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At Portland State U., Beer Is Just Business

Unknown-2They don’t call Portland, Ore., “Beervana” for nothing. The Northwestern city is as well known for its microbrews as for its Bohemians on bikes. It seems that you can’t pedal half a block in that city without running into a brewpub or eatery pouring local suds. Oregon itself consistently ranks in the top five among states with the most breweries per capita—it’s either first, second, or third, depending on your source.

This fall, Portland State University—which, by the way, has a beer named for it—will attempt to capitalize on that beer culture. The university is establishing an online certificate program in the “business of craft brewing,” which will give aspiring home brewers (along with distillers and cider makers) some of the basics of managing and marketing a small brewing concern.

Mellie Pullman, an associate professor of operations management, says the four-course program will be similar to a wine-business program at Sonoma State University. Two optional offerings in the program include a three-day tour of local craft breweries—complete with tastings—and a course focused on an internship at a local brewery. Major local brewers like Widmer Brothers, Rogue, and Hopworks Urban Brewery have formed partnerships with the university to support the certificate program. Associated businesses—like the Bull Run Distilling Company and JV Northwest, a manufacturer of stainless-steel tanks used in fermenting—are also part of the program.

Unknown-1Ms. Pullman (pictured at left, and above with Michael Neubauer, lead brewer at Hopworks Urban Brewery) will teach some of the courses herself, and she is eminently qualified: She was a pioneering female brewer in the craft-beer scene in the 1980s; she was co-owner of the Wasatch Brew Pub & Brewery in the relatively beer-unfriendly state of Utah; and her grandmother’s family owned the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company.

The program seems natural for Portland State, an institution that has focused on tying its academics, research, and identity to the city of Portland. Ms. Pullman says Portland State’s strategy has been to identify the city’s strengths and needs, and to develop programs around them, with an eye to marketing those programs even beyond the state. She notes that Portland State is developing certificate programs in apparel (Oregon is home to Nike and Columbia Sportswear) and food-industry leadership. The food-industry-leadership program has a 99-percent job-placement rate.

“Our food and beverage scene is one of the main reasons people visit Portland,” Ms. Pullman says. “I see restaurateurs from Chicago come to Portland to see what we’re doing.”

Even so, a program devoted to the craft-beer industry was not without its controversies, she notes. Predictably, some faculty members and others were concerned about tying the university’s image to alcohol. But Ms. Pullman says the program will not deal with any techniques for making beer—those are already covered by a program at Oregon State University. Portland State’s program will focus on the burgeoning business sector.

“This is not like a beer-tasting school,” she says. (But that would be awesome.)

[Photos by Peter Simon/Portland State U.]

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