USFSP teaches the science of beer

Intern Desiree Chubb works hands-on in a brewing lab to test each batch of beer at 3 Daughters Brewing, part of a new program being developed by USF St.Pete. ORACLE PHOTO/CHRISTOPHER COLLIER

College students and beer have historically worked well together, but USF St. Pete is taking a new approach to get students working with beer.

As breweries continue to pop up around Tampa Bay and St. Pete, the USFSP College of Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with 3 Daughters Brewing, have developed a program for people aged 21 and over, that will give its participants the tools they need to join the growing craft beer industry in Florida.

According to a report released by the University of Florida and sponsored by the Florida Brewer’s Guild, the total economic impact of craft beer brewing in Florida was $301 million in 2012, $432 million in 2013 and is expected to increase to $2.5 billion by the end of the year. The total amount of new jobs to be created is expected to surpass 40,000 positions this year. 

The report said the potential growth for the craft brewing industry in Florida is “immense.”

In order to get into the lucrative business and master the brewing process beyond the one-off use of a simple brewing kit, USFSP Dean Frank Biafora said one has to know the science. Quality assurance is what makes or breaks a brewery – if a particular beer isn’t consistent the consumer won’t buy it. 

The science of brewing, therefore, is the linchpin in the program.

“If you cannot do the science, you will not succeed in this program,” Biafora said. 

The program, offered for $5,000, is available to nearly anyone who has passed a college level math or chemistry course.

The program is taken over the course of three months and consists of an online lesson plan containing 10 modules in the first month, leading to an on-site internship that will be the final stage of the program. Though the program is not yet for course credit, and thus can’t be paid for by financial aid or Florida Pre-Paid, USFSP is looking into developing an accredited program in the future if this nascent program gathers enough interest and participants.

“We wanted to first get this off the ground,” Biafora said. “The faculty that are hosting this program – that are teaching in this program – are master brewers and chemists … distributors, business owners and so they don’t all have Ph.D.s.”

Biafora stressed the importance of accreditation concerning a possible fermentation science program. Without a full staff of academically qualified individuals to meet accreditation standards, hosting a program like this one as an official credit-bearing curriculum would be impossible.  

“You might not have enough faculty with Ph.D.s or master’s degrees to be able to pull something off like this,” he said. “So, in time, we will be able to grow that because the interest is tremendous. But today, we can launch this without having to address that.”  

Currently, the university is developing a cohort of 20 participants for the preliminary trial of the program. According to Biafora, those participants will work together as a team for the time they are in the program. They will work together to learn the history of beer and brewing, how ingredients interact with each other, as well as other sides of the industry such as the business, retail, quality assurance and analysis.

“As part of the hands-on experience in one of the breweries who signed up to do this, students will also have a mandatory rotation through a quality assurance science laboratory … and that’s what makes us different,” Biafora said. “It’s hands-on training in a science laboratory for quality assurance and hands-on training in the brewery itself.”

Amanda Milford and Desiree Chubb are two of the current interns at 3 Daughters Brewing. Milford recently graduated with a bachelor’s in biology from USFSP and Chubb, quality assurance manager for 3 Daughters, is also a biotechnology major at State College of Florida. 

According to Chubb, water is the most important ingredient in beer and any impurities in the water can change everything from the texture and bitterness to the overall quality of the beer itself.

“When we’re doing water chemistry we look for alkalinity and hardness because we do need specific chemicals in our water for the brewing process,” Chubb said. “We also have a carbon filter which we use to wash our kegs and keep out contaminants. That’s really important because we don’t want any kind of contaminants in our keg areas so we don’t have any contamination when we put our beer out to the public.” 

The St. Petersburg water the brewery uses goes through several rounds of analysis. Every beer begins as a combination of water, a grain mash and hops that ferment in stills until the final product has been canned. 

“Since we have a canning line, it’s really important that we test how much oxygen is in our cans,” Milford said. “Where oxygen is also important in making the beer, if it’s in the can for long periods of time it will degrade the beer. So that’s why (canned) beer has about a three-month shelf life.” 

According to Chubb, labs such as these are uncommon in smaller breweries, however for larger so-called macro-breweries like Budweiser and Yuengling, there are several. 

Working in the lab, interns are able to detect any irregularities with the brew. Through regular communication between the lab and the brewers, the brewery staff decides if a batch is of poor quality and requires a change.

As an adjunct chemistry professor at USFSP, Jim Leonard was approached by Biafora to arrange a lunch meeting between Leonard and owner of 3 Daughters Brewing, Mike Harting.

“Mike told me … he’d had an inquiry to the university he said ‘I’m building a brewery and I’d like to have a lab as part of that process but I don’t know much about the lab, what the lab would do or what kind of equipment I need’ so he asked me if I would help out and I said sure,” Leonard said. “I wasn’t involved with brewing at the time but I did some research for them. That was about two years ago and now we have probably one of the best quality assurance labs in the area.” 

From his meeting with Harting, Leonard went about establishing a functioning lab. Leonard who is retired and now enjoys giving tours of the brewery, decided that the project would do well with up-and-coming students from USFSP and elsewhere.