It wasn’t long into a Saturday brew day at Hatboro’s Crooked Eye Brewery before Steve Capobianco thought to do a safety check on his assistants.
“No one fell in?” the brewer asked, referring to the grain mill, a tool used to pulverize malt in one of the first steps of the brewing process. “Everyone’s good?”
They were. But it was a valid question, considering Capobianco was working with a class from Arcadia University. The students descended on the brewery earlier this month to make their very first beer — a 100-gallon learning experience dubbed 1853 Ale, after the year of Arcadia’s founding. Area beer drinkers can taste those students’ efforts when the beer is made available to the public at a release party at 5 p.m. on Thursday at Crooked Eye, 13 E. Montgomery Ave. #2, Hatboro.
The brew comes from assistant professor of criminal justice Favian Guertin-Martín’s “Untapped: Exploring the Socio and Cultural World of Beer” class, which launched last year with a similar brew day that yielded a red ale. Whatever style of beer they’re making, Guertin-Martín says, the goal is to teach his students — all 21 and older — the ins and outs of the brewing process, and hopefully increase young, of-age drinkers’ appreciation of craft beer.
To that end, the class visited beer makers such as Iron Hill Brewery, Ten7 Brewing Co., and Free Will Brewing Co., where students tasted fresh sour beers right out of the barrels. Guertin-Martín — who is such a craft-beer fan that he has a Dogfish Head tattoo and had his wedding reception at the company’s old brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Del. — also regularly brings samples to class for students to try and discuss, which in turn broadens their palates.
“Some of them had never had a craft beer before, so it was kind of an eye-opening experience,” Guertin-Martín said. “It’s fun to watch them take a sip of a barley wine or stout, because they aren’t accustomed to it.”
To settle on the new beer’s recipe, Guertin-Martín first surveyed his class of about 20 students on what beers they were familiar with, and found most were drinking “college beers” like Natural Light or Budweiser — popular, if lower-quality, brews that take it easy on college kids’ wallets.
Crooked Eye co-owner and brewer Jeff Mulherin and full-time Crooked Eye brewer Capobianco, with whom Guertin-Martín connected during a research project three years ago, then asked the kids what they liked in their beers — Fruity? Less bitter? Tart? — to come up with the recipe for 1853 Ale.
Students started their brew day at Crooked Eye at about 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 6 (Capobianco’s birthday, incidentally), beginning with milling grain and separating hops into different batches to be added to the brew, known as “wort” to start, at various times throughout the process. Capobianco led the day’s events, guiding students through the brew, answering questions and offering encouragement to the reserved group.
“We’re making beer. This is fun,” Capobianco said at one point. “Don’t be shy.”
It was also educational, giving students the opportunity to not only see how a professional brewery operates, but also a chance to get their hands dirty during the process. While Capobianco, Mulherin, and Guertin-Martín were on-site, most of the work — save for pre-weighing grains — was completed by students.
“We’re not doing anything,” Capobianco told the class. “This is our day off.”
Students separated into two groups of eight new brewers each, and set about moving the brew from mash tun, where the brew first comes together, to boil kettle, where hops are added, to fermentation tanks, where yeast works to create alcohol. (Those who missed the brew day, a required element of the course, had to return to Crooked Eye another day to brew a separate beer. Some students returned to the brewery after 1853 Ale’s fermentation to bottle and keg the beer.)
Some elements of brewing are less than pleasant, like the smell of hot wort, which turned some budding brewers off, or cleaning spent grain out of the mash tun, which one student quickly decided was a “terrible” job to have due to the heat and strong scent. Because Crooked Eye is a small and independent brewery, Capobianco told them, a vast majority of the work there is done by hand, and everything takes time. Many students, Guertin-Martín said, may not have realized brewing was such an involved process.
“I think they came away knowing that making beer is more detailed than they thought beforehand,” Guertin-Martín said. “It’s a waiting game.”
At the beer-release party, students will focus on that game with reflection papers and a presentation on the brewing process from their perspective.
For some, the brew day was impactful enough to make them want to start making beer outside of class.
“I want to homebrew now,” said Caleigh Diefenthaler, a senior computer-science major. Other students quizzed Capobianco about homebrewing, and got a look at some of his early brewing equipment.
“People are getting beer-making kits now. It’s kind of cliché, but maybe they might be a new generation of brewers,” Guertin-Martín said. Ultimately, that could be his biggest victory — he initially pitched his class with a homebrewing element. That part was shot down, he said, because Arcadia officials were concerned that batches of beer made for the class could get out to underage drinkers on campus.
But even if his students don’t become master brewers (Arcadia doesn’t offer a beer-centric degree program), Guertin-Martín and the folks at Crooked Eye are helping build up the next generation of craft-beer lovers — at least in one case.