UD students learn art of fermenting in class, on Iron Hill Brewery tour

UD fermentations class tours Iron Hill  Brewery and RestaurantAn interdisciplinary class at the University of Delaware took a trip to Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant in Newark on April 30 to learn about the restaurant’s brewing process and to come up with recipes for three distinct offerings as part of the “Fermentations: Brewing and Beyond” class.

The class is taught by Nicole Donofrio, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Dallas Hoover, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.

While at Iron Hill, the students were led by Justin Sproul, head brewer, as they toured the facilities and learned about the brewing process.

Prior to the event, Donofrio said, “The students will have already learned a little bit about the brewing process from me, as we had three lectures in class, but then they will get to see it in action, which will be great.”

The students were divided into groups so that while one group toured the brewery, the other groups worked in the back room on an activity in which they learned about beer ingredients and raw materials — such as malts, grains and bittering versus flavoring hops — and then had to come up with a recipe for one of three varieties of beer.

The groups then rotated so that everyone who participated got to tour the brewery.

Sproul said that they were brewing a batch of their Ore House India Pale Ale (IPA), the house IPA at Iron Hill, so the students got to actually see a real batch of beer being created. “We brought them up and showed them some stuff moving around and some things going on in there so they could see some portion of the production of a batch of beer,” said Sproul.

Sproul, who has been brewing for about 17 years, said that an average batch of beer produced at Iron Hill is about 310 gallons.

He also said that he thinks that UD offering a class on the fermenting process and brewing is “really cool. More and more schools are getting involved. Years ago, there weren’t many places that you could get that type of education on brewing but slowly but surely, we’re starting to see more and more universities pick up some classes that are brewery related,” said Sproul.

Fermentations class

During the early part of the semester, students in the class learn all about fermented products such as cheese and dairy products, vinegar, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, olives, soda crackers and soy sauce.

In addition to the brewery tour, the class also held a cheese tasting, funded by Blake Meyers, chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences. They also participated in a soy sauce tasting and sampled malts and hops.

Chris Kidder, a senior majoring in plant science, said he signed up for the class because he is getting back into home brewing and also wanted to learn about fermented products.

Kidder said it was hard to pick his favorite part of the class. “That’s hard to say because you learn so much about everything that’s fermented, from vinegar to soy to meats to teas to coffee, you name it. It’s more of a broadening type of class.”

Alaina Johnson, a senior food science major who recently got into home brewing, said she signed up for the class to broaden her knowledge about the brewing and fermenting process.

Johnson said that while learning about the beer brewing aspect was her favorite part, she also enjoyed studying the science behind the fermentation process.

“There’s a lot of science behind the beer and wine you drink. The first day of class, people were asking, ‘What is fermentation? What is yeast?’ I thought, ‘You’re going to be in over your head,’ because the class is not just about drinking beer. There is a lot of the science behind it,” Johnson said. “We learned all about the biological pathways and how yeast metabolize sugars, leaving behind ethanol and carbon dioxide as waste products. Yeast are complex organisms and it is important to understand this science before you start trying to brew your own beer.”

Samantha Gartley, a senior food science major, said she enjoyed the class because “our entire major is about the process of taking raw ingredients and turning them into foods, so it is nice to have a class that expands that to the rest of the UD community.”

Fermenting future

Donofrio said that brewing and fermentation, just like a process such as making ice cream, is based in science. “Regardless of how you feel about beer, it is a biological and scientific process. It’s also a little bit of an art form getting it right. There’s a lot that goes into it and a lot of thought behind it. It’s not for the purpose of swilling beer. That is not at all where we’re going with this,” said Donofrio.

Donofrio said that because there is the capability for UD to make products like ice cream, there is no reason not to produce fermented products such as cheese and beer, as well.

Hoover echoed these sentiments, saying that while it’s easy enough to brew beer and make cheese as a hobby, they are hoping to expand the class to have a laboratory element in which they can teach how to produce fermented products so they have commercial relevance. Hoover also pointed out that there are universities such as Oregon State that offer a fermentation science program.

“Brewing is a job – it’s not just consumption, it is a profession,” said Hoover. “Beer is a product and food science majors produce it, so we want to be able to handle that if it’s worthwhile, and it definitely seems worthwhile.”

One thing that is for sure is that the creation of beer and fermented products — whether on the commercial scale or at home — isn’t going away in Delaware or any other place anytime soon.

“Home and craft brewing is a trend. In 2012, something like over 300 craft breweries popped up in this country, and there is still room to grow, believe it or not. There are a bunch of craft breweries in our state alone — Twin Lakes Brewing Co, 16 Mile Brewery, Iron Hill, Dogfish Head, Fordham and Dominion, just to name a very few,” said Donofrio.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Lindsay Yeager