If you love bold and flavorful beer like I do, the Harrisburg metro area is the place to be. Every few months, a new brewpub opens up, giving beer aficionados a multitude of options.
The craft beer craze has spread so far and deep that it has even caught the attention of academia, including, locally, HACC.
In the summer of 2015, HACC President John Sygielski emailed the college’s director of continuing education, Abigail Peslis, instructing her to look into the craft brewing movement.
“Our college president is extremely innovative and forward thinking, and he said I should check into this, but that I had no need to respond,” recalled Peslis.
Sygielski’s message found the right audience. Peslis is herself a craft beer fan.
“When I had an opportunity to delve into that industry, I grabbed the bull by the horns,” she said.
Peslis called Dan LaBert, executive director of the Brewers of Pennsylvania, the major brewing guild in the commonwealth. He told Peslis that such a program was exactly what the state’s brewing industry needed and connected her with a number of local experts.
She next called Zeroday Brewing Co., which had recently opened just a block down Reily Street from her Midtown office. Zeroday co-owners Theo and Brandalynn Armstrong eagerly expressed interest in helping HACC develop a program in brewing science.
“It’s almost like the stars aligned,” said Peslis. “There was a need for a trained workforce because the brewing industry was exploding.”
In less than a year, HACC’s Brewing Science Certificate Program was educating its first cohort of students. The goal is to make the program sufficiently robust so students come away with all the foundational skills they need to enter the brewing industry’s workforce. But HACC wants the program to be short enough that students can complete it within a year.
Peslis involved local breweries to develop the curriculum. These included Zeroday, Tröegs Independent Brewing and Appalachian Brewing Co. (ABC).
“This program was absolutely created for the local central PA region,” Peslis said.
Today, six local brewers provide instruction and expertise: Zeroday, Tröegs, ABC, Boneshire Brew Works and the Millworks, all based in the Harrisburg/Hershey area, and Old Forge Brewery in Danville. The students also visit Sunny Brea Hops, located just outside of Carlisle, to learn more about the high-quality hops used for craft brewing.
“We do a lot of hands-on learning, so our students visit all of those facilities,” Peslis said. “Our students get the full spectrum of everything.”
In return, HACC gives local brewers qualified applicants to join their teams and to raise the standards of brewing in general.
Anybody who is 21 or older can enroll in the HACC program. No background in brewing or biology is required.
Earlier this year, the first cohort of 11 students, ranging in age from 21 to 60, completed about 250 hours of coursework and earned their certificates. They took evening classes in a wide range of topics relating to the brewing business, including safety, sanitation, culinary math, marketing and microbiology.
And, most importantly, the students selected a style of beer to brew, worked with vendors to choose the ingredients, and brewed it from scratch. With guidance from Zeroday, they decided to brew a coffee oatmeal stout, a popular winter beer.
“The students got hands-on experience and recipe design,” said Brandalynn Armstrong. “They got to have some fun and get their hands dirty.”
But as Armstrong is quick to point out, the program is not just about brewing good beer.
“We asked students to think: How are you going to sell the beer after you make it?” she said. “So, we added a marketing component.”
The students had to look at their product from a business angle and come up with a name, a sales strategy and a pitch. Several local brewers and restaurant owners judged different names and decided upon HACChiato (like a macchiato from Starbucks) because the stout contained coffee and milk. The students even worked with an attorney to make sure the name was commercially viable and didn’t infringe upon any copyrights.
HACChiato was unveiled at a launch party at Zeroday. More than 300 people came that day to taste the beer, including Sygielski.
“The stout turned out very lovely,” Armstrong said.
Peslis said that it’s essential for local brewers to recognize the credentials that the students receive. And thanks to HACC’s partnership with the Brewers of Pennsylvania, the program guarantees that all graduates can receive a 40-hour volunteer internship at a local brewery.
Some of the recent graduates plan to start their own breweries. Others are mainly interested in brewing better beer at home. And one of the recent graduates is now the tasting room manager at Tröegs.
“They are moving into nice roles in the industry,” Peslis said.
Marc Michaud of Carlisle is one of the home brewers who recently graduated. He was the one who came up with the name, HACChiato. Michaud found out about the program from his wife, who thought he would be interested.
“I wanted to at least be a little better than what I was doing at home,” said Michaud, who did his internship at Molly Pitcher Brewing Co. in Carlisle. “It was a great experience. I learned a lot of different things, a lot more on the business side of brewing than I thought, which was awesome.”
Michaud recommends the program to anyone who is interested in going into the industry, who home brews or who just likes beer and wants to learn more about the industry.
The program is currently educating a second cohort of 13 students, who will graduate in February. At the time of this writing, the students had not yet decided what style of beer to brew, but their HACC brew will be available at Zeroday around the time they graduate. HACC plans to can the 2018 beer, which means the students will have to come up with catchy artwork, as well as a name.
The program has made several changes since last year and will continue to evolve to remain cutting-edge, Peslis said.
“It was nice being a part of creating that program with all the guidance and amenities of HACC,” said Zeroday’s Armstrong. “For us, it was really awesome to be part of it.”
The next HACC Brewing Science Certificate Program runs from May 2018 to February 2019. The cost is $4,500, which includes all books and materials. To learn more about the HACC program, visit www.hacc.edu.