University of Akron associate professor Jennifer Warren looked out at her students and asked them to come to the front of the class where a stainless steel pot sat on a stove.
The sweet smell of wort — the liquid that would be turned into beer — filled the classroom.
"What can you learn from over there?" Warren said, telling the students to stick their heads one by one above the pot and get a big whiff.
"It's beer," she added. "We're not taking it very seriously."
UA has launched a new one-credit course this semester called “The Science of Brewing and Fermentation.” Warren is leading two separate classes through the scientific and hands-on process of making a five-gallon batch of beer, along with visiting local breweries Hoppin' Frog and Thirsty Dog to watch the professionals at work.
Think of it as Brewing 101, with students learning the basics such as brewing history, terminology and styles.
Craft breweries have exploded in popularity around the country, with more than 7,000 now open in the United States, including about 300 in Ohio. Many colleges have launched programs and classes to support the growing industry. In UA's case, the school sees the course as a way to promote its School of Nutrition and Dietetics program in the College of Health Professions.
So far, so good. Both classes are full, with about 25 students in each.
On a recent winter day, Warren, who has been homebrewing for a decade and now also enjoys distilling, oversaw the brewing process in one of the school's food laboratories, equipped with a full kitchen. She wore a green T-shirt with the elements beryllium (Be) and erbium (Er) highlighted. Be + Er = Beer.
"Do you have a whole drawer dedicated to beer shirts?" a student asked.
"Maybe," Warren responded. "You may see a few more as the semester continues."
Warren got into homebrewing because she was raised by a doomsday prepper. She became interested in making things herself and is fascinated with the growth of the craft industry, which has been spurred in part by the drink local-eat local movement.
Despite the wide availability of professionally made craft beer, the American Homebrewers Association estimated in 2017 that there are 1.1 million homebrewers in the country.
Warren explained to the students that the most important aspect of brewing is proper sanitation. Unclean equipment leads to yucky-tasting beer. She also talked about how minerals in water can affect the flavor. That's why she bought spring water for the course. The ingredients — a Dortmunder kit that included hops, malt and yeast — were purchased at the Grape & Granary, a homebrewing and winemaking shop on Home Avenue in Akron.
The students learned that brewing involves a lot of sitting around and waiting. You have to wait for water to boil. You have to wait for grains to steep. You have to wait for the water to boil again. You have to wait to add the malt. You have to wait to add the hops. You have to wait for the wort to cool before adding the yeast.
Along the way, Warren imparted her wisdom, pointing out that water boils at 212 degrees and malt adds sweetness.
After so much waiting, the students applauded as Warren added the aroma hops.
The class lasts only two hours and brewing process spilled well past that, as the wort was transferred into a glass carboy for up to two weeks of fermentation.
Devon Anderson, 22, a senior from Vincent, Ohio, who's studying chemistry, is taking the class with a group of friends.
"I used to absolutely hate beer," she said. "I grew up with a dad who drinks Miller Lite and that just tastes like pee water. And then I went to Columbus last year and my cousin took me to a bunch of different breweries and I realized that not all of them taste that way. Some of them taste pretty good. I just wanted to learn more and how to make them and the differences between different beers."
Meanwhile, students Leland Hoffman, 22, of Cincinnati and Dan Brown, 22, of Canfield, both seniors studying mechanical engineering, have brewed before. They kidded that their first beer, a Blue Moon clone, "tasted like cheap beer."
They took the class to see if they could learn more about the process and hone their skills.
The beer already has a name: "Roo Brew 7760:421." (The 7760:421 is a reference to the course name.) Once ready, it will be put in 12-ounce bottles. It's unclear what will happen to the beer after that, although it likely is going home with the students who are all of legal drinking age.
Warren has blue and yellow crowns — the school colors — ready to cap the bottles.
At the end of the course, she will use a $1,000 grant from UA’s EX[L] Center to rent the Roo Bus to take students to the local breweries for a tour and tasting. Warren already takes students to Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland for her “Food Industry” course.
Her goal is to continue offering the course in the future and develop courses with similar topics, such as the science behind coffee roasting.
"If we don't make alcohol, life is not worth living," Warren said with a laugh.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his daily beer blog at www.ohio.com/beer. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.