One of the newest education opportunities for distillers is Hartwick College’s Center for Craft Food and Beverage in Oneonta, NY. Focused on assisting small food and drink producers, distillers and other similar businesses can get help with business planning and development at the Center, as well as product analysis.
Hartwick is a small liberal arts college that champions experiential learning and community outreach. Several years ago they started gathering funds to create a beer analysis lab to support NY’s booming craft brewing industry, and eventually they met Aaron MacLeod, who at the time was a chemist at the Canadian Grain Commission’s Grain Research Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada.
MacLeod and Hartwick administrators discussed possibilities for the beer lab, and in January they officially opened the Center, with a scope extending beyond beer analysis.
At the Center, craft food and beverage businesses from across the country can work with MacLeod and students to develop business plans, feasibility studies and other market research. Most of their clients are from NY, which now has over 200 licensed breweries and over 100 licensed distilleries.
The economic impact of these growing beverage industries, and the value they create for their grain, hop and other ingredient growers and suppliers, encouraged NY legislators to provide much of the funding for the center through state grants. In January, coinciding with the Center’s official opening, NY Senator James L. Seward announced a grant of $250,000.
“We need to nurture this blossoming industry that combines farming, agri-tourism and other related industries,” said Seward in a press release. “The Hartwick College Center for Craft Food & Beverage is a one of kind resource for existing businesses and budding entrepreneurs that will help develop superior products and foster economic growth.”
Alongside the economic development capabilities of the Center, MacLeod and his students provide product and ingredient analysis. MacLeod says this work is great preparation for students who want to pursue careers in food and beverage. Even if they do not, he says it still helps them learn how to work with other businesses and develop their professional communication skills.
“It’s a great way to build bridges between academics and industry,” said MacLeod.
For those businesses who utilize their testing and analysis services, the Center is an affordable, and sometimes the only, resource they have. For instance, MacLeod is passionate about helping the growing number of craft maltsters around the U.S., especially with his background in grain and malt testing.
He says that before Hartwick’s Center opened, craft maltsters really had no domestic resources. If they wanted to have their malt analyzed, they had to send it to Canada, and if they wanted to learn more about malting they had to travel outside the U.S.
“Brewing information is really open source, but malting is a little bit different,” he explains. “There was nowhere in the U.S. that a craft maltster could go to learn their craft.”
But that changed this spring when MacLeod and Dr. Patrick Boivin from the French Institute for Malting & Brewing taught Hartwick’s first Advanced Craft Malting course to a full class of 16 participants. More classes are planned for the future, as well as conferences like the Farmer Brewer Conference, which brought 100 grain industry members – like brewers, bakers, distillers, maltsters and farmers – together at Hartwick last winter.
MacLeod says the Center has also helped the small community of distillers that floor malt their own grains, and they welcome questions from others who may be interested.
The Center is currently at about half capacity for malt testing, processing about 40 samples per week. Alongside malt, they test hops, grains and beer, but not spirits.
“That is a realm of expertise all its own,” laughs MacLeod. “I’ll leave it to Gary Spedding.”