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Beer Class Bringing Students to Food Science

The new Art, Science and History of Beer class at the University of Georgia is becoming more and more popular among students, especially those majoring in food science.

The one-hour course was created to entice undergraduate students into food science. And that's exactly what it's doing.

Introducing Food Science Through Beer

Offered by the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the class introduces students to food science by taking a close look at the beer-making process.

"Students are not only introduced to food science in my class. They are also introduced to other aspects of agriculture, including agronomy," said Brian Nummer, the course instructor. "We look at all of the crops grown to make beer and the diseases farmers fight when growing these crops."

Nummer said agriculture is a major part of the class, but it introduces students to much more.

"This class gives the students the whole picture," he said. "We cover biochemistry, microbiology, agronomy, product packaging, marketing and advertising."

Teaching from Experience

Nummer runs the Athens Brew Pub in downtown Athens, Ga. He first became interested in becoming a brewer when he was a college student taking food science courses.

"Fermentations really interested me from day one," he said. "Now I'm an expert in beer, for lack of a better word. But I'm also an expert in other fermented products."

The Class Covers History Too

The beer class includes a little history, too.

"When you start talking about fermented products, you're talking about world history," Nummer said. "Most of these products have been around more than 20,000 years."

It all started, he said, "when an ancestor of ours left a few grains of barley to soften in the rain. The grains were perhaps left out a little too long. Not wanting to waste anything, they ate and drank the mixture."

Popular Among Students

The class was first introduced in the fall of 1998 with an enrollment of 35 students. The Fall '99 enrollment was 150 and was limited only by the number of seats in the room.

"Obviously, the students are curious about the class because of the name and the fact that we discuss beer," Nummer said. "My goals for the class are to change students' and their parents' perceptions of food science and to educate students on beer so they can make their own choices."

Nummer says the class does not include consuming beer or advocating drinking any alcoholic beverages.

"We don't do any tasting," he said. "In fact, some of the students are below the legal drinking age. I never advocate drinking. I assume most of the students like beer, but I don't encourage them to try it."

Ethics and Responsibility

Along these lines, the class includes a section on ethics.

"I believe an informed consumer should weigh the facts before making their own choices," said Nummer. "MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) sometimes implies that all drinking is destructive. But some studies show that moderate alcohol consumption can have health benefits."

He feels the students should be educated first and then be allowed to choose the route they will take. "In fact, quality over quantity is the basis of brew pubs," he said.

Nummer said he has heard no negative comments about the class and knows it has sparked several students' interest in food science. "No one has told me that it's an improper course," he said.

Creating More Food Science Majors

And the Art, Science and History of Beer class is serving its purpose of attracting students to food science.

"I know that a handful of students last semester were very interested in changing their majors to food science," he said. "I tell my students that food is the biggest business in the world, and it's recession-proof. After all, everybody's got to eat."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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