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UA Program Targets Craft Brewing Industry

3 min read

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville began offering a certificate of proficiency in brewing science in 2020, but last year’s addition of Assistant Professor Scott Lafontaine has re-energized the program, which seeks to train employees for the craft beer brewing industry.

“My vision is to have students who are proficient brewers, who understand how to take the raw ingredients that make up beer — which are water, hops, yeast and malted barley — and then be able to understand the math to design beers,” he said.

The 15-credit-hour certificate program requires nine hours of core classes, including a brewing internship, and six hours of electives. Lafontaine is working on revising the curriculum for the program now.

“We want this certificate to service folks in all aspects of the brewing process,” he said. “I think it’s really important for someone going into the business, and particularly just beverage design in general, to be able to go through that production process. Even though it seems pretty extreme for someone going into marketing, if that marketer understands the process, they’re going to be able to do their job more effectively when they get there and work as a team member.”

Lafontaine, an assistant professor of food chemistry, has installed a fully licensed and bonded nanobrewery, a 15-gallon four-vessel system that includes temperature-controlled tanks for fermentation, to give students hands-on experience. The nanobrewery is in the Food Science Building at the Milo J. Shult Agricultural Research & Extension Center.

The certificate program incorporates courses from three UA colleges: the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food & Life Sciences; the Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences; and the College of Engineering.

Renee Threlfall, research scientist in enology and viticulture with the Division of Agriculture and Bumpers College, co-directs the brewing certificate program with Lafontaine.

Lafontaine, who joined the university last October, earned his doctorate in food science at Oregon State University, a degree that focused on “determining quality metrics for aroma hops as well as ways to promote hop aroma quality in beer,” according to the UA.

He did postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Thomas Shellhammer, recognized internationally as an expert in hops chemistry, working on hop and beer quality, and more postdoctoral work at the University of California, Davis.

Before coming to UA, Lafontaine was a postdoctoral research fellow at the world-renowned Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei (VLB) e.V. in Berlin — better known as simply VLB Berlin, a teaching, research and extension nonprofit dedicated to beer. “It’s one of the best institutions in the world to go and learn,” he said.

The man knows beer. But Lafontaine also plans to establish an industry advisory board, featuring Arkansas craft brewers as well as regional and national partners. He noted that Anheuser-Busch InBev has had a strong relationship with the university because of its rice-processing program.

“Now that we have this [brewing science] program there’s a lot of interest in growing this program and that relationship particularly around the usage of rice in the state,” Lafontaine said. “Where I want this program to be is sort of the best program in the SEC, eventually nationally.”

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