New craft brew craze sends aspirants to Old World

Damon Scott, lead brewer at Durango Brewing Co., went to Scotland last year to earn the equivalent of a master’s degree in brewing. As craft brewing has gained popularity, brewers go beyond tradition and use such things like wine and whiskey barrels to make beer. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Damon Scott, lead brewer at Durango Brewing Co., went to Scotland last year to earn the equivalent of a master’s degree in brewing. As craft brewing has gained popularity, brewers go beyond tradition and use such things like wine and whiskey barrels to make beer.

Aficionados making beer out of their house created the craft brew industry, but now they’re leaving the country to get ahead in an increasingly competitive field.

Jeff Albarella, 35, credited training in Germany with helping him become the head brewer at Carver Brewing Co.

Because it led to his diploma in world brewing from the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, Albarella said he was able to get his “résumé in a different stack.”

Previously, “I was a home brewer. Like a lot of people who get their start in craft brewing, they start out in their garage,” he said.

Albarella had wanted to pursue his passion as a career after overseeing manufacturing at a plant in Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

“I had a good nonbrewing professional experience, but there was no brewery in my hometown where I could go wash kegs for free and break in that way,” he said.

Campbell Morrissy said that to get his break at Durango Brewing Co., he “worked three days a week unpaid just to get my foot in the door. I did that for two months. I loved it. I was just so excited to be there and eager to get into the industry, I couldn’t be happier. Eventually, I got hired onto a full-time paid position.”

To further his training, Morrissy, 25, will be pursuing the equivalent of a master’s degree in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, this fall. The program is a year long.

Morrissy loves craft brewing because it’s still a small community making an “artisan product,” but said the down side is that it “is a competitive and odd industry to get into. There’s no traditional path. Craft brewing is such a new development. For every brewer, there’s a million different stories for how they got into it.”

By going to Scotland, Morrissy will be following the footsteps of Damon Scott, 28, who became the lead brewer at Durango Brewing after completing the same graduate degree at Heriot-Watt.

Both Damon and Morrissy appreciate the school for its graduate-level education, but Heriot-Watt’s location was a factor, too.

“The idea of studying in Edinburgh, Scotland, for a year was pretty appealing, regardless of the field,” Morrissy said. “It’s a great beer and Scotch city. I’ll have to go out and do a lot of research.”

At the cost of $20,000 for tuition, it is cheaper than going to most law schools or graduate schools in America, said Morrissy, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Colorado,Boulder.

Albarella also appreciated “the cultural immersion” abroad.

“You can buy a German beer (in the United States), but it’s nothing like having a German beer in Germany,” Albarella said.

“The cool thing about Europe is that every town has a unique beer culture, with a specific style of beer,” he said.

Travel is always good for sparking the imagination, of course. North America and Europe seem to feed off each other’s creativity, brewers said.

“In the beginning, U.S. craft brewing really looked to Europe for inspiration for more flavorful styles of brew that were not available anymore (in the United States),” Scott said. “That has been turned around now where the U.S. craft brewer has taken the reins with all kinds of funky styles of beer. So European brewers have seen that happen and are taking a lesson.

“Edinburgh has lost its status as one of the great brewing capitals of the world, but the local craft brewing scene (there) is starting to pick up some momentum,” Scott said.

Craft brewing in the United States has been growing rapidly. The BrewersAssociation, a trade group based in Boulder, has a list of 1,250 new brew pubs and micro-breweries planning to open within the next few years.

“What we have seen in the last 12 months is a little over 350 openings, that’s a lot of openings in a year,” said Paul Gatza, the association director.

But breweries still need qualified workers, said Matt Vincent, vice president of Ska Brewing Co. Experience as a home brewer is not always enough since the “theory might be the same, but the process is different,” he said.

Brewers said they choose to go abroad for their training because educational opportunities are limited in the United States with a few exceptions such as the Siebel Institute, the American Brewers Guild and University of California at Davis.

“With so many breweries opening, I do wonder if the education system is getting enough brewers out there,” Gatza said. “We are beginning to see local community colleges offering education, but those (courses) seem to come and go.”

The challenge for the industry will be maintaining quality as its customer base becomes more sophisticated, Albarella said.

“The brewery internship, that infrastructure is something that’s really going to need to be developed over the next five to 10 years if we want to continue to grow as an industry and keep the quality up,” he said.

Albarella said he has wondered: “‘Can I open my own brewery where I only employ students?’ I can get people to pay me to work for me. I push them out the door in a year and they’re qualified. I can sell the beer we make.”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

Damon Scott, lead brewer at Durango Brewing Co., uses a flashlight to show the color of a dark lager beer while filling a wine barrel at the brewery on Main Avenue. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Damon Scott, lead brewer at Durango Brewing Co., uses a flashlight to show the color of a dark lager beer while filling a wine barrel at the brewery on Main Avenue.

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