CMU turns craft beer into major - WNEM TV 5

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CMU turns craft beer into major

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ISABELLA COUNTY, MI (WNEM) -

College students may be known for drinking their fair share of beer, but now some are brewing it during class.

“When you make it, you never know what you’re going to get. And it’s fun to see how it came out,” said Chris Lehr, student.

Lehr is among the first group of students to go through Central Michigan University’s fermentation science program focused on craft beer. It’s the first college in the state to offer a hands-on education on the topic.

Lehr, a business major, now goes to class inside Hunter’s Ale House.

“It’s awesome. When I wake up it’s not like, 'awe man, I have to go in to this class I don’t like.' It’s, 'I’m going to brew beer.'” Lehr said.

Cordell Demattei is the program’s director. He said there’s a lot more science involved in brewing beer than many people realize.

“Every step of the way, from testing the water, to the conversion of the malts, to doing all the calculations for how much hops to add, and even just getting the bubbles in the beer," Demattei said.

Not only are students brewing their own beer, but they’re also selling on tap at local breweries. Many of the students are getting great reviews.

Cheryl Hunter owns several popular bars and restaurants in Mt. Pleasant.

“People want to drink a local product nowadays. They want to eat locally and drink locally," Hunter said.

A couple years ago she knew it was time to tap into the local beer scene and opened Hunter’s Homemade Brewery.

“Michigan wants to be the great beer state the way Napa Valley, California is in the wine industry," Hunter said.

Michigan is heading in that direction. With more than 200 breweries the craft beer industry is sweeping the state.

Michigan ranks sixth in the nation when it comes to the number of breweries, microbreweries and brew pubs.

There is also a high demand for locally grown ingredients to use in Michigan beer. That includes hops, a common flavoring and stability agent.

“We have about seven different varieties of hops, and we work with about 30 to 40 breweries here in the state. And about 10 breweries outside of Michigan as well,” said Sean Trowbridge, owner of Top Hops in Goodrich.

When his family was trying to decide how to use farm land, they decided to get in on the emerging craft beer scene.

“Hops just give beers different flavors. Some might be citrusy, some might be spicy, some newer varieties have more of a melon or tropical fruit type aroma. There’s a hop for everybody, just like there’s a beer for everybody," Trowbridge said.

Top Hops has now expanded to 16 acres. Just like brewing beer, Trowbridge said growing hops is a labor of love.

“The plants grow very easily, but to get that top quality and the good yield, you really have to take care of them," Trowbridge said.

Craft beer is pouring both money and jobs into Michigan. In 2014 it boosted the state’s economy by $1.85 billion.

The industry also contributed nearly 15,000 full-time jobs.

With craft beer enthusiasts thirsty for more, many said there’s still room for this booming industry to grow in Michigan.

“I would expect to see a lot more growth with breweries and hop farms, and even malts and secondary products for the beer industry,” Trowbridge said.

Possibly even rising to the top.

“I hope that we will be No. 1 at producing beer as time goes on, craft beer is here to stay,”  Hunter said.

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