Colleges and beer have a long shared history. A university in Michigan is taking that partnership to a new level with the creation of a program to train and certify experts in "fermentation science."
Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant this week announced plans to launch the program in fall 2015, aimed particularly at supporting and boosting the state's fast-growing craft brewing industry, now a $1 billion-plus annual business.
"As of 2013, Michigan ranked fifth in the nation in number of breweries, behind only California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington," said Ian Davison, dean of the College of Science and Technology at the Mount Pleasant school.
Central Michigan bills its undergraduate program as the first in the state specifically aimed at providing a "hands-on education focused on craft beer." Similar programs operate at the University of California's Davis and San Diego campuses and at Oregon State and Central Washington universities.
Michigan State University has operated an artisan distilling program for 15 years and last year started a beverage specialization program that also includes beer and wine-making.
The Central Michigan program will include classroom and lab work in biochemistry, chemistry and microbiology, as well as a 200-hour internship in a "production-scale facility."
The university, which is about 150 miles northwest of Detroit, said it is collaborating with the Mountain Town Brewing Co. and Hunter's Ale House in developing the program.
Program director Cordell DeMattei said it "will fill a need in the state and across the region for students to learn the science and technology underlying brewing ... and provides the training needed by future leaders of the craft brewing industry."
Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in small-scale, local, high-quality beer-making.
Rob Sirrine of the Michigan State University Extension said more than 400 acres of hops, beer's key flavoring ingredient, are under cultivation in Michigan. Growers' main market is small-sale in-state brewers, he said.
Behind the growth in demand for high-end beer is a long-running fascination with the brewing process, one of the oldest forms of human food processing.
"There's a lot of romantic attachment to beer," said Scott Graham, executive director of the Michigan Brewers Guild. The Lansing-based group represents the state's microbreweries, now numbering more than 160, and helped win passage this year of laws allowing them to expand.
In-state microbrewers currently have 5 percent of Michigan's beer market, a share that could easily double or triple, Graham said.