Greg Dunkling’s craft beer roots track back to the early 1980s, when, like many of the aspiring professionals he meets at the University of Vermont, he was a home brewer with dreams of one day making it big. Dunkling came close, only to watch his plans thwarted by a regional misstep. Cuba, as it turns out, wasn’t the fail-safe market he hoped it might be.
These days, opening a brewery has its own set of challenges. Mainly, trying to emerge in a teeming industry where, according to the Brewers Association, 1.5 new breweries opened per day in 2014. The conundrum presented a clear educational opportunity for Dunkling, a program director at the university for the past 14 years. Starting in February, UVM will offer a Business of Craft Beer Professional Certificate via an online course, open to anyone looking to develop the skills needed to distinguish themselves from a crowded field. The program is geared more toward professionals than current students.
“There are many programs across the U.S. that focus on the brewing side of the operation. But there are very few that really focus on the business side,” Dunkling says. “With the substantial growth of the craft beer industry across the U.S., we thought it was time for a program like this.”
The program, which ranges anywhere from 12 to 24 weeks and can cost $4,390, tries to focus on the often-overlooked supplemental skills. Things like digital marketing, sales, and business operations—parallel fields that can also help enthusiasts find alternate paths into the craft beer universe. “There are so many issues that people don’t fully grasp,” Dunkling says. “They want to jump in and be the next top craft brewer, but unless you have all these things thought through carefully, you can find yourself out of business in a year or two.”
Trying to anchor ambition with education is becoming a common thread in the beverage industry. Appalachian State University, in Boone, North Carolina, offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Fermentation Sciences.
Franya Hutchins, a research specialist and instructor, says the majority of students show up hoping to learn more about craft beer and wine production. Throughout the program, students take 11 credit hours in biology, 19 in chemistry, and 15 in business, including classes such as wine production and analysis, brewing science and analysis, biofuels, meat and dairy fermentations, and social implications of fermented beverages.
That kind of diversity opens minds and doors, Hutchins says. “We aim to engage students in a broader range of applications for fermentation skills,” she explains. Hutchins adds that recent graduates have found work in commercial wineries and breweries as well as food and industrial chemistry positions.