It’s back-to-school season, and if you’ve been wanting to learn more about the craft brewing industry it might be the perfect time to enroll in Portland State University’s Business of Craft Brewing program, which began in 2013. Director Mellie Pullman teaches two classes and has a wealth of knowledge as brewmaster and co-owner of Utah’s first brewery and from her experience as associate professor in PSU’s business department. Photo courtesy of Portland State University
By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Remember those days growing up when summer wouldn’t even be half over and you’d be bombarded with the dreadful “Back to School” advertisements reminding you that classes were just around the corner?
Now imagine if your lesson plans took place in a virtual brewery. Or cidery. Or distillery.
With Portland State University’s Business of Craft Brewing program, your fun doesn’t have to come to a screeching halt when summer is over.
In fact, you might actually enjoy yourself. How do I know? I took the introductory class earlier this year — and, honestly, I can’t remember ever having this much fun in school (sorry Ms. Miller).
But don’t just take my word for it. Benjamin Morgan completed the program last summer before getting promoted to the marketing department at Firestone Walker Brewing Co. By April, he was approached by Anheuser-Busch for a job offer in Portland as a trade activation manager.
“The program is awesome for anybody looking to learn more about the industry. It's great for those who just need a kick in the ass to get their own project started and/or a better understanding of what it takes to be a part of the industry. The resources, quality of knowledge and experience of the instructors are the best out there, hands down.”
While a career with A-B InBev may not be the first thing that comes to mind when signing up for the Business of Craft Brewing, the program is actually quite diverse.
Since the program began in fall 2013, around 900 people have been enrolled in the various courses. Some people take four or five courses (earning the certificate and beyond) while some only take one or two courses, depending on their needs.
But the program isn’t just for Oregon beer lovers — or even beer lovers at all. Although beer is the No. 1 focus of students, about half as many students focus on cider. Spirits are third, with mead and kombucha rounding out the fourth.
According to program director Mellie Pullman, there was a heavy Northwest student base in the beginning, but now only about one-third of those enrolled are from Oregon and Washington. The other two-thirds of students come from all over the world. Thirty-seven states are represented, as well as Puerto Rico, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, U.K. and Africa (where there are Peace Corps and aid workers preparing for U.S. return).
“It's great to have people sharing ideas of where they think there are business opportunities. Also, people learn what's going on in different states and countries. Often they meet people from their own state and then get together with each other to see if they want to work together or just help each other in their own efforts,” Pullman said.
Pullman, who currently teaches both the basic business class and the business management class, has a wealth of knowledge. She is not only an associate professor of operations management in the PSU School of Business, but also was brewmaster and co-owner of Utah’s first brewery, Wasatch Brewery (along with many other accolades). As the first female brewmaster in modern American history, I’m sure Pullman is undoubtedly pleased that women make up 30-40 percent of the classes, with there even being a full scholarship awarded once a year by Teri Fahrendorf’s Pink Boots Society.
In addition to Pink Boots, there is also a full scholarship awarded each year for one active or veteran military personnel, with more scholarships being added as the program moves forward.
Just like there is no shortage of diversity among students, the instructors and courses themselves offer a nice variety that evolves from year to year.
In order to complete the program and earn the certificate (as well as an investor-ready business plan), a student needs to take four required courses: the basic business class and the business management class and then two electives of their choice (which expand and get upgraded every year).
Bryan Shull of Trap Door Brewing in Vancouver, Wash., is an example of a student who didn’t need to complete the program, but said that taking the first two courses was enough to get his business plan in shape for bank financing. Shull is not a brewer, but was in need of better business information to decide if he even wanted to open a brewery. The program must have done the trick, because Trap Door Brewing will be opening its doors later this fall.
When it comes to starting up a brewery, Shull claims the program has helped him in “every way,” from cost projections, profit and losses, equipment sizing, vendor selection, business plan data to networking. He even plans to take the strategic craft beverage marketing class this winter.
Shull’s words of sage advice? “Stay on task, do not get behind EVER. This is a fast-paced course with volumes of information that build on previous weeks’ work. Getting behind is a recipe for wasted time and money.”
While this is a fully online program that requires a great deal of self-motivation, don’t let that deter you. There are plenty of attention-grabbing field videos that feature interviews with industry professionals working in their element, weekly live sessions with guest speakers from all over the country, and as I may have mentioned, a uniquely awesome virtual brewery experience.
“I still keep in contact with instructors, guest lecturers and fellow students today. The program is such that you get what you put into it, and it's worth every penny to give it your all,” Morgan concluded.
If you’re looking to expand your knowledge about the craft brewing industry, look into the Business of Craft Brewing. I promise you won’t be singing any Alice Cooper songs when “School’s Out” for summer.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.