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One of the World's Top Culinary Schools Is Now Brewing Craft Beer

The Brewery at the Culinary Institute of America was created in partnership with Brooklyn Brewery, which has been a longtime advocate for the better treatment of beer within the American dining scene.

by Niko Krommydas
Mar 18 2016, 4:00pm

Brewing class in the CIA's brewery with instructor and head brewer Hutch Kugeman. Photo by CIA/Phil Mansfield.

In the middle of December, nearly two years after the project's initial announcement, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) opened an on-site brewery at its main campus in Hyde Park, New York.

The Brewery at the CIA—located in the college's impressive student-dining facility, The Egg—was created in partnership with Brooklyn Brewery, whose esteemed brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, has been a longtime advocate for the better treatment of beer within the American dining scene, most notably in its comparison to wine. (Oliver, who authored a highly influential guide to pairing beer and food in 2003, once told Food & Wine, "Cooking schools are only just starting to learn that they can't send people out into the world with only three hours of beer training after one month on wine.")

The new facility, encased within industrial-style glass windows to mimic Brooklyn Brewery's headquarters in Williamsburg, features a seven-barrel brewhouse designed to yield more than 200 gallons of beer per batch. It serves a dual purpose. It's a laboratory area for students taking a newly introduced bachelor's-level course called Art and Science of Brewing, which will provide them with first-hand experience on how to make beer. It's also a craft brewery, with Hutch Kugeman in the role of head brewer. A multiple-award-winning brewer and native of the Hudson Valley, Kugeman makes CIA's two flagship beers—Mise en Place Wit, a Belgian-style witbier brewed with orange peel and coriander, and Cleaver IPA, a pleasingly aromatic dry-hopped IPA—along with rotating class-project recipes designed with the help of students.

While none of the CIA's beers are sold off of the scenic 170-acre campus, they are on the menus of the five on-site restaurants, and growlers are available to purchase by everyone (over the age of 21) at The Egg. I recently chatted with Oliver and Kugeman, as well as Doug Miller, the professor of Art and Science of Brewing's lecture component, to learn more.

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Hutch Kugeman and Garrett Oliver. Photo by Al Nowak, On Location Studios.

MUNCHIES: Hi, everyone. Can we start with how the project developed? Doug Miller: Well, beer education and the culinary world have always been very important to Garrett and to Brooklyn [Brewery]. And the partnership between us and Brooklyn go back years. You've been doing beer dinners on campus for what now, about ten years?

Garrett Oliver: That sounds right. I've been visiting the CIA for 20 years. Steve Hindy, our founder, he's been friends with Waldy [Malouf, senior director of food and beverage operations] for more than that, and I've known Waldy about that long. too.

Doug Miller: Brooklyn's top guys have been on campus to speak to the students through the years. There's even a graduate from here working at Brooklyn right now.

Garrett Oliver: Yeah, a CIA grad is our barrel manager. With over 2,000 barrels, it might be the coolest job in the brewery.

Doug Miller: There's always been a strong relationship between Brooklyn and the CIA. But specifically, we started talking with them in February of 2014 about what it would take to build a brewery here. Not only did they give financial and technical support, but they were instrumental in helping to amend the state liquor laws to allow it. And as we got closer to starting everything up last fall, they helped us on the framework of the course with myself and John [Fischer, a fellow professor at the CIA].

What was the inspiration to build an on-campus brewery? Doug Miller: One of the goals definitely is to do our part to help change the perception of beer within the hospitality industry. Here we're educating the country's future leaders in hospitality and in culinary, so having the new course and the brewery will hopefully give them a better understanding and appreciation of beer. And that'll help with how beer is perceived in restaurants, how future beverage programs are constructed, how food menus are approached and designed ... I think even for the students who don't take the class, just walking by and seeing the brewery here will increase the awareness and bring it into the conversation more. Beer deserves a place at the table as much as anything else.

Garrett Oliver: I agree. I think there's a big need for more knowledge of beer throughout the restaurant world. We all love wine, but I think we'd all agree that wine is a far less "culinary" beverage than beer is. Brewing is a form of cooking; there are recipes and techniques which we use to develop all sorts of flavors in our beers. Many sommeliers, unfortunately, know little about beer. I've been told by the operations people at major high-end restaurant groups that their revenues are 8 to 10 percent beer. It may not be as big as wine, but it's still a big part of serious restaurants. So yes, it needs to be brought to the table more—not so literally and very much so literally.

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Three of the beers produced by The Brewery at the CIA. Photo by Al Nowak, On Location Studios.

Garrett, you and Hutch worked on The Brewery's two flagship recipes, for Mise en Place Wit and for Cleaver IPA. What did you want to convey in these? Garrett Oliver: Well, first I should say that we saw a number of really great people for the head-brewer position—it's really a "dream job," running the CIA brewery—but when I met Hutch I knew we had the right guy. He's got serious chops; he's a Hudson Valley guy through and through, and he really cares about both the students and the local community.

Now, from the beginning I thought that an IPA and a witbier should be the first beers we brewed here. We've brewed many iterations of both these styles at Brooklyn, and the flavors that they represent are very different. Witbier is light, fruity, spicy, and soft, whereas IPA is famously sharp, explosive, and aromatic. The two beers require different brewing techniques and ingredients, too. So they make a great "odd couple" and their divergent flavors can handle many, menu items between them. Besides, the students love IPAs, and everybody likes a witbier!

There was also a third beer at the semester's start. Hutch Kugemen: Right, that was Cast Iron Stout. That was a class project oatmeal stout that we made toward the end of the first semester and it went on tap in January. There's going to be a student-made beer every term, and starting with the current term we're going to factor it into their grade.

What's the class beer for this term? Hutch Kugemen: For this semester Doug and I assigned five beer styles for the students to research. They gave presentations on the history of the beer style, commonly used malts and hops, and commercial examples of the style. After sampling the different styles of beer as a class we chose to brew a maibock. It's a great malty amber lager that's traditionally brewed in the springtime. It's actually in the fermentation tank right now and will be on tap before the end of the semester.

Hutch, you've already brewed several different beers on the school's system, many that are available now at the on-campus restaurants, and you recently released a collaboration made on-site with Rare Form Brewing Company from Troy, New York. Do you identify this brewery more of an educational tool, or more of a standard production brewery? Hutch Kugemen: Great question. I think it's a balance of both. Foremost the brewery is here to teach the students about how beer is made and those aspects. But we're also a business and I'm here to make beer to sell at the school. The schedule isn't as rigorous as a full-scale production brewery right now, but I'm here at the brewery every day, mashing, cleaning kegs ... It's still really early on to know for sure how the balance will be. I think as time goes we'll see where the production side goes. But being from the Hudson Valley and having a lot of brewer friends in the area, collaborations are something I really want to do a lot of here. Our beer can only be sold on campus, so one way we can become a destination to the general public and to beer people is to have limited beers like that.

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From left: Garrett Oliver, Waldy Malouf, John Fischer, Hutch Kugeman, and Doug Miller.

Will most of the beer recipes have a culinary focus, given the environment? Hutch Kugemen: Yes and no. We're certainly brewing in a culinary environment and are very mindful of that. It's one of the reasons that Garrett chose a witbier as one of our flagships; it's a very food-friendly beer. But we plan on brewing a range of styles, so some won't exclusively have a culinary twist. We did a German kolsch last month that's just a clean, crisp representation of the style.

What about the variety of resources at your disposal? As a brewer, I'm sure these are sources of inspiration for you. Hutch Kugemen: Definitely. I'd be a fool not to use, say, the herbs and botanicals grown here on campus, not to mention the knowledge and experience of the people who work here. Like for the collaboration with Rare Form, I wanted to make a wintery beer that didn't have the typical winter-beer spices in it. Talking with Doug about it, he mentioned juniper going really well with lemon peel and that ultimately led to the beer. Combining interesting flavors is second nature to everyone here. It's a great resource to have to do some really exciting things.

Garrett Oliver: We really want to see this brewery connect to the local land and local ingredients as much as possible, and look at how to integrate almost Nordic concepts of a "sense of place" into what we do here. And Hutch has already started that.

You're in the midst of the class's second term. How is the course syllabus structured? Doug Miller: So, it's a 15-week course with two class lectures a week and one lab taught by Hutch in the brewery. This is actually our second beer class [at the CIA]. The first [Brewed: History, Culture, and Production] was started about three years ago. That's more of a beer appreciation class where students taste different beers, ciders, and sakes from around the world and design a four-course dinner to pair them with each course. Also, the students learn how to properly set up a beer program. For this class, it's more learning about the ingredients and raw materials, as well as learning about the brewing process and important things like brewery safety and proper cleaning and sanitation. The two parts work in tandem: lecture allows the students to learn the theory of making beer, and then they work with Hutch in the brewery to be able to physically use what they learned in class.

Hutch Kugemen: And I think we're really only scratching the surface on what we can do educationally with the brewery so far. We're definitely going to grow hops here soon ... One thing I want to focus on is talking with the students about brewing with a purpose. Sometimes that purpose is to explore cool flavors and styles of beers, but sometimes it's more market driven. Like in the first semester, knowing to make an oatmeal stout on tap that rounds out our production lineup rather than having a wit and two IPAs. It was December, and a stout made more sense. A lot of the business talk is done informally in the lab now, just in real time as we talk about the real financial choices that are made in a brewery. Can a brewery afford the proper floors and if not, how does that affect safety? If a brewery is able to invest in another tank, how does that increase production? Does it open up new markets or create new jobs? And some of it is done with guest speakers. Last semester we had my friend Jeff O'Neill come in to speak about the realities of designing and building a new brewery, since he's in the middle of opening Industrial Arts Brewing not too far from here. We spent an hour talking about the business side, how costly it is to secure hop contracts, and so on. At the end, we hadn't even spoken about the actual beer. There's a lot of sides to this industry and we're gonna try to tackle a good mix of everything.

What are the backgrounds of some of the students taking the course now? Hutch Kugemen: We have a pretty broad range of students in the class. Some are pursuing a focus on beverages as part of their bachelor's degree; they've already taken the wine classes, spent a semester at our campus in Napa Valley and taken the mixology classes. Now they want to round out their knowledge by adding beer and brewing to their education. Then we have a few students in the culinary-science program who are really interested in beer and the science behind it. And then some students just want to learn more about beer and it's an interesting elective for them to take.

What do you hope is their takeaway? Hutch Kugemen: Well, one student has plans to attend Siebel after graduation, but that's an exception. We're not a brewing school, nor do the students who take the class leave as brewers. So hopefully the class will just ignite a passion inside them for great craft beer and the brewing industry, both as a business and as an ingredient. They already have a passion for food and our student body has a lot of energy and creativity. I want to make beer a part of that. If we open up possibilities for students to incorporate beer more into the culinary world, or for them to incorporate their culinary training and education into the craft-beer world, then that's great. At the very least when they go out into the culinary world they'll think of beer with the same respect they do wine as a culinary ingredient, as an accompaniment to a fine meal, or as a money-making part of the business.

Garrett Oliver: Exactly. The beer programs won't turn students into instant brewmasters, but they do get their hands dirty, and they can walk away with a real depth of understanding that is pretty much unmatched in the restaurant environment today. So I think this program is super important, a milestone for craft beer and for culinary. Brewing is art, science, creativity, passion, and discipline. When people go through this program at CIA, and when they see what we're doing with the brewery, I'd like to think they're going to understand that really well.

Thanks for speaking with me.

This interview has been edited and condensed.