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EricR 09-04-2012 08:00 PM

Average Joe to Brewing Pro - My two years of brewing school.
Today marks the first day of my adventure in brewing school. It has been a dream of mine ever since I learned it was possible to make a living brewing beer. I will be chronicling my adventures here in this thread for all who are interested to read over the next two years, as well as for my own personal reference.

First, a bit about the program. I was lucky enough to be accepted to Canada's one and only Brewmaster and Brewery Operations school in Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario. 24 of us were accepted out of over 200 applicants (they say they accept a new "case" of students every year, har har har...). The application process involved providing some basic school marks as well as a portfolio that consisted of a couple of essays. More information on the program, for those who are interested, can be found at www.niagaracollege.ca/brew or at www.firstdraft.ca

A bit about myself; I am 22 years old and have had an interest in beer for longer than is legal in my home province (Quebec, Canada). Over the years my interest developed in to a true passion, and a real love of brewing and the brewing industry. I applied to the program fully not expecting to get in, as it is a very competitive program to get in to. Through some kind of luck I received an acceptance letter in April of this year and it turned my life upside down. I am fortunate to have a woman in my life who is so loving and supportive that she was willing to uproot her own life and move with me to St. Catharines, Ontario, just minutes away from my school.

I look forward to keeping this journal of my educational travels, as well as any events or brewing related stuff I get to participate in because of the program.


bad67z 09-04-2012 08:03 PM

Congratulations and good luck. Keep us posted on your progress.

EricR 09-04-2012 08:08 PM

Day one:

Today was orientation day for all us first years at the school. I got to go in, meet my classmates, hear from teachers and staff and most importantly; taste the three main beers produced by the college (First Draft Ale, First Draft Lager, and Butler's 1812 Bitter). These beers, as well as several others, are all produced by the students in the production brewery at the school. They will soon be for sale in the provinces liquor stores, and are already available at several restaurants as well as from the retail store at the school.

Contrary to popular belief, brewing school consists of more than just technical brewing and tasting courses (although, there are those too, of course). The courses I am taking this semester are as follows:

The Mathematics of Finance
Computer Applications
Brewing Ingredients
Language and Communications
Sensory evaluation of Beer
Basic Practical Brewing
Introduction to Brewing

Today was a fun meet and greet, tomorrow the real work begins. I will be starting off in the brewery with Basic Practical Brewing. Although the class will be a short one tomorrow, I volunteered to stay after class and help bottle some batches that are ready for packaging.


Pappers_ 09-05-2012 10:48 AM

Congrats and good luck

westo2 09-05-2012 11:09 AM

Eric -
Really cool to hear - sounds like a great path forward.

Good luck and welcome to the region - I'm just across the border from you. Although you'll be focused on beer - be sure to take some time to enjoy the world class wineries up there in Ontario.


mjdonnelly68 09-05-2012 11:20 AM

Good luck and have fun. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a great town.

IXVolt 09-05-2012 05:39 PM

Congrats! On both the awesome girlfriend and the brewing school!

EricR 09-05-2012 07:46 PM


Originally Posted by westo2 (Post 4387967)
Eric -
Really cool to hear - sounds like a great path forward.

Good luck and welcome to the region - I'm just across the border from you. Although you'll be focused on beer - be sure to take some time to enjoy the world class wineries up there in Ontario.


Thanks Weston, I will be sure to check out the wineries as well, kind of hard not to!

rhamilton 09-05-2012 07:50 PM

Subscribed & Congrats!

I'm very curious to see what the Computer Applications course entails.

EricR 09-05-2012 08:23 PM

Today was my first official day of class, and I am lucky enough to have started off in the brewery. The 24 of us met at 8:30 outside of the teaching brewery in eager anticipation of the class to come. My class is a pretty diverse crowd, although mostly guys we do have four female classmates. A couple of the guys are from the US and one of the women is a student from Japan.

We were met by our teacher John Downing at about 8:45 and let in to the brewery. Here we were given our first assignment, which was to identify some pieces of equipment that were labeled 1-10. We were given about 15 minutes to get our guesses down before moving on, as the assignment is only due on Friday. Next, John talked to us about what we will be learning in the course, how the other brewing classes we are taking will tie in and what previous classes have done. The class was then split into three groups of eight, as this is who we will be brewing with throughout the semester. Due to size constraints in the brewery each group will only be brewing once every three weeks, but we will get a full day in the brewery instead of only a couple of hours. Sadly, I am in group C, so I will only be brewing three weeks from now. We will, however, have plenty of opportunity to volunteer in the brewery in the intermediate weeks, so we won’t go too long without putting in some work! All told this took about an hour and a half before we were free to go.

I was fortunate enough to have been offered the chance to volunteer to do some work in the brewery today, so me and a few other guys stayed behind to be introduced to John’s right hand man, Elliot Herman. Elliot is a graduate of the program and current brewmaster over at Silversmith Brewing in Niagara on the Lake (www.silversmithbrewing.com). Let me just say, Elliot is a super friendly guy, and he sure as heck knows his stuff.

After being given a run down of what we would be doing for the day, Elliot showed us how a lot of the equipment worked, and we all made fools of ourselves trying to change tri-clamps and move hoses around. My first job was using the labeler, pictured here:


Each 660ml bottle is inserted one at a time and the front and back labels are placed automatically. It may sound like a lot of work, but once you get a good rhythm going it’s effortless.

Next, I cleaned and sanitized bottles and stacked them on the bottle tree to dry:


My kind of Christmas tree!

After doing this for about an hour I switched over to the bottle filling machine, where we would take four bottles at a time and, well, fill them. Also, there was a crowning machine to put the crowns on, one bottle at a time.The filler does not move at lightning speeds, so often there would be a large backlog of bottles waiting to be filled. This gave time to learn how to clean and shank a keg, which is a much more vigorous process than I had expected, involving a large machine and the hope that you didn’t attach the hose wrong or else you will be soaked to the bone in cleaning solutions.

All in all it was a great day, and I am glad I volunteered. I came home with my pants soaked through, my boots full of water and high spirits. I look forward to spending more time in the brewery in the near future.

Tomorrow I have one class, communications. It is at 12:30 and it lasts only an hour, which makes it a pain to drag myself in to the school for. Friday promises to be better though, with more brewing related classes.


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