While pursuing his doctorate in evolutionary biology at Yale in the early 2000s, Geffrey Stopper worked as assistant brewer at the beloved New Haven brewpub, BAR. “I seriously considered starting my own brewery,” he recalls, but his Ph.D. got in the way. “My science career just really took off.”
Now Stopper’s two passions have converged at Sacred Heart University’s new Brewing Science program. Stopper, a longtime biology professor at the Fairfield school, is director of the 22-credit certificate program, which launched this summer with 19 students. Undergraduate students can take the classes, but they are not covered by full time tuition costs and don’t count toward graduation. Stopper says that may change in the future.
The first of its kind in Connecticut, the 11-month program prepares students for careers in brewing by teaching skills like scientific brewing theory, ingredient science and recipe design, brewery safety and quality assurance.
“[Brewers say] they get these applications from people who at most on their resume have a little bit of home-brewing experience,” Stopper says.
Faculty is a mix of scientists and industry professionals including John Rehm, director of brewing operations at Two Roads Brewing Co. in Stratford, and Dana Bourque, co-owner of Firefly Hollow Brewing Co. in Bristol. There is also an internship requirement, and some classes will take place at Two Roads.
The program was designed as a hybrid with students attending a mix of online and in-person classes. This allowed for a smooth transition in response to COVID-19, Stopper says. By switching a few classes around, the program started exclusively online with classes that have been designed for online teaching.
While it’s unclear what impact the virus will have on the program overall, or on the brewing industry as a whole and its many dozens of Connecticut breweries, Stopper says that some students signed up for the program due to the pandemic. One student registered after being laid off, while another told Stopper he was pursuing brewing because, “I don't want to waste any more of my professional life.” Though it is too late to attend this year, applications are now being accepted for 2021.
The program grew out of Sacred Heart’s purchase of St. Vincent’s College, which was finalized in 2018. An administrator from St. Vincent began exploring starting a brewing science program. After the college became part of Sacred Heart, the administrator learned that Stopper and biology professor Kirk Bartholomew had a relationship with Two Roads Brewing Co. since the brewery was founded in 2012. Over the years, the Sacred Heart biologists have helped isolate yeasts for several Two Roads beers and have worked with them to create several specialty beers. As the program took shape, they were both naturals to be involved.
As for how important science is in brewing, Stopper says, “You can make beer without knowing the science well, but you can really control the beer you're making much better if you know the science and you can predict what's going to happen.” He adds, “You can really kind of master the beer if you know the science.”
But he’s quick to point out brewing beer is about more than math and measurements. A musician as well, Stopper says brewing also requires artistry, which is part of what he loves about it, and what he hopes to emphasize in the new program. “It's a nice marriage of art and science,” he says.
Want to find out more about Sacred Heart’s brewing program? Go to sacredheart.edu/brewingscience. Applications are being accepted for next year’s course, beginning in May 2021.