in brewing, distilling and fermentation, along with a shorter, two-semester certificate program to prepare students for entry-level positions in breweries.
The college has hired two part-time instructors to teach the brewing portion of the program, while existing faculty will handle courses in sanitary welding, chiller systems, mathematical measurements and other applied science areas used across industries.
While two other community colleges in the state are developing brewing programs, Rockingham's will be the only one with a horticulture aspect, with students learning about growing hops and other agricultural components used in the brewing process, Overman said.
"The curriculum involves a lot of science, a lot of chemistry, microbiology," Overman said.
As for a location, Eden officials made an early pitch for the college to locate a specialized program there, as it had with its creative woodworking program in Reidsville, said Mike Dougherty, director of economic development for Eden.
City officials worked with the college to locate a spot, and found a home at 649 Washington St. The city's contribution has been to underwrite the rent for the space and help with upfitting it for the college's use, which has been an initial contribution of $20,900 followed by $6,000 annually for rent.
The college contributed $50,000 to $60,000 of its own funds, with students and instructors helping install equipment and upfit the space. That work included designing and producing a lengthy, wrapping bar from a piece of rare South American bloodwood that had been donated to the college's creative woodworking program.
"It's a pretty good investment for what we feel we'll get in return," said Wayne Tuggle, mayor pro tem of Eden.
All those steps led to the event Thursday, with the community helping kick off the new RCC program with a street party outside the brewing program's new home, with beverages provided by MillerCoors.
(As a side note, the school had brewed 15 gallons of beer to serve Thursday before discovering state law prohibits beer brewed during the educational process from being used outside of class. The school is hoping to work with Phil Berger, president of the N.C. Senate and an Eden Republican, to change the law.)
At its start, the program is designed for 12 to 15 students, but that can be scaled up with the addition of equipment and space, steps the college is already exploring based upon what the school is hearing from industry partners, including breweries such as Red Oak and Natty Greene's in Greensboro and Foothills in Winston-Salem, Helmick said.
"I think we've got a story to tell," Helmick said. "This is going to produce jobs, this humble little facility you see here."
The new home for Rockingham Community College's Center for Brewing Sciences in Eden, which opened Thursday with a community kickoff. The center will be home to the college's associate of science degree program in brewing and distilling, the country's first.