Albuquerque native Will Brennand is just a few months shy of his masters degree. This is not a typical masters degree, or else why would we be writing about it? Will is majoring in brewing in a project at the University of Nottingham. Yes, as in Nottingham, England, U.K.
A former assistant brewer at Red Door, Will met with me during a break from his studies abroad to talk about the unique program.
“It’s a dissertation project,” he said. “It’s a little bit different compared to your traditional academic project. The team — composed of myself as lead brewer; Will Gelder, an Englishman in charge of marketing and sales; and Stefano Occhi, an Italian, who’s in charge of project management and making sure we all hit our deadlines and quality assurance, making sure our product is where we actually want it to be — we created Zerogravity Brewing as a project, not to be confused with Zero Gravity Craft Brewing in Vermont. We’re going to brew a 30-hectaliter beer batch, which is about 25 and a half U.S. barrels of beer at the Castle Rock Brewery in Nottingham. It’s to be released some time in July.”
The project was originally created by Professor David Quain at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K., back in 2011. Professor Quain moved to the International Centre for Brewing Science at Nottingham and brought the project with him.
Each brewing team is made up of three people with the responsibilities divided as Will listed above. In essence, each person is trained to do a specific job relating to the brewing industry, not just churning out a line of potential brewers, but the folks who can serve as managers, marketers, sales people, and more. Think of it as a more advanced version of what CNM is hoping to do with its program that should start up this coming autumn.
Once his team was organized and got to work, Will said they have moved at a rapid pace. After an online poll led to the selection of Zerogravity as the name, their next move will be deciding on what beer they will ultimately be brewing at Castle Rock, an award-winning local brewery near the university who will then be selling the Zerogravity beer at their taprooms.
“We’re still in the development phase of that,” Will said. “For the prototype phase we’ve kind of gone all out. We’ve done six different beer styles, trying to figure out what we’re going to brew. It’s all in cask, so it’s going to be traditional English style served at basically room temperature. We’ve got a steam beer, an American cream ale, American wheat, session Belgian pale ale, an Irish Red, (and) an Altbier.
“We’re going to be doing, actually next week is we’re going to be using some sensory panels composed of our class. We’re being trained in sensory analysis next week. And we’ll use that to be the basis of what we choose. But, it’s probably going to be out of all the beers the favorite of the group (are) the Altbier and the Irish red.”
Will originally got into brewing while he was still an undergrad at UNM.
“I got into brewing two years ago when my sister got me a home brew kit for Christmas,” Will said. “I started making small batches and really, really messed up the first couple of times. I had some temperature control issues, froze a couple of batches.
“I stuck with it and a couple months later after I turned 21, I came down here to Red Door and met the guys. Nothing was in here, yet, really. This was June (2014) and right before opening in September. So, I came in and asked if they needed someone to come volunteer. I volunteered with them and they realized they couldn’t get rid of me. Eventually they gave me a job.”
After working for a short while with Red Door, Will opted to seek out ways to better improve his skills as a brewer.
“While I was doing that I finished up my undergrad at UNM,” he said. “I decided that I wanted to pursue higher education. I did some online searching and came across Nottingham and Heriot Watt. I applied and was actually accepted to both of them. Heriot Watt was brewing and distilling and I’m a beer guy. With Nottingham’s focus on beer, that’s why I went there.”
Will said the transition to living in England “wasn’t too bad.”
“The weather is definitely different,” he said. “It takes some getting used to because it’s cold and wet most of the time. People are very, very polite over there. Stereotypical British pub food is still kind of terrible. That’s why you learn to cook (for) yourself.”
As noted above, Will only has a few months left before finishing the program and earning his degree.
“I’m done in September,” he said. “It’s only a one-year-long course. Most masters programs (in England) are the same. It’s quite nice; it’s fast, very compact, which means you’re always going.
“It’s a full-on masters course, a masters of science. They do require usually some sort of science background to enter it. I have a bachelors in biology and a bachelors in foreign languages.”
When he is done, Will plans to look for a job in his native country.
“I’m keeping my options open as far as where I’ll go, but it’s definitely going to be stateside somewhere,” he said. “Ideally, I really love the craft brewing atmosphere, it’s a great community, but it’s always fun to see how the big guys do things because they have neat tips and tricks and ways to make beers very consistent.”
As for the final beer that ends up being chosen, all of us back here in New Mexico might get a shot at tasting it, either the original version or possibly a freshly brewed batch from around here.
“I’ll definitely have the recipe, I will brew that,” Will said. “As far as (bringing some back), it’s definitely difficult to get any significant quantity through (customs), but I’d like to try.”
Good luck to Will on finishing his project and his degree. It is amazing how far brewing has come in that universities around the globe are now offering degrees in the science.
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