Niagara College and craft beer lovers across the country have an extra reason for holiday cheer this December.
Ten years ago, just in time for the holiday season, Canada’s first class of Brewmaster students at Niagara College were just months into their studies when their first student-crafted beer was launched: First Draft Campus Ale. On December 6, 2010, St. Nicholas Day – as a nod to the patron saint of brewers– they tapped their first keg of First Draft. On December 10, they bottled it.
A decade and more than 1,600 different styles of beers later, NC’s trailblazing Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program has grown alongside the now booming craft beer industry in Ontario. Provincial, national and international awards continue to pour in for student-crafted brews from the College’s Teaching Brewery, also the first of its kind in the country, which has become a springboard for budding Canadian brewing talent and continues to raise the bar for the industry.
In June 2012, NC’s first class of Brewmaster graduates set forth as pioneers in what was then an emerging craft beer scene. Since then, class after class of students have been answering their ‘call to the bar’ and seeping into the industry – many as brewers and brewery owners who craft their own award-winning brews.
“There are few programs in the Ontario college system that got as much attention as the Brewmaster program did when it first launched in 2010,” said dean of NC’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute (CFWI) Craig Youdale. “It came at a time when the craft brewing industry in Ontario was just taking off, and the program was the perfect support for creating skills and knowledge in the expansion across the province.”
President of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association (OCBA) Scott Simmons congratulated the College on the 10th anniversary of the program and upcoming milestone for the Teaching Brewery, which opened in April 2011. The OCBA was a founding industry partner when program launched, and the partnership is still going strong to help craft brewers adapt to the ever-changing brewing scene. While there were less than 100 breweries in Ontario in 2010 – less than 40 of them still exist today – the number of breweries increased to more than 320 by 2019.
“The program has played a major role in growing the craft beer industry in Ontario, with graduates making their mark across the industry, including many launching their own breweries,” said Simmons. “We understood the importance of having this incredible resource in our own backyard to foster the growth of our industry in the province, and to help fulfil our vision of developing Ontario into a centre for brewing excellence. The continued success is a testament to the importance of this applied learning and program.”
Youdale noted that the CFWI takes pride in the growth, improvement and expansion of the program.
“The key to the success of the program is both consistency and constant improvement. Each and every year, the quality of beer created by the students continues to be world class and, at the same time, the entire team strives to bring new and innovative ways to support the learning in the classroom, science lab, and brewery,” said Youdale. “The amount of hands-on application the students get is unrivalled in our education system and that is the secret to their success.”
Brewmaster professor Jon Downing still has the first bottle of First Draft Ale from 2010. It’s still being produced, more recently, as Beer 101 Pale Ale – part of the popular series of 12 varieties of beers bearing the Beer 101 label. Students assist with these award-winning brands, and are responsible for producing 54 project brews, 54 target brews and other class projects each year.
Downing noted that the past decade has been “a wonderful ride” with 19 graduating classes, more than 360 graduates, and 74 current students. “It has been so much fun and hard work that would not have been possible without the dedication and diligence of all the students who wanted to succeed and thereby helped us to,” he said.
Aaron Spinney, who was among the first class of graduates, is now at the helm of Merit Brewing Co. in Hamilton. He noted that while being among the first to attempt anything is a great feeling, being a guiding light and beacon for others to follow is a great responsibility.
“The challenge is to never stop learning and improving one’s self all while welcoming others to the table, paving the way with smiles, safety, constant learning and growth through educated beers and science,” said Spinney. “It’s a great responsibility to carry the history and traditions of brewers past, yet rules are meant to be challenged. Without challenge, you cannot have innovation.”
A photo of the first class of Brewmaster graduates is displayed in Teaching Brewery as a reminder of their legacy for current students like Shane Wright. “People have been in this program for a decade now all over the industry, all over the world, not just Ontario,” said Wright. “You get to see the stuff they do and the breweries they opened and it’s really inspiring.”
Steve Gill, general manager of NC’s Learning Enterprises, is proud of the past decade’s accomplishments.
“When we first opened the Teaching Brewery, there was nowhere else in the country that postsecondary students could gain the hands-on brewing skills they need to succeed in the industry, and our Teaching Brewery continues to lead the way in Canada’s growing craft beer industry today,” said Gill. “Each beer brewed at our Teaching Brewery is a ‘resume in a bottle’ for our students, and the multitude of awards won for student-crafted brews is a testament to the quality applied education and training that our students bring into the industry in Ontario and beyond.”
NC’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program was launched in 2010 as the first of its kind in Canada. The award-winning, two-year program offers extensive hands-on training at an on-site, state-of-the-art Teaching Brewery to prepare students for employment in the expanding brewery, microbrewery and brewpub industries. Located at the College’s Daniel J. Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, students learn from award-winning faculty and have access to on-site hop yard and local farm products to brew a full range of beer styles. Visit ncteachingbrewery.ca/
Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit niagaracollege.ca.
10th anniversary staff and students holiday: Gary Torraville (CFWI associate dean), Steve Gill (general manager, NC Learning Enterprises), Jon Downing (College Brewmaster professor) and a group of Brewmaster students strike a holiday pose (reminiscent of Santa and his reindeer) in front of the NC Teaching Brewery with an original cask of First Draft– the first student-crafted beer in Canada.
10th anniversary Jon Downing First Draft: College Brewmaster professor Jon Downing stands with the first original bottles of First Draft, the College’s first beer brand that debuted in December 2010 just months after the program launched. Behind him, on tap at the Teaching Brewery retail store, is a lineup of current student brews.