Brewing beer the South Florida way

Photos by Doug Garland ’10

Miami is known more for its fancy cocktails than mugs of suds, but an open-minded professor and his beer-loving students are hoping to change the perception. B.R.E.W. FIU, a club formed by students in the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, is on a mission to educate South Florida about the science and art of craft brewing.

A brain for beer

Craft beers are produced in small batches by independent brewers using traditional brewing methods and are known for their full flavor, often inspired by local or seasonal ingredients. FIU’s hospitality school, home to the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center, is a natural starting point for a local revolution.

Zhi-long Yang BREW FIU

B.R.E.W. FIU vice president Zhi-long Yang ’13 begins the brewing process by milling the raw ingredients.

Barry Gump, professor of beverage science, joined FIU in 2007. An analytical chemist by training, he added a few wine and food analysis courses – and later on, brewing – to his teaching load while at California State University, Fresno. He draws on his background to take students through the chemical components and reactions in the brewing process.

Gump has always made the brew lab available to students outside of class, but it wasn’t until 2011 that a few students decided to organize, and B.R.E.W. FIU was born.

The club’s full name, Biscayne’s Renowned Engineers of Wort, pays homage to the sweet liquid extracted from barley mash to start the brewing process. B.R.E.W. FIU’s Apple Jack Ale and other original recipes have become popular through its involvement with the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Brew at the Zoo and other local events. Its first-ever Biscayne Brewers Bash drew 15 local brewers and 300 attendees.

“The public always loves seeing us out, especially when we have our B.R.E.W. FIU and FIU banner right behind us,” says Matthew Weintraub ’13, one of the club’s founders. “They’re like, ‘I graduated from this school. Why couldn’t I have been involved when I was a student?’ They’re very excited to see FIU out and promoting the local craft beer scene.”

Recognizing wider interest, Gump and one of his teaching assistants created a series of three non-credit courses open to the public, ranging from basic extract brewing, similar to a beer kit, to full-grain processes. The series, taught through hospitality school’s Beer Academy, launched in Fall 2012 and sells out quickly.

Changing the local landscape

Craft beers have experienced steady growth since the early 1980s as people have come to appreciate their diversity and innovation, but Florida still lags. According to the Brewers Association, a craft beer trade group, Florida ranks 43rd in the nation for breweries per capita.

Miami’s scene is anchored by brewpubs Titanic Brewing Company in Coral Gables and Miami Beach’s Abbey Brewing Company, both less than 20 years old. But a number of new creative brewers are striking out.

“In the last 18 months the beer scene has just kind of exploded,” says Kevin Rusk ’82, who opened Titanic in 1999 and co-owns the legendary Miami bar Tobacco Road. “There are a lot of people that have dreamt of opening up a brewery, and I don’t want to say it’s easier, but it’s more credible now.”

Not surprisingly, FIU and its alumni have a role in the local uprising. Rusk purchased Tobacco Road soon after graduating with his hospitality degree. New and upcoming ventures Wynwood Brewing Company, CerveTech, Gravity Brewlab, Nightlife Brewing and J. Wakefield Brewing all have FIU alumni or students at the helm.

Growing with a goal in mind

BREW FIU sample

B.R.E.W. FIU president Matthew Weintraub ’13 pours a sample of one of their custom brews at an event.

Brewing science courses have been available for a number of years at FIU, but the rise in craft brewing has given the program a new spark. The brewers will soon move from their one-stove and modified-cooler set-up to a state-of-the-art beverage science laboratory in the new restaurant management laboratory. The second annual B.R.E.W. FIU beer festival, now called the South Florida BREW Fest, is in November. Eventually, school officials would like to see B.R.E.W. FIU beers available on campus where alcohol is served, such as Chili’s Too at MMC or the Panther Club at FIU Stadium. But the main objective of the program remains the same: education.

“In South Florida, FIU is the only place where we have regular classes that teach brewing,” says Gump. “I have great hopes that we’ll see more craft breweries, microbreweries and brew pubs spring up in the South Florida area.”

Though many of his students are hospitality majors, the courses are open electives. Alexandra Nowell ’09 took two brewing classes while completing her religious studies degree. After graduation, she landed a coveted internship at California’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, one of the country’s largest craft breweries, and is now the head brewer at Kinetic Brewing near Los Angeles.

“[Sierra Nevada] looked at my education that I had received at FIU and that’s pretty much why they offered me the position,” says Nowell. During her stint, she created their training manual and training course. “It helped that I had so much research experience in college.”