Almost a decade ago, the idea of teaching beer as a science was untapped at Florida International University.
In 2007, the brew science course was only an elective in the university’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and had about three students.
Now, there are multiple courses dedicated to the science and chemistry of making craft brews and the educational component of making strong stouts and potent porters will be celebrated with the North Miami Brewfest. The event will take place all day Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Chaplin School on the FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus, 3000 NE 151st St.
The festival will feature more than 30 local and state breweries like Cigar City Brewing, J. Wakefield Brewing, Funky Buddha Brewery, Tampa Bay Brewing Co. and more. This will be the fifth year of the festival and the first year that the host city will sponsor the event, which was previously known as the South Florida Brewfest.
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North Miami Mayor Smith Joseph initially approached representatives from the school about the idea of getting the city more involved, and in September the city council officially approved a sponsorship of about $150,000.
Professor Barry Gump, a chemist who taught for years at California State University in Fresno, took an interest in food analysis and brewing decades ago and came to FIU in 2007 to continue teaching the science of making beer.
He said it’s great to see the event grow from a student’s internship project — and the passion of a student club called B.R.E.W. FIU — to a major event that hopes to draw more than 1,000 visitors.
“It’s a tremendous reward for the time spent and not only do I get to hobnob with brewers but I get to see former students,” Gump said.
Many of the graduates of the beverage management program have gone on to start their own breweries, including in South Florida, and the school thought it was important to focus on local and state breweries this year.
Miguel Alonso, director of research and economic development for FIU’s Chaplin School, said the Brewfest has had ups and downs in the past because organizers have alternated focusing between larger, national brewers and homegrown talent.
“Last year they invited national brands which I don’t think played so well with the local folks, so this year we went back to our roots,” Alonso said.
The school has also said that the event isn’t simply a chance for craft beer enthusiasts to get their fill of experimental pale ales or pilsners but is more about educating people on things like home brewing, the chemistry behind making beer and wine and to give aspiring brewers a crash course on how to grow and establish their businesses.
“We try to differentiate ourselves from a typical beer festival where people just come to get drunk,” Alonso said. “We want people to enjoy the art and the experience of craft beer through all these different channels.”
The art is what has inspired students like Albert Rivera, a senior who has been in the program since last year. He said he took the class on a whim and now he’s fully invested in pursuing a career in craft beer.
“The second I took the class and learned how to do it I fell in love with it,” Rivera said.
Rivera will be among dozens of students helping to organize and set up the event and the school will have about 15 or 16 of their own beers available for tasting at the event.
“I’m a little excited and a little nervous but I’m glad to see the festival growing,” Rivera said. “I really like that the local brewing community is really getting involved.”
Beyond local breweries, the event will also incorporate several North Miami restaurants like Captain Jim’s Seafood, Café Crème and Sliderz. City Manager Larry Spring said beer tasting events at some restaurants have already taken place and the city looks forward to seeing the festival continue to grow into a landmark event for both FIU and North Miami.
“We want to take it to that level of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival,” Spring said.
The Miami Beach festival, which started in 1997 as the Florida Extravaganza, has been aided by volunteers and graduates of the Chaplin School and the event has generated millions of dollars in scholarships for the school.
North Miami also plans to extend its sponsorship for a few more years and city staff has had preliminary discussions with breweries to have new locations or new brewing companies open in the city.
Meanwhile, the beverage management program has plans to eventually bring in a second brewing professor to join Gump and in the spring one of the school’s courses — introduction to the brewing process —will be offered online for the first time.
And as far as recommendations for attendees, Gump isn’t too picky when it comes to his favorite craft beer.
“My favorite beer is the beer in my hand,” Gump said.
If you go
Tickets for Saturday’s festival are $25 and available at the Brewfest website, northmiamibrewfest.com.