LEWISTON, Maine — A new class offered this fall at L-A College is dedicated to the idea that there’s much more to the beer in that mug than suds.
“A person may not think, when they are at home brewing something up in their little home brew system, that they’re doing science,” Dan Stasko, associate professor of natural and applied sciences at L-A College, said. “They may think of it as cooking but it’s actually very rich in the techniques that we use for science.”
The University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College is teaming up with Baxter Brewing to offer “SCI 199: Beer! The History, Art, Science and Business of Brewing” beginning in September.
“For me, it’s a great launching point for a multidisciplinary class,” Stasko said. “There is the science, but there is history and the social aspects in terms of impacts on health. These are all things to touch on. And then there is the added benefit of the business side.”
The three-credit-hour course will be a full college class and will be open to anyone in the community at least 21 years old. Classes start Sept. 9 and will continue into December.
“A lot of people are scared of the sciences,” Stasko said. “They think that there’s no real relevance to their lives, or they don’t have a broad handle on what science is. So, I’ve been looking for something scientific that would get people interested. I’ve had the idea for a beer class for years and trying to find a way to teach it. But I’m not a brewer; I’m a chemist.”
Stasko said he began discussing the idea with Baxter Brewing founder Luke Livingston, who put him in touch with Ben Low, director of brewery operations for Baxter. Low will teach the class.
Low said he has taught informal workshops on brewing before and he has taught college classes when he was working on his doctorate in classics.
“I’m not a scientist, or not directly, but I know enough science to be a brewer, and that’s a fair amount,” he said. “I guess you could say I’m a practical scientist.”
It’s an introductory class on science, touching on topics ranging from chemistry to biology to physics.
“We’ll be touching on those topics, but not really in depth,” he said. “We won’t get too far into the complex biochemistry and microbiology.”
Stasko said students will actually get to brew a batch of beer through the brewery’s pilot system during the course.
“One of the things they are going to see is the difference between the small scale and the large scale industrial side of science,” he said. “We often have these simplistic pictures in science. But in brewing in particular, there are these idiosyncrasies. You do one thing and it goes off the wrong way and you get a bad batch. The real world intrudes, and that’s quite fun to see in a science class.”