SIU brews up new fermentation science degree

Despite the state budget impasse threatening cuts to programs, an Illinois university in our area now has a new degree on tap.

In a process years in the making, Southern Illinois University Carbondale now offers a fermentation science degree. The school hopes it will bring in new students at a time when SIU is looking at making big cuts.

In a statement, SIU Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell said: "The launch of the fermentation science program will attract students to SIU Carbondale and also contribute to the regional economy by meeting demands for well-prepared professionals in the brewing and wine industries." 

Students like Lucas Rose enter class looking forward to studying yeast. His passion is now his major in the fermentation science program.

"I’m really big in to science and math and things like that, so it was a perfect fit. I’ve been a home brewer for four to five years, so I just thought it would be really cool to a part of this," Rose said.

Along with teaching students how to taste and how to make different drinks, the program teaches how to find exactly what’s inside the product, from alcohol content to how much oxygen is in the beer and wine you drink.

"We can do, basically, testing and tastings and what we call organoleptic, which is basically smelling and tasting the beer they produce. We can do that in the program," said Matt McCarroll, Fermentation Science Institute director and professor of biochemistry and chemistry at SIU.

McCarroll said you have to be 21 years old to do any tasting, but what students learn to do here will help them start brewing for themselves or work in large-scale breweries and distilleries after graduating.

Many of the classes in the degree program are already offered at SIU, but McCarroll says they knew they needed to offer more because of the popularity of their brewing courses and the popularity of craft beer across the country. 

"We’ll have a lot of flexibility in doing different kinds of fermentation here for students in the program," McCarroll said.

He says what they learn in class gets students excited about discovering the science behind beer.

Rose says he still has two years left to go and has mostly biochemistry and chemistry classes on his plate right now. But, he says after that, it’s smooth sailing.

"Then it’ll just be brewing courses, and so it’ll be a lot of fun," Rose said.

He says he’s going to enjoy every class until graduation.

Along with biochemistry and chemistry courses, fermentation science students take classes about nutrition and horticulture and on how to start and work with small businesses.

SIU’s first batch of fermentation science graduates will receive their diplomas in 2018.

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