There’s something brewing at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
By JOHN LOVETT | University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
To further support the growing beer brewing industry in Arkansas, the University of Arkansas Certificate of Proficiency in Brewing has added a fully licensed and bonded nanobrewery for “grain to glass” hands-on experience in beer production and quality control.
That nanobrewery is a 15-gallon, all-electric, four-vessel system, along with temperature-controlled tanks for fermentation, which allows faculty to perform teaching and research on several topics, including the use of Arkansas rice in brewing.
Beer produced by the system is currently packaged in 5.2-gallon kegs and served on an eight-tap station for research, training and extension purposes. The nanobrewery is housed in the food science building at the Milo J. Shult Agricultural Research and Extension Center. The certificate program incorporates courses from the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering.
Scott Lafontaine, assistant professor of food chemistry, and Renee Threlfall, research scientist in enology and viticulture, with the Division of Agriculture and Bumpers College, are co-directors of the brewing certificate program. They conduct research through the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Division of Agriculture.
“The brewing certificate program was initiated in 2020 to support Arkansas’ growing beer brewing industry, and we have had several students graduate from the program,” Threlfall said. “Hiring Dr. Lafontaine last year has enabled us to expand and revise the program.”
The nanobrewery was installed this year by Lafontaine and is licensed as the University of Arkansas Beverage Development Facility. As a bonded and licensed small brewery with the state of Arkansas, and as a pilot brewing plant with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the beer produced on the system can be served on location at special events to those of legal drinking age.
According to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, there are 46 active small brewer permits and 12 active microbrewery permits for a total of 58 craft breweries permitted to manufacture and sell beer in Arkansas. The number of craft breweries in Arkansas has grown steadily over the past 10 years, according to the Brewers Association, with production at about 53,000 barrels in 2022. A barrel of beer is 31 gallons.
Beer Serves America, the biennial economic impact study commissioned by the Beer Institute and National Beer Wholesalers Association, reports that the beer industry in Arkansas supports 390 brewing and 883 agriculture jobs.
Lafontaine, who joined the food science department faculty in 2022, has been the author or co-author of many published research papers on studies of hop quality, non-alcoholic beer production and flavor analysis. In May, he was among the speakers at the Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America for a seminar titled “Novel Strategies to Develop Preferable Non-Alcohol and Low-Alcohol Beer and Alternatives.”
The brewing certificate program is designed to provide students with a theoretical and practical introduction to brewing and fermentation. Once a student completes the 15-credit-hour certificate, Lafontaine said they will have a thorough understanding of the brewing process and how to measure the quality of beer and other beverages.
Previously, hands-on experience for brewing science students was obtained through internships with commercial brewing partners.
Core Brewing & Distilling in Springdale is one of the industry partners where students in the brewing certificate program participate in internships. Jesse Core, CEO of Core Brewing, expressed excitement for the brewing certificate program and Lafontaine’s involvement as co-director.
“I’m thrilled about U of A’s choice to hire a brewing scientist like Dr. Lafontaine,” Core said. “Our past discussions were insightful, and his expertise will be invaluable to the future development of the beverage sector in Arkansas. Given Arkansas’s potential for new beverage ventures, we remain excited to support the program.”
With the new nanobrewery, students will get hands-on brewing experience on a standardized level, said Lafontaine. Along with learning how to design their own recipes, brewing science students will also learn more about quality control and flavor chemistry analysis through training with state-of-the-art methodology and using instruments such as an Anton Paar Alcolyzer and a Shimadzu triple quadrupole gas-chromatograph-mass spectrometer.
“Depending on the scale of production and available funds, every brewery has different ways of handling quality analysis and control. Throughout the certificate, students will learn industry standard methods that were developed by brewing chemists, and how to apply them to monitor beverage quality,” Lafontaine said. “By the time someone finishes the brewing certificate program, my goal is that they become troubleshooters and have a solid foundational knowledge which they can leverage in their future jobs with our commercial partners to generate excellent products.”
To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu. Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk. To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu.
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