Beer drinking is a popular extracurricular at most colleges, but the study of brewing is filling classroom seats at Florida International University.
Professor Barry Gumps brewing-science course has expanded from a summer-only offering in 2007 to one that merits two sections each semester.
Gump and teaching assistant Matthew Weintraub have begun offering homebrew workshops to the public at FIUs Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management in North Miami. And theyre awaiting completion of a high-end Brewing Sciences Laboratory that will further distinguish the school as South Floridas leader in beer education.
Outside the classroom, current and former FIU students are making a splash in the local beer scene through their homebrew club, B.R.E.W. (Biscaynes Renowned Engineers of Wort) FIU. Weintraub, 23, is president, and fellow hospitality senior Zhilong Yang, 24, is vice president.
The group is putting on its first Biscayne Brewers Bash on Sunday. The event will feature about 40 beers from 15 local and regional breweries, including Coral Gables Titanic brewpub and Tampas hot Cigar City Brewery, as well as the club members homebrew.
Were going to make some Apple Jack Ale; that was a big hit at Key West Brewfest in August, Yang said of their cinnamon- and vanilla-spiked beer.
B.R.E.W. FIU also will have a presence at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February. The group will brew 40 gallons of beer 10 each of four styles to serve at a tasting event.
The festival has always had wine tastings, said Mike Hampton, dean of the Chaplin School. So its a very exciting opportunity for us that theyve added a beer tasting and theyll be using beer that B.R.E.W. FIU is producing.
The festivals success has played a major role in the development of FIUs beer programs. The school has received $17 million from the festival and its host, Miami-based Southern Wine & Spirits, in the past 11 years. Of that, $6 million is going toward the new Brewing Sciences Laboratory and an adjoining teaching restaurant.
Southern and the festival have given us resources to transform our programs in ways we never would have thought possible, Hampton said.
The lab and restaurant will be key enhancements to the top-rated education that students receive at the Chaplin School, said Lee Brian Schrager, the festivals founding director and a Southern Wine vice president.
The restaurant, which will seat up to 160 people and include a two-story wine tower and 1,500-square-foot kitchen, will have four beer taps dedicated to brews made by FIU students.
I envision being able to say to one of my advanced students, OK, your job this semester is to make sure the restaurant always has beer and that its always good, Gump said.
When the lab opens, probably in the spring, it will have three state-of-the-art brewing systems capable of quadrupling the amount of beer the school can produce. The brewing equipment and other bells and whistles have been picked out.
Itll be like Christmas when that stuff arrives and we move in to the new lab, said Yang.
Well be going from a basic homebrew setup, using an old kitchen stove thats on its last legs, to having everything we could ever want, Weintraub added.
Although the brewing capacity will significantly increase when the Brewing Sciences Laboratory opens next year, Hampton stressed that it will be a a teaching facility, not designed for commercial production.
But FIU is on track to make lots more beer and for the first time wine. The school has paperwork signed on a production brewery and production winery for its Biscayne Bay Campus, Gump said. Designed to be showpieces, with big ground-level windows, the facilities could be up and running in about five years, he said.
Gump, who was a longtime enology professor at California State University in Fresno, said hes enjoying contributing to South Floridas budding beer culture.
Teaching winemaking in California is not very unique, he said. But teaching beer brewing in South Florida? No one else is doing that, and its been an absolute hoot.
Former Miami Herald staff writer Evan S. Benn is the food critic and beer columnist for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com.