Andrew Takes Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin, may never be the same.
We sent Brewer Andrew Ewing to the University of Wisconsin for a two-week crash course in… well… everything.
“We’re doing everything from dry hopping to CIPing (cleaning-in-place),” he tells us. “Literally everything is being covered.”
The Brewing and Malting Science course by the Master Brewers Association of the Americas takes fifty students from all levels of brewing backgrounds through the technical side of the brewing and malting process.
“They’re from allllll different scales of breweries,” Andrew tells us, “from 5-barrel brew systems that do 2,000 barrels a year, to 2 million-barrel-a-year breweries. I’m one of maybe ten people that have a lot of practical experience, but maybe not a lot of education. There’s a lady right down from me who’s a head brewer at a small place like ours, but she’s also a PhD in microbiology.”
There are people in the class from Big Brew, engineers, maltsters from Canada, quality assurance technicians, as well as a handful of homebrewers who just wanted to get a broader base of knowledge, all tucked into the Lowell Conference Center on the campus of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
“A lot of really cool people,” Andrew says. “A lot of diversity.”
Andrew’s attending seminars with names like “Malting Barley: Origins, Production, and Quality,” “Hop Production: Harvest, Processing, and Pelleting,” and “From Grain to Wort: Wort Boiling, Whirlpool, and Cooling/Aeration.”
We caught up with him about halfway through his second week, and it seemed like the pace of the seminars were really starting to catch up with him. Andrew’s a smart guy, but a week-and-a-half of metabolization rates and multivariable formulae is going to knock anyone on their ass.
“What I’m getting out of it is enzymatic reactions and how the yeast is metabolizing the different sugars,” he says. “There’s a lot of real deep science. It’s a whirlwind.
“Somebody will be up there talking for four hours — like real deep shit — and then it’ll be like, ‘Alright. Five-minute break, then we’re gonna do another four hours of something completely different. It’s a bombardment.”
The course overview on the website says, “Students entering the class should have a greater-than-basic understanding of high school level mathematics, a basic understanding of general chemistry, organic chemistry, and microbiology, and a willingness to learn and engage.”
Andrew’s got that last part down. And while he’s got a lot of hands-on knowledge of brewing science, there was a lot he didn’t know.
“As far as the microbiology, I definitely was not up-to-speed,” he laughs. “Not ashamed to say that.”
Andrew had a good knowledge of what the end results were in brewing processes, but he’s learning what the chemical reactions were to cause that end result.
“I feel like I have a good base of what I didn’t know was going on,” he laughs. “Going in, I kinda knew what I didn’t know.”
A lot of the upper-level science is for much, much larger operations, anyway.
“They’ll be like, ‘Oh, you have to take this sample, but the machine costs half-a-million dollars.’”
As one might imagine, a two-week crash course doesn’t really give the instructors much time to really get into the nitty-gritty of organic chemistry.
Suffice it to say, Andrew’s learning a lot. Like… a lot. But he’s getting as much from his other classmates as he is his teachers. He’s learning a lot from them about operational procedures, safety procedures, and other generalities, although not necessarily during class time.
“They have this hospitality room that has about 200 cases of beer,” he says, “and, essentially, after class, everyone goes right over there and drinks and talks and hangs out all night. That’s what I’m getting a lot of joy out of, per se.”
Andrew brought along a case of IPA, a case of Coastal Evacuation, and two bottles each of Higbee, Phantom Crew, and The Topsail.
“Everybody’s loving it,” he says. “All of my beer’s gone. Every last drop. I didn’t even drink any of it.”
“I only brought two bottles,” Andrew says, “and he asked if he could have one. So, I said, ‘Alright, Fred, I’ve only got two, but I’ll give you this one… but don’t forget me when you’re judging at GABF next year.’
“He ended up going up to his room and drinking it by himself! That’s how much he loved it!”
IPA’s been a huge hit. Andrew reports that everyone who’s tasted it has told him how much they love it.
“Unanimous,” he says.
Andrew’s time in Wisconsin hasn’t been all incomprehensible equations and PhD-level microbiology. On his Sunday off, he was able to head over to Milwaukee with a fellow student to visit one of his best friends from childhood.
“I took the Pabst Blue Ribbon tour of their old, abandoned brewery,” he says, “and went to a couple of local craft breweries.”
He hasn’t had the chance to really explore Madison as he’s exhausted after his long days, but he reports that the campus is gorgeous.
“It’s a beautiful city,” he says, “and we’re right on this big-ass lake, and there’s a cool-ass nature trail that goes around the whole lake, and every day I walk two, three miles during lunch.”
Sounds like Andrew’s having a great time and learning a lot. When we asked if there was anything else we should know….
“I can send you a video of me riding a mechanical bull.”
Yes. Yes, Andrew. Yes. Please send along a video of your surfboard-wielding, bike-riding, curly-haired self riding a mechanical bull. Yes. Of course, our readers want to see that.
(Technical difficulties precluded us from getting the video from Andrew by press time, but we promise to get it to you as soon as humanly possible!)