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Prospective beer, wine and spirit producers will be able to get their start through a new program at Montana State University Billings.

The university will debut its craft brewing certificate program this fall. It's designed to cover both business and scientific aspects of the trade and will cater to home brewers, laypeople and industry members seeking professional development.

Kevin Nemeth, director of extended campus at MSUB, said that the program is designed to attract people in the community who have a desire for this kind of certification.

"For the size of the population, there's a lot of breweries," Nemeth said. "We thought there might be a need."

Current four-year students at the university will be able to take it as well to supplement a science major, but they will pay for the program separate from normal tuition.

The program includes five classes and can run up to 10 months. The coursework includes industry-specific business lessons, chemistry and microbiology.

It will be the second program in Montana that focuses on craft brewing for business applications, and it comes at a time of sustained growth for brewery and distillery operations.

The first program began last year at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. It's a two-year associate's program.

With evening labs, online classes and a shorter time frame, Nemeth said that the MSUB program should appeal to the broader community. Early on, his office sent surveys to area beer, wine and spirit business to gauge support.

"It was unanimous," he said. "Everyone thought it was a great idea."

The university has a list of industry partners who will give lectures and offer their facilities for the capstone portion of the brewing program: a 90-hour internship. The partners include local breweries, distilleries and a winery.

The courses will be taught be six current MSUB professors, including Kurt Toenjes, head of the Department of Physical and Biological Sciences. Toenjes wrote his doctoral thesis on brewing yeast, has consulted for a brewery and has brewed and distilled at home. 

He said that by learning the science related to craft brewing, such as the metabolic processes of yeast, the end product is safer and more consistent. That's good for business.

"You want Stand Down Brown to taste like Stand Down Brown if you got it two years ago or today," Toenjes said, referring to the Uberbrew beer.

Students will also write business plans for their prospective businesses. The chair of the program is Heather Thompson, a business professor at City College.

Other faculty members come from MSUB's social sciences, physical sciences and power plant technology departments.

The program doesn't require full registration to MSUB, but there is an application process. It's set up as a self-supporting program that's funded by its own tuition and not through the general fund, Nemeth said. The tuition is $3,410.

"We hope to attract about 10 or 12 (students), but we probably could accommodate up to 20," Nemeth said.

The admission deadline for the inaugural program year is Aug. 29, and class is set to begin Sept. 7.


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.