It's not only in Ireland that the culture of the micro-brewery is fermenting into something tasty. In France, too, expertise in the craft is being handed down - now, in La Rochelle University.
Opérateur de Brasserie: that’s the title you end up for learning something you might have thought was an extra-curricular activity for students – namely learning how to produce and sell your own beer. The University of La Rochelle is now running a course in response to the upsurge in micro-brewing that has taken hold in France just like it has here in Ireland.
Since the 1980s when there were a mere 20 breweries in France, today there are more than 510 of them of various sizes – all growing.
Running since 2007, the beer degree course offers students the necessary fundamental knowledge of the metier of a brewer, explains biochemistry lecturer and course founder Frédéric Sannier.
There are two types of students who take up the brewing course: those who are working in the brewing profession and who wish to improve their brewing techniques, and those who might have already tried their hand at some home-brewing and who wish to acquire the necessary level of scientific and technical know-how so that they can set up their own micro-brewery on a professional basis.
The course welcomes about 15 newcomers every year in the month of March and demand for the course is on the increase: In 2013, 70 applicants queued up to have a go.
It was Frédéric Sannier who thought of the bright idea of introducing beer as an educational tool in 1999: “We wanted to illustrate a large agri-food sub-sector,” he says, “and give the biotechnology students a fun and educational approach to science.”The choice of beer brewing seemed ideal as it cut across a number of disciplines from microbiology to biochemistry via marketing and craftsmanship. The idea came to fruition in the form of a beer (aptly named La Science Infuse; a name that plays on a French expression meaning knowledge gained without studying for it) which was produced in four varieties – lager, wheat beer, triple-brewed beer and triple-brewed spéciale.
Although it already had a modest-sized pilot-project brewery of 100 litres, the University invested in a large-scale brewery with a 100 hectolitre capacity in 2011 with its own little bottling line. In 2012, the Triple Brew came away with the Silver Medal in general competition at the Salon de l’Agriculture (France’s national Agricultural Show, held every year in Paris in early March) in the “high fermentation lager” category. The same year, the production of the university’s brewery climbed to 24,000 (33cl) bottles of beer.
La Science Infuse is sold in the La Rochelle area. “It essentially serves as a means of communication,” says Sannier, explaining that the money is reinvested in the brewing infrastructure of the college.
Just like the student brewers I used to know: any money they made from selling home-brew usually went back into a drink-fund too.