Last November, I was offered a job as a QA manager/Assistant Brewer at Millstream Brewery in Amana, IA. Masterbrewer Chris Priebe would have been amazing to learn the craft from. The owners of Millstream also offered me a living wage and were working on a finding me a place to live in the area. It was ridiculously painful to turn Millstream down. They wanted someone long-term and while there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t second guess my decision, I knew I had plans beyond Iowa.
A solid brewing education before jumping into the business is part of my plan. There are accomplished probrewers that enter the business without a brewing education and that works well for many. For myself, I want a combination of a well-rounded education and proving my worth though experience. The next step was to choose a school.
While new programs are being developed though the US, there are a limited number of program options specifically designed to advance quickly into a master brewers position. Below are the two options I seriously considered with pros and cons based entirely on my needs and goals:
Siebel Institute of Technology- WBA International Diploma in Brewing Technology Program
Siebel has a great reputation in the industry and brewers from both craft and macro-breweries have graduated from the program. This a 12-week program is split between the Chicago campus and the Doemens Academy in Munich. The first six weeks is in Chicago as part of the WBA Associate Program that focuses on different brewing technology modules. The second six weeks is the European Brewing Study Tour. This is a very thorough and concise program. I heard some say that it can be intense with a lot of information in a very short period of time. The cost for this program is one of the highest at $18,500 ($16,800 for early registration). There are prerequisite courses for this program including biology and you need to be approved prior to applying. I exchanged emails with the vice-president Keith Lemke and after a quick discussion, I was approved to apply. I exchanged emails with Keith in fall of 2011 and I believe since then the requirements for approval have been tightened.
I like the reputation that Siebel holds in the industry and the prospect of learning the trade from some of the best in the world in both Chicago and Germany is a huge draw. Siebel has some courses online, but the WBA International Diploma in Brewing Technology Program or the Associates do not have this option. When the price tag for this program is half that of a salary for a year for many brewers, it does make it a difficult choice. There is a $2,500 fee to hold your seat and full payment is required prior to the beginning of the program.
American Brewers Guild Craft Brewers Apprenticeship (CBA) program.
This is a 28-week program with 22 weeks of intensive online microbiological and engineering brewing study, one week on campus at the Drop-In Brewery in Vermont, followed by an internship at a participating brewery. They have participating breweries in every state and some include Ommegang, Goose Island, Firestone Walker, and Lost Abbey.
When I first looked at the American Brewers Guild, I had misgivings about grasping difficult brewing engineering and science topics though distance learning. They have online examples that quelled some of my fears, but not all. There is long waiting list for this limited-class size program. As of April 2014, all programs are full until January 2016. I believe that Siebel has employment assistance, but ABG specifically outlines this on their site. The prerequisites are many and include algebra or calculus and one of college level chemistry, microbiology, physics, or engineering. Once accepted, $1000 is required to hold your seat and subsequent payments are required but before the program starts and just before the 5-week internship begins.
While I have reservations about online learning, I like that I can complete this program while I’m still earning money at my current job. I also like that full payment (though most of it is) isn’t required until after the 22 weeks of the online program are completed. Anytime I mention the program to probrewers, that have a lot of good things to say about founder Steve Parkes and the program. I met Firestone Walker Masterbrewer Matt Brynildson last October and asked him about the CBA. He said that he wouldn’t hesitate to hire someone that has a diploma from the ABG. Hearing him say that added a great deal of credibility to the importance of the ABG in the industry for me.
UC- Davis Master Brewers Program
A big draw to this 18-week program is that it’s instructors Michael Lewis and Charles Bamforth are well respected in the industry. This program is intensive and on-campus with preparation for the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD), London, Diploma in Brewing Examination and developing skills to work as masterbrewers in the industry as key components. The UC- Davis Master Brewers Program has similar prerequisites as the other programs I’ve considered and an extensive post-program support. If I was 10 years younger, UC-Davis would be top on my list.
With this decision, I had to consider the financial component and balance that with the benefits of the program. If I had the option to learn without earning an income, I would begin the WBA International Diploma in Brewing Technology Program at Siebel as soon as possible. I have some pretty good friends in California and that draws me to the UC-Davis program. Considering the cost, quality of education (with credibility from well respected masterbrewers) and link to my goals, the CBA program at ABG makes the most sense. I’ll have the financial and educational flexibility to be where I want to be a year from now.
I was accepted into the CBA program in September 2013 and I’ll start in June 2015 . I’ll document my process and adventures along the way between now and then. Of which I hope there will be many.