99 Bottles: The Brewlab Experience

Exterior of the BrewLab headquarters.

For Drew DuBoff, a senior studying food service management (with a special focus on beverage management), JWU’s Study Abroad programs offer incredible opportunities to travel, shift perspective and explore a particular area of interest in greater detail. So far, he’s headed to Germany, France and the Azores to study wine. This summer, he immersed himself in the brewing arts at the world-renowned Brewlab in Sunderland, England. Read on:

I am so excited that you want to learn more about 99 Bottles, the Brewlab study abroad program. Here’s a bit about me: I came to JWU because of the top-notch Hospitality program, and after finishing my associate degree in Culinary Arts, I knew I wanted to cultivate my passion for beverages. I want to be a food and beverage manager when I graduate. Many applicants study food, but don’t have the opportunity to study beverages. This program gave me that opportunity.

Originally, I never intended to do this study abroad, let alone take beer classes. I discovered beer as a result of taking Brewing Arts for my Sommelier minor. While I was in that class, my instructor, Jennifer Pereira, was excited that the Craft Brewing minor was starting up in the Fall of 2017. So, I added that on to my program of study.

"Brewlab takes your existing knowledge and completely transforms it."

At this point, I was pursuing two bachelor’s degrees:

  • Culinary Arts & Food Service Management
  • Restaurant, Food & Beverage Management

and two Minors, Sommelier and Craft Brewing, as well as an MBA with a Concentration in Organizational Leadership.

Despite all of this, I’m still graduating in 4 years. One of the reasons I loved the 99 Bottles program was because it took place during the summer. For 3 weeks, you get to go to Sunderland, UK, a coastal town in the north of England. How many other people can say that?

I’ve been fortunate to call this my 3rd Study Abroad program. Last summer, I did the 500 Corks program in Germany and France. This past spring break, I completed the Volcanic Island Wines program in the Azores.

I can honestly say that the Brewlab program was the most challenging, but also the most rewarding.

The Typical Brewlab Day
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough students to warrant an advisor coming on the trip with us, but this meant that on the program, we were immersed with US residents. In total, there were 10 of us — 4 Americans and 6 Brits.

One of the things I loved most about Brewlab is that they’re based out of Sunderland. Europe, in general, encourages a culture of walking, which I love. There was a Metro station close to our accommodations, and several pubs within easy access. There was even a trivia night at a local pub that I went to with some of the Brewlab staff. So much fun!

Brewlab’s building is about a 20 minute walk from the student accommodations, and we usually started our day around 9:30am. We were in class until about 5:30pm. Upon arrival, we were given a ginormous binder with roughly 700 pages of PowerPoint presentations.

During the day, we spent some quality time doing lectures. Although our instructors’ accents were difficult to understand at first, we got used to them after a few days. We were lectured by a master brewer who used to work at Heineken, a microbiologist, and other local experts on business practices. The depth of their knowledge is extraordinary. We also got to learn from the staff of Darwin Brewery, which is located within the same facility.

"In order to brew, you have to understand brewing science. Once you do, you’re free to experiment."

Wait a second! Didn’t I say this was a brewing arts study abroad? Just because we had a lot of material to get through doesn’t mean that we didn’t also have fun brewing. You see, in order to brew, you have to understand brewing science. Once you do, you’re free to experiment. That’s the fun part. I brewed a raspberry lemon wheat beer the first week and an orange-hibiscus amber ale the second week.

The next few days after we brewed, we would check up on the beers. This provided a great break between lectures. We brewed in 25 liter batches, which is roughly 5 gallons. We couldn’t all brew at once, so we would take turns.

One day, we would brew, and the next day, we would spend a day helping out at a local brewery. I chose to stay at the Darwin Brewery downstairs, but other students took the Metro an hour away to Newcastle. It’s just like doing an internship for your degree here. You gain relevant work experience. This helps tremendously in your marketability for getting a job in a brewery after a program. This was our typical routine Monday through Thursday. But, this all changed on the weekend...

Weekend Excursions
One of the best parts about the Brewlab study abroad was the weekend trips. The first weekend, we went to Edinburgh, Scotland. On the way, we stopped by Simpson’s Malt, which supplies quality malt to breweries and distilleries all over the UK and the world. If you’ve never been to a maltster before, it’s an incredible experience. Seeing so much malt germinating, drying, and kilning really helps clarify the process.

We also went to the Glenkinchie Distillery, which was a treat. I’ve never been to a distillery before, so it was incredibly insightful. Glenkinchie had the largest copper pot still on the mainland. It was huge!

The following weekend, we went to York to visit a couple of breweries there. On the way, we went to Masham to the Black Sheep Brewery. If you’ve never seen beer ferment before, watching the yeast is a magical experience. In order for alcohol to be made, the yeast needs to be happy. And when yeast is happy, it gets bubbly. When you brew beer in large volumes, you can really notice the yeast bubbling. During the tour of that brewery, that yeast was very happy.

It’s kind of surreal when you tour a brewery and understand exactly what the tour guide says and what’s around you. Brewlab does that for you. They take your existing knowledge and completely transform it. After Brewlab, most students open up their own breweries. Some of our students are currently laying out their plans right now. For me, that wasn’t the end goal. I mentioned earlier how I wanted to obtain a beverage education. For what I want to do, knowing HOW to brew is so much more valuable than doing it. I now know how to answer customer questions.

Before leaving England for good, our group went on one more excursion — we traveled to the Northumberland Cheese Company to tour their farm and facility. Most cheese factories don’t allow you to go inside because of potential contamination issues. (I learned this in the Exploring Cheese class that’s new to the JWU curriculum.)

I’m happy that Brewlab’s coordinated excursions weren’t all about beer. After all, understanding beer and food pairing is an important part of the industry, and there is nothing more quintessential than beer and cheese. I’m glad we got to experience it.

A Final Note
I had such a blast learning at Brewlab during June. For 3 weeks, I got to experience brewing, which I NEVER thought I would ever do. I did it with amazing people I hope to stay in touch with. Now that I’ve earned my Certificate in Practical Brewing, I’m one step closer on my quest to work in the industry. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

I strongly encourage you to check out this program. The Brewlab staff is absolutely amazing and incredibly accommodating. You will learn so much in such a short time that you’ll be boggled by all your newfound knowledge. I know I am.

For more info about 99 Bottles, make an appointment at JWU’s Study Abroad office or attend one of the many Study Abroad fairs throughout the year. No matter which campus you are on, you can still participate. All you have to do is take Brewing Arts, which is offered each term, at least in Providence. If you have any questions about the program, feel free to reach out to me!

Brewing at BrewLab in Nottingham, England.

Brewing Arts students trying out the local brews at a pub.