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Interns brew beer for course credit

Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 09:02

College and beer are culturally inseparable. Although the two are often viewed as competing interests, USF St. Petersburg (USFSP) has formed a partnership with a local brewery for students.  

At Three Daughters Brewery, student interns help brew beer for school credit. The students work in a laboratory only a few yards away from the bar where the beer is ultimately enjoyed.

It began when USFSP College of Arts and Sciences Dean Frank Biafora and Three Daughters Brewing owner Mike Harting asked Jim Leonard, a USFSP chemistry professor, to act as an adviser to the brew master of his local St. Pete Brewery. 

“They needed someone to run the lab,” Leonard said. “Brewing all begins with the microbiology.”

Though Leonard volunteers at Three Daughters as a “hobby,” he said he will be involved with other breweries as a member of the American Society of Brewing Chemists. 

“It’s terrific,” he said. “It’s like owning my own lab without paying for it.”

After agreeing to assist Three Daughters Brewing, Leonard proposed an accredited internship at the brewery. 

Three USFSP students were accepted last semester.

Jessy Weber, a senior majoring in biology and one of the interns, assures the quality of each batch of beer is consistent to the brewery’s standards. 

“It’s a college student’s dream to be working with beer,” she said.

Before the brew master concocts the beer in the one-story-tall kettles that fill half a warehouse, the ingredients are examined under a microscope in a small laboratory where the interns work. 

“There’s a lot of science,” Weber said. “The water, grain, yeast and hops are the four main ingredients, and biology has a big part in making beer.”

The interns confirm levels of yeast, the living microorganisms that influence the taste and alcohol content of beer, are substantial and healthy.  They also test the bacteria and acidity levels of the water. 

“It’s almost a necessity for breweries to have a lab now,” she said. “We’re part of the whole process.”

Weber said she was hesitant when her professor suggested the internship, but said she is glad she didn’t pass up the opportunity. 

Weber began interning at the brewery one month before the doors opened to the public and distributers.

“I never thought I would use what I learned from some of my biology classes,” she said. “It’s crazy that I’m using what I learned for this purpose.”

Weber declared her major with the intent of pursuing a career in physical therapy. She said she is glad to have found an alternative option, although she still wants to become a physical therapist.

Leonard said chemists are in increasingly high demand, especially in St. Petersburg where breweries are frequently opening.

For brewers looking to distinguish their beer, consistency is essential for a distinct trademark taste, he said.

“It’s like cooking,” he said. “These guys are chefs and we’re the scientists.”

The science theory behind beer is a fairly modern concept, he said.  Before yeast was discovered in the late 19th century, the craft of beer was interwoven with tradition and mysticism.

“They used to think that beer was this magic thing that happened,” Leonard said. “In the old days, brewers would have a stick that would be passed along from generation to generation. Without knowing, they were transferring yeast from one batch to the other.”

Although scientific quality assurance is a modern concept, Leonard said beer was historically considered sanitary. Today, it is known that the brewing process kills pathogens and hops possess antibiotic properties.

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