Chemistry, enzymes, and suds: Inside Langley’s school of beer

Inside one of North America's best brewing schools, students learn there's more to beer than barley, yeast, hops, and water.

By Fraser Valley Current Contributor | October 27, 2021 |5:00 am

By Jasna Rowse

There’s nothing quite like a cold glass of beer. Its carbonation dances in your mouth, followed by a heavy velvety finish. Many people spend their workday dreaming about beer. Now imagine sucking all of the spontaneity out of beer. That’s what life inside brewing school is like.

At Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Langley, students are studying the science and business of brewing. Students spend their time both in the brewery and the classroom. And while it can be fun, just because they are working with beer does not mean they get to escape math, hard plastic chairs, and wooden desks.

A complex series of biochemical reactions must occur in order to turn barley into fermentable sugars, allowing the yeast to multiply and convert those sugars into alcohol. Students need to learn how to trigger these processes and watch out for when they are going wrong. The ingredients, temperatures, type of yeast, length of fermentation, amount of CO2 and temperatures of fermentation are all delicate variables that can throw off the entire process.

“I knew there was a lot of science involved, but the level of chemistry in the process is crazy,” KPU brewing student Lindsey Bartram says.

The brewing and brewery operations diploma program at Kwantlen is the only one of its kind in the province. The two-year program is recognized by the Master Brewers Association and combines a foundation of microbiology and brewing science. At the 2021 US Open College Beer Championships, KPU teams took home four medals and the university tied for the second-best brewing school in North America. KPU’s brewing school was previously named Brewery of the Year at 2019 BC Beer Awards.

Lessons learned in the KPU beer lab help students talk about - and sell - their brews to customers.
Lessons learned in the KPU beer lab help students talk about – and sell – their brews to customers. 📷 Jasna Rowse

From the lab to the bar

Students apply the processes they learned in the classroom to help sell the beer they have brewed. Under the supervision of an instructor, students earn course credits by interacting with customers. Yet selling beer is not as easy as pouring it with as little foam as possible.

“The role of customer service, talking with [the customers] and explaining the flavour/aroma or the process is so important. Whatever you learn in the classroom you are applying to the labs and beer sales each week,” says Ernesto Cadral, another brewing student.

The students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University sell their beer every Friday from 1-6 pm at the Langley campus. The proceeds from the beer go directly back into the program, and allow the department to buy malt, greens and also bigger items like an exciting upgrade of their canning machine.

While the main concern for customers is whether or not they can taste the difference between a fruity, spicy sample or the tart, funky sample, behind each beer is a student who stayed up all night memorizing the enzymes in malt and the catalyst breakdown of starch and proteins in the mash.

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