With more than 150 craft breweries and countless pubs and tasting rooms across the county, San Diego is considered by many to be the craft brewing capital of the United States. On February 16, 2021, MiraCosta College’s BrewTech craft brewing program became the first and only community college program of its kind to be certified by the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA) making it one of two programs in the state (the other being at UC Davis), and one of only 14 in the entire country.
“We’re honored to be recognized by the MBAA, as it validates the quality of how we are serving our students and serving the industry by putting people to work in a profession they love,” said Carisa Chavez, special programs coordinator at Mira Costa.
Housed in MiraCosta’s Technology Career Institute as part of its Community Education & Workforce Development department, the 280-hour BrewTech certificate enrolls students twice a year, can be completed in just 15 weeks, and leads to direct employment as a brewery technician. Given the number of craft breweries in San Diego, it comes as no surprise that MiraCosta’s BrewTech program boasts a job placement rate of 80% leading students to well-paying, entry-level jobs in brewing, packaging, quality assurance and other areas of the craft brew ecosystem.
To date, MiraCosta’s program has graduated 56 students (10 of which were already working in the industry) and placed them at breweries across the country, including such regional establishments as Belching Beaver, Mother Earth Nampa, Local Roots, Stone Brewery, Societe, The Lost Abbey, Wild Barrel, Booze Brothers, Saint Archer, Kilowatt and many others.
As the only program in the region with its own on-site brewery, the program is a true one-barrel brew house with three fermentation tanks and one packaging tank that allows the program to can its own beer. In addition to receiving industry-standard workplace training in OSHA 10 and Lean, students learn the fundamentals of beer production, train on state-of-the-art equipment, complete an 80-hour internship, and receive job placement assistance upon completion. Graduation culminates with a beer tasting event during which students serve their beer to industry representatives.
“This program, besides providing students with baseline training, offers an outlet for our industry partners to hire from,” says Michael Stevensen, the program’s head instructor, and head brewer and co-owner of the popular Culver Beer Company in Carlsbad, California. “We always love when a brewery reaches out to us looking for a potential employee and we can help expedite their hiring needs. We have worked adamantly to create opportunities into the industry and for our students.”
In addition to Stevenson, instructors include Justin Stambaugh, former Head of Brewing Operations for Rip Current Brewing Company and founder of Stave and Nail Brewing Company, a niche brand that specializes in barrel-aged sour beer as well as lagers, stouts and IPAs; and Greg Turk, a former brewer with Karl Strauss and The Lost Abbey and currently with Rouleur Brewing Company in Carlsbad.
In order to gain certification by the MBAA, MiraCosta’s BewTech program needed to meet a wide variety of standards that included preparing students for entry-level positions at either large-scale or craft brewing businesses, employing a lead faculty member with extensive experience as a leader of an operating brewery, allowing for industry internships, and providing facilities adequate to honing techniques and skills.
While COVID initially forced the program to pause instruction, the adjustments made led to an important discovery by instructors.
“Once the CDC said we could meet in groups of 6 or more, we resumed in-person learning, splitting our 15-person cohort into three groups of five,” says Stevensen. “They met once a week with new lecture material being pre-recorded and published online for them to fulfill on their own time. The instructors and students both agreed that this new format should be how the program is run moving forward and we spent the rest of the cohort and all of cohort 4 (fall 2020) hybridizing our program. We’ve gotten great feedback and will continue this format post-COVID—if there is such a thing, we consider this our silver lining.”