South Dakota college students brew beer in new course

April 1, 2019
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Shannon Morse and Saiprasad Sreekumar Ajitha sample beer brewed by their fellow students at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, S.D, on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (Matthew Guerry/Rapid City Journal via AP)

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — At a glance, the scene unfolding recently in one South Dakota School of Mines and Technology classroom resembled something halfway between a science fair and a beer festival.

Guests in attendance made their way from booth to booth, sampling and judging the different beers that students in a new class brewed this semester.

“They made a good try at it,” said Hay Camp Brewery co-owner Karl Koth, who graduated from Mines and stopped by for a drink. “It was a good stab by everybody.”

The course — officially dubbed Brewing Science and Engineering — opened for enrollment to students 21 and older this past fall. Around 50 students signed up, the Rapid City Journal reported.

In the first half of the year-long class, they were taught the hard science of beer production in the classroom. In the second, they split up in groups to put what they learned into practice.

“We were interested in teaching concepts of chemical and biological engineering to students in a way that they found enjoyable,” explained Professor Todd Menkhaus, who pitched and teaches the course.

Students from a wide range of programs signed up for the course, including those studying mechanical engineering and range management, Menkhaus said.

“The reason that I took this class is because one of the things that I do want to go into is potentially working at a microbrewery,” said Sam Houtchins, a Mines chemistry student. “It’s definitely to get an edge on the actual brewing process.”

Menkhaus said the material covered, like fermentation, is applicable even outside the brewery setting. Cargill and Poet, he said, use very similar processes in the production of ethanol fuel.

It took about a month of lab work for Menkhaus’ students to make something drinkable. Combining, mashing and boiling ingredients takes only one day.

Fermenting them, which converts natural sugars into alcohol, takes about two weeks. It’s during this process, Menkhaus said, that beer begins to develop its flavor.

The resulting mixture is further conditioned, carbonated and bottled in the weeks that follow.

The five lab groups in Menkhaus’ class each crafted a different style of beer. Samples of traditional wheat beers, red ales and dark porters were all passed around when students recently debuted their small batch brews.

That their beers may not have turned out tasting the way students hoped they would, Menkhaus said, is evidence that beer making is as much an art as it is a science.

In the remainder of the semester, students will try and maintain or improve their desired level of quality while scaling up for large barrel brews. Menkhaus added that there are plans to develop a student-led brewing operation outside of the class that could possibly raise scholarship money.

“Now that we have it, we have a lot of plans in place to really turn into something more than just a class and a lab,” he said.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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