April 15, 2014

New craft beer degree program brewing at HGTC

A new degree program is brewing at Horry-Georgetown Technical College aimed at training students for the fast and spirited industry surrounding craft beer.

A new degree program is brewing at Horry-Georgetown Technical College aimed at training students for the fast and spirited industry surrounding craft beer.

HGTC received the go-ahead last week from its area commissioners to offer an Associate in Applied Science with a major in brewing, distillation and fermentation – which would be the first program of its kind in South Carolina, said Marilyn Fore, HGTC executive vice president for academic affairs.

HGTC is working on a statewide employment needs assessment – one of the first steps for getting state approval.

“We’re the renegades here – there’s no other [brewing] program in the state,” Fore said. “Every single comment to me about the program has been positive, and there’s excitement over the college offering not only a program that is going to provide students with a new kind of occupation, but one that is personally appealing to a lot of people.”

The brewing program, expected to open in fall 2015, would fall under the culinary department, last five semesters and feature an internship with hands-on applications at a brewery or distribution center in this area, Fore said. It is being modeled after brewing programs already offered at three technical schools in North Carolina, including Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in Asheville, which offers courses such as craft beer brewing, beverage management, beverage marketing, sales, packaging materials and quality, and distillation operations.

Admissions details are somewhat unique for a program like this, Fore said, as students would need to be 21 years old when they take their first core brewing class. Other requirements she has researched pertain to student health, requiring them to be tested for hepatitis, able to lift a certain amount of weight and able to work in humid and cool conditions related to maintaining the bottled brew.

Several breweries now dot the Grand Strand, and the area hosts a number of craft beer festivals. The Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. also is courting Stone Brewing Co. to open its new East Coast operation in Horry County.

Roddy Graham, operations manager at New South Brewing in Myrtle Beach, said the degree program would be a plus in an industry where, traditionally, employees have been trained by brewers and have had to learn by working from the ground up. He said there have been craft beer industry booms in the past that fizzled for a variety of reasons, but having people with this type of formal training should sustain the industry’s current popularity.

“We think it’s great for the industry,” Graham said. “Coming from the scientific side of things, having a background in all the other areas is beneficial – like understanding distribution. It’s good for [distributors] to know what we go through here at the brewery.”

There were more than 2,750 craft breweries operating in the United States for some or all of last year, including brewpubs, microbreweries and regional craft breweries, according to the Brewers Association. Craft brewers provide an estimated 110,000 jobs, and the industry grew last year 18 percent by volume and 20 percent by dollars, compared with 15 percent and 17 percent respectively in 2012, the association said.

HGTC will go through eight approval steps at the state level between now and fall 2015, Fore said, but she doesn’t expect any problems with the program being approved by the S.C. Technical College System Board or the S.C. Commission on Higher Education. She said a lot depends on the needs assessment, which she believes will come back strong.

“I predict we will see many job opportunities locally and statewide over the next three years and that those are going to increase,” Fore said. “It’s a growing industry.”

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