RAISE a glass to this man - he’s preparing to launch the world’s first microbrewing degree right here in South Yorkshire.
Dave Hornby, head of molecular biology and bio-technology at Sheffield University, had the idea for the course after spending an evening on the ale.
Now the department is preparing for its first intake of students in September by building its own nano-brewery at Firth Court
“I put it to the teaching committee and it was approved immediately,” he says. “It’s a novel idea, of course, but I think it chimes with what the university wants from its courses.
“It teaches students both advanced applied sciences and also the practical business skills one requires to set up their own enterprise - all against a backdrop of an industry ingrained in the fabric of British culture.”
Topics taught during the year-long Masters degree will include life sciences, chemical engineering, business and enterprise and legal studies. Students will spend time in both the classroom and on site at various microbreweries around the city.
And - let’s not beat about the beer - there will be plenty of supping while they study?
“Absolutely,” laughs Dave, himself no stranger to a pint of Kelham Island Best.
“We’ll certainly encourage students to sample the products they make and learn about - otherwise how else do they know if it’s any good?
“But, of course, the drinking isn’t essential. You could be a teetotal on this course and you’d be fine. In fact, interestingly enough, a lot of the applications we’ve had have come from countries, like Saudi Arabia, where drinking is against the law.”
Is that because there’s lots of enterprising young people setting up illegal - but popular - mini breweries out there?
“I couldn’t possibly comment,” says Dave. “But it’s an interesting phenomenon, and it’s great they want to come and learn about the traditions of British beer making.”
Indeed, those traditions are somewhat in vogue right now. Of more than 700 breweries in the UK today, 90 per cent are microbreweries.
“People want real local ale,” says Dave, who joined the university as a lecturer in 1986 after previously studying as an undergraduate there. “We’re moving on from that lager culture of getting plastered on cheap fizz. People are increasingly interested in taste.
And you can see that better than anywhere here in Sheffield where there are now 10 microbreweries compared with none 30 years ago. That, regular Diary readers will know, is more than any other city, outside of London, in the UK.
And it was one of those breweries - Kelham Island Brewery, set up by former Sheffield University student David Wickett - which has helped Dave set up the course. “That night when I first had the idea,” he explains. “I was sat with Dave Wickett and he was telling me how he couldn’t find qualified people to work at his brewery because there were no courses that trained them. And I said ‘Well, we could do that’. Both Nottingham and Edinburgh Heriot-Watt do brewing courses but this is the first for microbrewing.
“I went out that night for a relaxing drink and woke up the next day with a year’s worth of work on my plate.”
He doesn’t mind, though. He’s looking forward to the challenge. There will be 6 - 10 students on this year’s course followed by 12 next year.
“I’d like to say this could put Sheffield on the beer map,” he says. “But I think it’s already there - we’re just trying to put the city’s expertise to good use.”
A thirst for knowledge
HONESTLY, mum, it’s not just about drinking beer...
So, what will you learn on Sheffield University’s new microbrewing Masters degree?
Engineering: when the plumbing on the machines go wrong, someone needs to get in there with a spanner.
Legal studies: microbreweries across the UK generate more than £5 billion in customs and excise revenue - you need to know to pay as little as possible.
Chemistry and life sciences: microbrewing, according to its protagonists, is an art. What they really mean, though, is it’s a science.
The course will teach you this.
Business and enterprise acumen: you can have the best beer in the world but if you’re not selling it right, there’s only you who will be drinking it.
History: did you know they people use to drink beer because the brewing process made it safer than water? You do now.