Getting schooled: DCTC program aims to prepare students for a life of brewing

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Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minnesota, recently added a Brewing and Beer Steward Technology certificate program // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Todd Jagerson was teaching one day and he asked his students a question: “What’s your ideal job?” One response stuck with him—“I want to make and sell hard cider.”

The student wanted to optimize his parent’s apple orchard and Jagerson, the chief information officer of Dakota County Technical College (DCTC), didn’t know how the student could become educated to do it. DCTC certainly didn’t have a program, so Jagerson decided to dive into the world of brewing. He explored schools in Canada that teach students how to work in the industry, and read each and every new story about the booming business of Minnesota’s brewing scene.

Then he researched brewery education in and around the Twin Cities (DCTC is located in Rosemount, Minnesota) to see what was already offered. He found nothing.

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Kegging equipment // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Noting this lack of education options, and the fact that DCTC, like many technical schools, rotates different programs in and out of its offerings, he organized a two-semester certificate program in Brewing and Beer Steward Technology.

Jagerson says there was skepticism from local brewery owners when he first approached them about the school’s new program. Mainly they were confused as to what it was, bringing up the fact that highly lauded programs such as the Siebel Institute in Illinois already teach brewing.

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Photo by Aaron Davidson

But the program isn’t meant to create brewers. That might sound perplexing considering the name, but the program is about more than combining hops, water, yeast, and malted barley.

“I knew that I wanted this program to be [for] a very basic, entry-level position,” says Jagerson. Students shouldn’t be able to walk into Indeed Brewing and proclaim that they can brew its Rum King. Instead, the program is meant to prepare students to serve industry needs apart from brewing. “I want people to understand the maintenance, the repair—the dirty work—to realize that, this is wet, hot, and not easy to do.”

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Photo by Aaron Davidson

DCTC’s program is built to teach students the basic nuts and bolts of the brewing trade, so they can take one of the many hats a brewer already wears and grow from there.

“Give the students more tools in their toolbox, more exposure to things—that’s the big intent,” Jagerson says. “We want to make sure students are a value to the employer in a support position, so that when he earns his or her stripes, they will then get their next promotion.”

The decision to go in a broader direction—one that could be applicable in any of Minnesota’s current breweries—was an easy one to make. But broad doesn’t mean students don’t learn a lot.

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Jeff Merriman // Photo by Aaron Davidson

The program provides a keg wash and sanitizing system, state-of-the-art Sabco brewing systems for small groups of students to brew on, and a bottle filling station with hand caps. Students will work on a wide range of topics, from equipment and safety to microbiology, says Brewing and Beer Steward instructor Jeff Merriman, an American Brewers Guild-educated store manager at Northern Brewer.

“I want our people to be the more highly educated entry-level candidates for anyone in the industry,” Merriman says. “Not only do the students know more, but it reduces the training and financial commitment to bring on a new employee.”

By creating competent workers, the industry improves.

“The more we can get people interested and knowledgeable about how the industry works, and the more qualified our applicants are going into the breweries, then the better quality the entire industry is,” Merriman says.

For a program that began forming in April of 2014, those are lofty goal—but attainable.

“I know we have a really good program developed, and we are going to give students exposure to things they never would have an opportunity to before,” Jagerson says.

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Fermenters with electric temperature control // Photo by Aaron Davidson

When it’s all said and done, with beer brewed, kegs cleaned, and biology learned, Merriman expects a palpable impact on the state’s brewing scene.

“I would love to see at least one of our people in almost every brewery around town,” Merriman says, adding, “I’d love everyone to stay here locally because I think that’s great; I think Dakota County is investing in this so we have a better local scene than it is already.”

Both plan on that being the case for years to come. Down the road Jagerson would like to implement a business focus for students to “run” their own brewery by writing up a business plan and factoring the cost of materials. Jagerson has even tossed around the idea of adding a distillery portion to the class.

At this point for the program, like brewing in America, there’s room to grow and create an even better, more varied beer scene, one student at a time.

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Photos by Aaron Davidson
 

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