There are a growing number of brewing programs available in Canada, and this article is part of a series where we chat with Canadian brewing program graduates about how their programs helped them get to where they are now.
Thomas Morrison is one of the day brewers for Red Truck Beer Company in Vancouver, BC, but he does more than just make the beer. “I have a lot of hats, and they don’t necessarily well fit, but I basically do what is required to help out,” Morrison explains. From running a brew house, cellaring, filtration and more, Morrison has his education at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) to thank for his smooth transition into being a brewer.
Morrison started homebrewing in North Caroline in early 2012, and didn’t stop as he moved to Ontario, and then finally out to Vancouver, in 2013. “My first homebrew was terrible,” laughs Morrison. “But my friends were always around to drink it. So they stuck me through the thick and the thin. So as we got better, we just used it as an excuse to get together and hang out.”
“I went to brewing school because I was working at Granville Island Brewing at the time in Vancouver as well. I was working on packaging and doing tours and tasting but I really wanted to get in to the brew house, which was at the time, impossible without knowing a little bit more beyond what I was doing with homebrewing. I was homebrewing four or five times a week probably.” Out of all the brew schools available in Canada at the time, KPU’s brewing program was the best option for Morrison and his wife, who both wanted to stay in BC.
And Morrison really enjoyed the program. “When I got in, I thought I was going to nail it and thought I knew everything that I needed to know from the theoretical stand point. I very quickly learn that I was incredibly wrong, and how much further I could take myself and my brewing for that matter. So those two years were a whirlwind of learning everything. Brewing chemistry, history of beer, management skills, sales, even down to generating fermentation curves on Excel and how to use technology now to help the brewery you’re help. From a practical standpoint, there’s always another way. I kept my ears open and my brain was jammed pack full for two solid years. I by no means know everything. I’m still learning every day. But what I did get was the chance to walk into a brewery, and bypass the packaging and cellaring department for a few years. And walk into a brewhouse and have a chance to keep learning, and keep up the intensity. What KPU got me was the base level skill to walk in, know how to run a day to day in a brewery, and past that, allowed me to bypass the more monotonous work and get to the fun stuff right away.
KPU’s Brewing and Brewery Operations program started 2014. They generally do one intake a year in September, and take a maximum of 35 students per intake. The program is run at the KPU Langley campus, where the brewery is located. The full time programs runs for two years, with summers off for students to get some real life experience in the industry.
“One of the key features of KPU’s Brewing & Brewery Operations Diploma is that students get hands-on experience in our 4,500 sq. foot teaching brewery which is located on campus,” states DeAnn Bremner, Communications Coordinator for the program. “We also put a solid emphasis on brewing science, so our grads have a strong grasp of brewing chemistry and microbiology for quality control and analysis. Not only do students learn how to brew, they also learn the business side in their second year. The intention is that a student can enter the program with no previous brewing knowledge or experience and graduate ready to operate and run their own brewery.”
Morrison’s initial dream of getting into a brewing position at Granville Island didn’t quite work due to commuting logistics, but he got a brewing position at Dead Frog Brewery while still in school, and was offered the day brewer position he currently holds at Red Truck the day before his last exam, which was a huge relief for him. And there’s exciting things happening at Red Truck Brewing.
Red Truck Brewing recently announced their expansion into Fort Collins, CO, opening a second brewery there with their four core brands and 14 rotating seasonals. This is the first cross border expansion that a Canadian brewery has made in over a decade.
Advice for future homebrewers thinking of going pro? “Be humble. You think you’re going to know a lot [but] you’re going to have to reassess that thought for a long time. No matter how hard you’ve been doing if, even if you’ve been brewing five, six, seven days a week, and talking with everyone, there’s someone out there who knows more. Just listen, be patient. and be open to these ideas. I think you’ll find that…your whole perception of craft beer, what it is and how it is, will change three times over.”
Photo courtesy of Thomas Morrison