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Student Focus

Way Beyond Wine: New Beer and Distillation Courses in CALS

Article by Marin Cherry
Photos by Robyn Wishna

Cornell students interested in distillation and brewing will now have two new courses to pick from.

Student Focus
Students from the new VIEN 4360 distillation laboratory during its offering in Spring 2016.

Offered by the Viticulture and Enology (VIEN) program each spring semester, VIEN 4310: Science and Technology of Beer Laboratory and VIEN 4360: Distillation Principles and Practices Laboratory are the latest courses to reflect the growing distillation and brewing trends.

Dwayne Bershaw, lecturer in the Department of Food Sciences, teaches both courses which utilize a lecture and laboratory sessions.  Through this format, Bershaw can share his diverse experience with beverage making and provide students with an in-depth understanding of these crafts within one semester.

According to Bershaw, these courses are designed to fulfill two teaching objectives:  First, a general overview of brewing and distilled spirits for non-science majors (how and why these beverages smell and taste unique), and second, practical laboratory experience to challenge and develop sensory skills for students.

Students Emily Oetting and Daniel Friedenberg work with instructor Dwayne Bershaw to begin a beer mash destined for distillation into whiskey.

Lectures include analysis of raw materials and production, sampling products to develop a tasting protocol, and how to develop a deeper understanding of sensory abilities. 

“The lecture content involves a journey from raw materials through the various processing options to arrive at the finished product,” said Bershaw.

Laboratory sessions highlight standard production methods, enabling students to learn these processes firsthand with brewing and distilling equipment in the new student winery in Stocking Hall.  This also teaches students the wide range of raw materials and process options available to producers.

 “Students develop not only an understanding of the underlying chemical, microbiological, and engineering principles involved in the production of these beverages, but also an appreciation for the practical skill required to obtain consistent, high quality products,” said Bershaw.

Elizabeth Kenerly and Patrick Commane watch for the first distillate to start flowing at the beginning of a distillation run on the new Carl stills in the Cornell Teaching Winery.

Throughout this semester, students have learned about and produced a range of beverages including distilling brandy, rum, as well as several ales and lager beers in lab sessions.

In addition to lecture and lab, guest lecturers share real world experience in developing, marketing, and selling these products.  So far, the general manager of the Saranac brand brewery and a master blender from the Hiram Walker distillery in Ontario have visited and shared their personal experiences with students.

The courses have received positive feedback from their first students this spring.  “Our students are very entrepreneurial and with significant growth in the craft beverage space I think some can imagine a career for themselves in this industry,” said Bershaw.

Adam Friedlander prepares to drain sweet beer wort from the cooked grain mash.

Across the United States, cooking and travel shows have heightened the profile of cocktail culture and craft beer and spirits.  Here in New York, the craft brewing and distilling industries have seen tremendous growth over the past decade.  While brewing and distilling may seem different than viticulture and enology, Bershaw and other VIEN faculty see an opportunity to diversify classes.  

“The similarities in the production of these products: yeast and fermentation, sanitation and quality control, etc., make teaching brewing and distilling a logical extension of our winemaking curriculum,” said Bershaw.  “And finally a key reason to include these courses is that students are asking for them and are very interested in the topic.”

Marin Cherry is an undergraduate program coordinator for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Food Science.