The day after Cinco de Mayo might seem a bit early for a collegiate summer session, but Central New Mexico Community College is indeed starting its session on May 6. That leaves a little over a week for anyone interested to register for its popular Brewing and Beverage Management Program.
Now three years along, the program is attracting students from all walks of life, while also integrating with many of the local breweries. Sometimes that can just be a field trip to learn about how things work in the real world. Other times it involves professional brewers working side jobs as instructors, such as Bombs Away head brewer David Kimbell.
It was David who invited me over to CNM to talk with the staff about the program, which is one of those stories we have been meaning to do since, oh, it started in 2016. We were joined by full-time instructor Nick Jones and academic admissions director Victoria Sanchez Martinez.
“I knew that the level of knowledge coming out of here was pretty good,” David said. “Nick came to me last summer and asked me if I would like to teach in the fall. Being that I had never taught, I was somewhat nervous about it. I did not expect how much I would love it. I really, really enjoy it. I’m looking forward to having more of a role in it.”
That symbiosis between the local craft breweries and the CNM program has been in place since even before the first classes started. The initial consultants included Santa Fe brewmaster Bert Boyce, Marble president/brewmaster Ted Rice, Tractor president/co-owner Skye Devore, and La Cumbre owner/master brewer Jeff Erway.
“The industry was extremely supportive in developing the curriculum,” Victoria said. “So I know that Nick says Chris (Morrison) and I put all this together, (but) it was sitting down with Bert and Ted and Jeff and Skye and lots of folks from the Brewers Guild, and participating in the technical conference, and hosting the technical conference, and really making sure that we were filling the needs of industry.
“So we wanted to create a program, not because we (just) wanted to create a program, but because the industry said this is our need, we need folks, we need boots on the ground, and we need a trained and educated workforce. Our program is really an answer to the industry.
“It was a three-day process in which eight brewers sat down with us and really walked us through all of their duties and tasks, and said what do we do and here’s what the students need to know, and here’s what they have to learn. That’s really how we developed our learning outcomes and our courses from those learning outcomes.”
Students can either go for a full associates degree or aim for one of two certificates in the program.
“The thing that has stood out to me the most about the program is how well the actual degrees and certificates were put together by Chris Morrison and Victoria before I was even hired,” Nick said. “There’s the associates degree in Brewing and Beverage Management, and then within that are two embedded certificates.“
Nick, who had worked at Santa Fe Brewing, was among the first instructors to sign up.
“I’m the kind of person that appreciates a challenge,“ he said. “When I was developing the curriculum for these classes, I had to keep in mind that for my cold-side brewing class, the last class you take before get the degree regardless of whether it’s the certificate in brewing technology or the associates degree, I had to develop that class so that someone could take in their first semester having never brewed beer before.”
The variety of students has been of interest to Nick and David. They have had people ranging in age from 21 to 61, with an almost 50-50 split between men and women. Students have included some people with no background in even homebrewing, to actual current brewery employees looking to expand their skills and knowledge.
“Our curriculum is very hands on,” Nick said. “It’s conducive to just all different levels of learning. I was a little skeptical at first that it would work out, having all these different levels of knowledge in the same classroom. But, it works out better than it would otherwise, and that is what surprises me.”
The quality of the education was not initially recognized by every brewery in town, but over time that has changed.
“The first few semesters, you graduate students, and you’re trying to help them get jobs, and it really did feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle,” Nick said. “But, now that we have students making careers in the brewing industry as well as continuing to graduate new students, it’s been really cool to see their careers progress, and new students get into the brewing industry. I think we’re continuing to raise the bar for New Mexico brewing.
“Most of us in the industry know, especially on a per capita basis, that New Mexico is an amazing state for beer. Our brewers are extremely good at what they do. The beer that comes out of this state is really good. It’s nice to be able to contribute to that.”
David said he has come to appreciate that as a native New Mexican. Bombs Away had an intern, Cathy Racow, who came from the CNM program.
“I had an intern before I even taught, so I had one of Nick’s interns and just seeing her come out of the program I was like, these students are well-taught,” David said.
“Cathy also received a WIN Award, women in non-traditional careers, as a student in brewing and beverage here at CNM,” Victoria added.
Earning awards and recognition is trending at CNM.
“I think we’ve been doing great,” Nick said. “We just got recognized by the Master Brewers Association of America this year, which is a good step for our program. One of 13 schools now recognized, one of four two-year schools, so that was great, and that came right after we won second place in the U.S. Open College Beer Championship. They have this awesome way of referring to it, they call it the top three brewing schools in America. We got number two, so we’re coming for you, SUNY-Morrisville!”
On deck for the program will be expanded facilities in the Robert P. Matteucci building at the main campus.
“We’re getting ready to break ground on our phase two renovation of this building,” Victoria said. “Right now our brewing courses are sharing space in our culinary lab. We are extremely fortunate that we have some wonderful industry partners that allow us the use of their facilities and allow our faculty and our students to come in as guests and learn on their equipment.”
That will eventually include a 3-barrel brewhouse on campus for students to use. At present, students learn at the breweries that are willing to share their time and space.
“Another thing I’d like to say is kind of a shout-out to all of the breweries that have been kind enough to let us to come tour their facilities,” David said. “Pretty much everyone in town has been up to us visiting their facilities, from the biggest production breweries to the little small pub breweries.”
Things have come a long way since Nick and Victoria started the program.
“It was me, and then you, Skye, Alanna (Jones), John (Bevz), and John (Seabrooks) were all hired,” Nick said. “The five of them got hired on as part-time faculty because we knew we would have a need. We were so appreciative to get the help of all of those people and their various skillsets. Skye has been a huge help teaching the intro beer styles course, and doing an excellent job there. When the need arose for someone with more technical knowledge, (so) we had David step in and start teaching our brewing equipment course. John Seabrooks taught the draft course for a few semesters. They were all part of the initial part-time faculty hire.”
In terms of popularity, a few courses stand out above the rest.
“Probably the course that has the (most interest is) Beer Styles, what we call Bev1100, where they get their level one Cicerone,” Victoria said. “We typically run at least two sections a term. Beyond that, our students start in the Bev1110, Safety and Equipment. We have a couple of other courses that we run as electives. We have a Beer and Society class. That’s Asa Stone’s class.”
Professor Stone is the only Advanced Cicerone in New Mexico, and is believed to be one of only eight women in the world to have achieved that status.
One class that Nick said he wished was more popular is the Draft Technology course, which involves the maintenance of draft lines and other key pieces of equipment.
“For me, none of the classes really stand out as awesome; I wish the draft class did,” Nick said. “But, still, I feel like I need to do a better job of selling that draft class. Because really, every person in the restaurant industry, every person who works in a bar, every person who pulls a faucet of beer and fills a pint of beer, needs to take that draft technology class. I was thinking we would fill three to four sections of it. For whatever reason, we have difficulty filling that one. I’m hoping as we get more graduates out there into the industry and the industry starts to see someone who actually understands how a draft system works that we’ll get more people interested.”
Victoria and Nick said CNM might be the only school in the country to have a course dedicated to draft lines.
“It’s hugely important,” David said. “You can’t half-ass it with that.”
“Brewers and our students that come through this program, you work so hard to learn how to brew perfect beer, how to package perfect beer, get it in the keg, keep it cold, and then for it be ruined through 10 to 20 feet of draft line is such a shame, and so preventable,” Nick explained. “We have a class on that. Spend 14 weeks, three hours a week, and problem solved.”
Since all of us craft beer consumers have probably run afoul of unclean lines at least once or twice, the Crew wholeheartedly agrees with this line of thought.
A big thanks to David, Nick, and Victoria for taking the time in between semesters to chat. The results of the facility tour can be seen in the pictures above, and some of the student-made beers that we sampled were pretty darned tasty.
If you are interested in the CNM program, and would also like to see a Ted Rice testimonial video about it, please click here. As noted at the start of this article, the summer session starts on May 6, and the fall semester begins on September 9.