ELLENSBURG -- Kelsy Bennett of Ellensburg enjoys drinking microbrews. But after enrolling in a new certificate program at Central Washington University, she wants to turn her passion into a career.
"I would love to have my own brewery some day," gushed the 25-year-old biology major, who works as a server at Iron Horse Brewery. "The more I learn, the more I want to know. ... I'd like to appeal to the female demographic. It's a largely untapped market."
Because of the rapid growth of Washington's craft brewing industry, Central created a 16-credit certificate program on the subject last fall. Through the interdisciplinary program, students learn about the science, technology, sales and merchandising aspects of the business -- arming themselves with knowledge that could lead to jobs.
"There's been tremendous growth within the Northwest, and like the wine industry, the beer industry has need for knowledgeable and skilled employees," said Kevin Nemeth, Central's director of continuing education. "This is the only program of its kind in the state."
Students can enroll in the program throughout the year. After earning a certificate, they are able to show prospective employers they have the skills required for numerous positions, said Frank Pangrazi, program assistant. Jobs range from working as an account manager for a distributor to working in a tasting room or sales shop.
The pay range varies drastically depending on the job, he said. Successful brewers can make $100,000 a year, while others may start by cleaning kegs for $12 an hour.
"Most entry-level jobs in the industry don't ordinarily pay a lot," Pangrazi said. "It's up to individuals to make their own destiny."
There only are a handful of programs across the country that teach people about the business side of the brewing industry, with the closest at Oregon State University in Corvallis. OSU offers a food science and technology degree with a fermentation science option pertaining directly to the brewing and wine industries.
The success of Central's own Global Wine Studies program spurred Nemeth to launch the beer certificate program. The wine offering, which includes trade and consumer classes, a wine trade professional certificate and a wine trade and tourism minor, began more than seven years ago.
In 2008, it expanded to include a bachelor of science degree and became the only undergraduate program in the country that focuses on the business side of the wine industry.
Washington has 100 craft breweries, ranking third nationally behind Colorado's 103 and California's 221. Of Washington breweries, most are on the western side of the state, Pangrazi said. About 10 are found in the region and include Horse Heaven Hills in Prosser, Snipes Mountain Brewing in Sunnyside and Iron Horse Brewery in Ellensburg.
Through Central's program, Nemeth said the university can provide breweries with an arsenal of trained staff. About 10 students are enrolled thus far and represent such majors as public relations and business, he said. As part of the program, the students participate in lab work, attend lectures and meet numerous industry professionals.
"Eventually, we see (our offering) becoming a full major," Nemeth said. "Our location is critical. We're just up the road from where many of the world's hops are grown."
One participant is 26-year-old Blaine Serrin of Ellensburg. The geology major hopes Central will open its own brewery in the next few years, which would give students firsthand experience in all aspects of the business.
"I'm doing some home brewing now, and I'm excited to do more of that," Serrin said. "I hope to start nailing down my own recipes. I want to make ones that are uniquely mine and have people enjoy them."
Sharing in this enthusiasm is instructor Dwayne Douglas, who is teaching the students about sales and retail management.
"It's a brand-new program, but it's an exciting program," he said. "Our students are getting exposure from people who are out there doing it. ... They'll be better employees, no matter what business they go into."
A valuable part of the program is its advisory board of industry professionals who give insight into the rewards and challenges of the business, Douglas said. Jeff Winn, owner of Yakima Craft Brewing Co., is one of the advisers.
"This program is not just about running a brewery; it's a lot more than that," said Winn, who opened his brewery about three years ago. "Students need to be in touch with what's going on today. I hope this course becomes as much about the business as it is about brewing."
By the time students read textbooks about the rules and regulations of the industry, the information is obsolete, Winn said. That's why hands-on experience is so important, as is the understanding of just how difficult the business can be.
"When you are bitten by the bug, have stars in your eyes and want to work in the brewery, everything about the business is great," he said. "But not everyone will walk into brewing jobs."
People normally start out doing grunt work, such as manning the cellar. And if they do succeed in working at or opening their own brewery, their days will be dominated by hard, physical labor, Winn said.
"By 4 p.m. every day, I'm covered in sweat and the brewery is a complete mess," he said. "When it's 100 degrees outside, it's 100 degrees in here, plus 50 to 60 percent humidity. ... It's not all glamour."
Still, Winn said he's not about to crush anyone's dreams. If anything, he sees himself as a resource for the young entrepreneur.
"To be successful in this business, you cannot be afraid of hard work," he said.