People in Fort Collins, Colorado, proudly call their small city the Napa Valley of beer brewing – with good reason. Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Collins (population 165,000) boasts more than 20 breweries.
Among them are giants in the industry, including Anheuser-Busch, but the majority are smaller craft breweries whose creative recipes are rivaled only by their names: Fat Tire Amber Ale; Easy Street Wheat; Sad Panda Coffee Stout; Cross-Eyed Strangers IPA.
Fort Collins’ vibrant craft-brewing scene is part of a flavorful beer revolution across America. Over the past two years alone, the number of U.S. breweries has almost doubled, to more than 5,600. And 99 percent of those are small and independent operations, according to the Brewers Association, the trade group for independent brewers. The association defines a craft brewery as one that produces six million barrels or fewer annually, using traditional or innovative ingredients and fermentation methods.
This explosive growth has driven demand for people trained in the art – and science – of brewing beer. Colorado State University is meeting that demand in a unique and mutually beneficial partnership involving major commercial and craft brewers, and leading experts in industrial automation.
Two Breweries, One Program
Even before the craft-beer boom began, Colorado State University (CSU) – which also calls Fort Collins home – created a brewing science and technology course. Soon after the class launched in 2007, it became one of the most popular electives on campus.
Jeff Callaway, then a graduate student studying foodborne pathogens at CSU, helped teach the course with professor Jack Avens. “Rather than focusing on the ‘bad bugs,’ I decided to follow my passion for the good organisms that ferment food and beer,” Callaway recalled. Avens tapped into the wealth of brewing knowledge in the area, recruiting master brewers and other industry experts as guest speakers, which Callaway was able to continue.
“Industry was heavily involved in the class,” Callaway explained. “Students got to network with them, and companies began seeking out our graduates to hire them. These days, there’s so much on the line competitively that the industry just doesn’t have time to train all the people they need.”