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VCU, Richmond-area breweries offer students a firsthand look at the craft beer industry

Stone Brewing employee Charlotte Jones leads students in the Introduction to Craft Beer class on ...
Stone Brewing employee Charlotte Jones leads students in the Introduction to Craft Beer class on a tour of the brewery.
Photos by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs

At Stone Brewing Richmond, adult learners in Virginia Commonwealth University’s new “Introduction to Craft Beer” class are tasting samples of various craft brews, including “Give Me Stout or Give Me Death,” a collaboration between Stone, Ardent Craft Ales, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“Who’s getting some of the flavors here? Chocolate? Coffee? A little burnt texture to it maybe?” asks course instructor and local beer author Lee Graves. “Did you like it?”

Nearly all of the students raised their hands. One gave Graves two thumbs up. Another praised its “toast” notes.

Juliellen Sarver, Stone's community relations manager, pours tasting samples for the class' adult learners.
Juliellen Sarver, Stone's community relations manager, pours tasting samples for the class' adult learners.

“This is a very complex beer to make,” Graves explained. “You’ve got a heck of a grain build. You have to balance it. You’ve got blackberries and raspberries. Plus, you’ve got your hops going on in there. So you have this really complex formula you want to dial in.”

Juliellen Sarver, Stone’s community relations manager, adds that “Give Me Stout” incorporates Virginia-grown malt, hops and fruit.

“Stouts generally age well,” she said. “We brewed this one back in December and it’s just gotten better and better. And it’ll be good in December of this year too.”

The students — all of whom are over 21 — are participating in the inaugural course of the VCU Office of Continuing and Professional Education’s new noncredit Craft Beer Certificate of Completion Program, which will provide enthusiasts and brewing industry professionals with an in-depth knowledge of craft beer.

The program — a collaboration between the Office of Continuing and Professional Education, the School of Engineering and the Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences — will feature two certificate of completion tracks: the Business of Craft Beer and the Craft Brewer Certificate, the latter of which will focus on preparation for industry credentialing. A packaging course and internship opportunities with Central Virginia-area breweries will also be available as part of the program.

Brian Kirkpatrick, a certified public accountant, is among the students taking the introductory class.

“I lived in Washington state, where we had like eight breweries within walking distance, and that got me really interested in the craft brewing industry,” he said. “And then coming back to Richmond after 10 years and seeing how much the craft brewing industry has just exploded here, I’ve really taken an interest.”

As an accountant, Kirkpatrick said, he is particularly interested in learning about the business side of craft brewing.

“I’d be interested in maybe working with craft brewers,” he said. “This seemed like the perfect class because it can help me figure out why I like what I like, and then understand the science behind it as well and maybe a little about the business side.”

Also in the class are married couple Josh Stolberg and Candi Alvarado. Stolberg runs a business, RVA CapWorks, that uses bottle caps to create works of art, signage, coasters and more.

Josh Stolberg and Candi Alvarado taste Stone beer and record their impressions as part of the introductory class.
Josh Stolberg and Candi Alvarado taste Stone beer and record their impressions as part of the introductory class.

“I have a business that’s on the periphery of the beer industry — I make things out of bottle caps — so I’m just trying to do this for personal enrichment and to appreciate beer more,” he said. “The analogy I use is that I used to play baseball, so I enjoy watching baseball more than any other sport. So if I can learn more about beer, than hopefully I’ll appreciate and enjoy it more.”

Alvarado, meanwhile, said she is interested in learning more about the science that goes into craft brewing. “I just wanted to learn more about beer in general and the brewing process,” she said. “I’m interested in the laboratory aspects of brewing.”

Yet another student, Nicholas Morning, is interested in pursuing a career in Richmond’s craft beer industry.

“I’m interested in getting knowledge about beer. How is it made? How do they create these flavors and textures? How is the industry growing?” he said. “I want to start from the bottom and work my way up.”

The introductory course, which launched Wednesday, is being taught by Graves, who wrote a weekly column about beer that started in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and went on to be syndicated by Tribune Media Services. He is also the author of two books about beer — “Charlottesville Beer: Brewing in Jefferson’s Shadow” and “Richmond Beer: A History of Brewing in the River City” — and is working on a third book about Virginia’s beer industry.

Lee Graves, a Richmond beer author, is teaching the introductory class, which is part of the VCU Office of Continuing and Professional Education’s new noncredit Craft Beer Certificate of Completion Program.
Lee Graves, a Richmond beer author, is teaching the introductory class, which is part of the VCU Office of Continuing and Professional Education’s new noncredit Craft Beer Certificate of Completion Program.

Graves’ goal in teaching the course, he said, is to give the students a broad overview of the many facets of beer, including its history, the brewing process, ingredients, different styles and much more, including tastings.

“We’re going to be looking at the guidelines for various styles — you know, what makes an IPA different from a stout?” he said. “And we’ll be talking about the history of some of those styles, and about the craft breweries that are now in Richmond and beyond in Virginia.”

Each of the introductory classes is being taught at a local brewery. Last Wednesday’s class was held at Stone, while this week’s will be held at Triple Crossing Brewing Co. in Fulton.

“It gives a kind of hands-on flavor to the class,” Graves said. “People will be able to see barrels and brew tanks and smell the process. They’ll be surrounded by folks who are actually getting beer and tasting beer. So that will create an environment much more conducive to learning and experiencing just the world of craft beer — as opposed to sitting in the classroom and listening to me yak.”

The course and VCU’s noncredit Craft Beer Certificate of Completion Program come as the craft beer industry is rapidly expanding in Richmond and across Virginia.

With more than 200 breweries in Virginia and nearly 30 in the Richmond area, Graves says he is often asked if he thinks the craft beer industry is experiencing a bubble. He thinks it isn’t, and instead thinks craft beer is here to stay.

“People say, ‘Is this going to peter out?’” he said. “Actually, I think, we’re witnessing a cultural shift when it comes to beer. You now have these tasting rooms that are family destinations. You have kids that are watching responsible adult consumption. You have just a vast diversity of styles and creativity. And, you know, once you go craft you never go back.”

Stone Brewing employee Charlotte Jones gives the students a behind-the-scenes look at Stone's facility in Fulton.
Stone Brewing employee Charlotte Jones gives the students a behind-the-scenes look at Stone's facility in Fulton.

 

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