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Beer Education: Basic 101 to Expert Level

Do you ever feel like a lemming in your M-F, 9-5 cubicle job and dream instead of making a career out of brewing beer?  Or perhaps you’re a beer aficionado who is tired of just sampling different brews and actually wants to try your hand at making your own beer? Or are you someone who is new to the craft beer scene and have a burning desire to learn more about beer but aren’t sure where to start? Have no fear, beer education is here! Whether it’s beer-focused classes, social groups, or even a college degree, you can find everything you need right here in Central New York!

Social Groups are a great way to get your feet wet if you’re new to craft beer and regardless of whether you’re a newbie or a pro, it’s also a great way to network, meet people, and make new friends. Facebook and MeetUp are two great websites/apps to search for beer-centered groups.

Syracuse Women of Craft Beer (SWCB) has been around since 2014 and markets itself as “a social group for ladies who love craft beer,” with a motto of “drink, share, educate.” The group was founded by Gloria Rakowsky, who has been in the beer business for a number of years and is exceptionally knowledgeable about the industry and beer itself. She is a friendly and welcoming leader who makes everyone feel right at home! Meetings are usually once per month and are varied in content. Past events include visiting hop farms, bottle-shares, brewery tours, and food/beer pairings.

I, myself, have been a member for a couple of years now, and have made new friends, have found camaraderie with the women who share my interest in craft beer, and always seem to learn something new every time I attend an event. Plus, we’re always trying some fantastical brews! Find SWCB on both MeetUp and Facebook for more detailed information on their upcoming events.

Other craft beer related social groups that you can find on Facebook and MeetUp include:

Finger Lakes Girls Pint Out – Committed to “building a community of women who love craft beer,” these women have many active members and also have monthly events to partake in!

CNY Craft Beer Society – “A group all about drinking, enjoying, sharing, talking, and learning about craft beer” and have met at local brewpubs in the past, among other locations.

Think & Drink – “A group for people who want to explore the big questions of our time without taking themselves too seriously!” Mainly this group meets for Trivia nights at the Aloft Syracuse Inner Harbor and anyone is welcome to join at any time.

Syracuse On-On-Dog-A Hash House – “A drinking group with a running problem,” these folks get together for a run and a beer on Monday nights and Saturday afternoons, depending on the time of year, in and around the Syracuse area. Runs are non-competitive, co-ed, and you must be 21 Years old or over to join. In addition to a MeetUp group, they also have a website: www.soh4.com.

Taking a beer class or attending a more formalized meeting with brewing experts are both other ways to step-up your beer knowledge and know-how, and there are many to choose from!

IBU is a brewery located just off of Route 11 in North Syracuse that specializes in many different classes catered to many different levels of brew enthusiasts. IBU actually stands for Immersive Brewers University, and prides itself on being a “teaching brewery.” (They also brew some damn good beer too!) Their website, www.ibubrewing.com, boasts a lengthy list of different classes that they offer including an Intro to Beer Tasting for beginners and Homebrewing 101 for folks interesting in learning to brew their own beer, to more advanced classes including Recipe Development, and Water Chemistry. Another class that is offered for anyone, at any level, is the “Brewer for a Day” class, which literally runs from 10am to 5pm. You’ll spend an entire day being hands-on with the brewers during one of their actual brewing days, gaining behind the scenes knowledge and experiencing every step in the brewing process along the way through hearing, smelling, seeing and tasting, from beginning to end. The cost for the day is $100 per person or $175 per couple and includes lunch, pints and/or flights, and a half-gallon of the finished beer product when it’s finished fermenting and ready for consumption.

The Salt City Brew Club (SCBC) is “an organization of Home Brewers and beer aficionados in the general Syracuse area” who’s purpose is to “share ideas, recipes, techniques, and stories all in the effort of helping each member in brewing his or her own best beer.” Members typically meet each second Tuesday of the month at 7pm at IBU Brewing. Meetings are structured and have three parts consisting of a Lecture/Discussion, the Style of the Month, and a Tasting. Further detailed information about the meetings can be found on their website at www.saltcitybrew.org. SCBC membership information can also be located there as well.

If you’re all-in on forging a career in the craft beer industry, you might want to pursue formal education in order to make that leap, and look no further than SUNY Morrisville, located nearby in Morrisville, NY. The college has a brand-spanking-new and still-evolving brewing curriculum and boasts a Brewing Institute program at the Copper Turret Restaurant & Brewhouse. This new Bachelor’s degree program concentrates in the areas of brewing science and technology, agricultural marketing, and food science. The curriculum includes 10 brewing courses, 4 practicum classes, several other courses involved in the brewing process and science of brewing and at the very end, students will pursue an internship for an entire semester at a brewery.

Just last year, in 2018, SUNY Morrisville was named the Best Beer-Brewing College in North America at the U.S. Open College Beer Championship! During this event, SUNY Morrisville agricultural business development BBA students Mary Cosenza, of Colden, New York, and Josh Alley, of Liverpool, New York, earned a gold medal for their Bavarian German-Style Pilsner named “The Crop,” a silver medal for their Madison County Hopped IPA, “The Arsenal,” and a bronze for “Belgian Draft Horse,” a Belgian-style Tripel. SUNY Morrisville and their program directors pride themselves as an agricultural college by using 90-100% of malts and hops grown directly in Madison County, where the college is located, to produce these award-winning beers.

Other semi-local colleges and universities that offer brewing and brewing-related degrees and certificates include: Schenectady County Community College, Niagara County Community College, Erie County Community College, SUNY Cobleskill, Hartwick College Center for Craft Food & Beverage, The Culinary Institute of America: Hyde Park, Cornell University, & Paul Smith’s College.

Whether it be on the small scale or at a grandiose level, learning about craft beer and brewing has never been easier to reach out, grab, and make your own. Cheers to beer education!

Kristin Merritt
Just a brief introduction that I’ve joined the Table Hopping crew as your new craft-brew-loving gal who will be bringing you your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope that I can give a few recommendations for your grocery lists, event suggestions and local hotspots for an afternoon out with friends or planning a date, and if not for nothing, perhaps enlighten you with some random knowledge that you can amaze your teammates with at trivia night – or at least give you and your pals a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! I have some mighty large shoes to fill that my friend and fellow Syracuse Women of Craft Beer member (& founder), Gloria Rakowsky, left for me, but I hope that my style (and shenanigans) will keep all y’all coming back for more each month. Cheers!