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"Fermenting" a Future in Sustainable Brewing

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Jake Kirkendall KzooConnect

If you live in Kalamazoo, one undeniable fact is that we know our beer. From Bell's to Boatyard Brewing to One Well to Gonzo's to name just a few, we do beer well! It's only fitting that Kalamazoo has one of the most well-renowned, competitive sustainable brewery programs through KVCC. Jake Kirkendall, a recent graduate of the program, gives us a glimpse into his journey down this path and what's in store for his bright, hop-filled future.

The origin of making beer dates back to 10,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia. It can then be traced to the Egyptians, who used it for religious ceremonies. Eventually beer made its way to Europe, where it became an integral part of life. Beer was valued because it was a safe alternative to drinking water because of its alcohol and fermentation process that killed germs and reduced the spread of diseases like cholera. In fact, young children even drank beer, called "small beer," containing a little less alcohol.

Fast forward, today most of us aren't drinking the beer for safety reasons. Now we drink it to enjoy the flavor profiles: some malty, some hoppy, some even sour and tart. Kirkendall's love of creating these very flavor profiles, along with a love for science, made him the perfect candidate to get degreed in this age old tradition.

A native of the Kalamazoo area, he attended WMU where his plan was to major in Forensic Science, but his interest in chemistry became a better fit. "I had an interest in forensic science, but there were not many opportunities to take applicable classes in that specific field."

Kirkendall went on to explain, "While there a fellow tuba player and I decided to try our hands at home brewing and I was instantly hooked. The process was a perfect mix of art and science. Beyond the process, seeing the joy in someone when you produce a tasty brew fills one with a sense of pride. Shortly after I started home brewing, KVCC announced that they would be offering classes in Sustainable Brewing the upcoming fall. I had the ability to fit the classes in my schedule, so I signed up as part of the initial class."

The Sustainable Brewing program developed by KVCC and WMU is the nation's first Higher Ed program of its kind. Available to students are three program paths: a student can earn a certificate as an addendum to a WMU degree; another provides a certificate as part of a two year associate degree; the third is what is referred to as a "two-plus-two" program. It offers students the ability to earn a certificate or associate degree at KVCC and then move on to a Bachelor's degree in a related field at WMU.

Kirkendall chose the first path, as he was already a chemistry major, and once completing a year of classes he put his knowledge to the test as an intern. "After a year of classes I took on an internship at Boatyard Brewing Company. During my time at Boatyard I got to experience all parts of the business from brewing, to cellar work, to packaging, and finally serving. I was also given the opportunity to develop several beers and design commissioned beers for special events. Two of these beers are in active production and one has been canned for distribution statewide."

The canned beer that Jake is referring to is the Kirkenberry Sour, Jake's signature beer, with a nod to his last name in the title. The can even has interesting label art which has an "uncanny" resemblance to its brewer. (Pun intended) He describes this beer as "a sour ale with a distinct yet mysterious fruit twist."

Upon graduation from WMU and KVCC, he started an internship at Bell's Brewing working with the senior scientist on a research project in dry hop.

"After 6 months we have submitted our manuscript for review to the American Society of Brewing Chemists. This paper is the first written on the topic since 1941 and before that 1893. Working on this research was extremely rewarding and it was wonderful to see Bell's continue the age old tradition of breweries sponsoring basic research," explained Kirkendall.

Jake has returned to KVCC as a lab assistant and an instructor in the program. His love for working in brewing is evident by his passion for quality in everything they brew. Future plans entail working in brewing science, hopefully for a brewery doing research, with an end goal of becoming a Quality Manager and running a lab.

"I love the fact that I am part of a long tradition of making a product that brings people together. For generations beer has been the social drink of moderation for communities across the world. It is an industry that looks back as much as it looks forward. Even as we push the boundaries with new styles and technology, the classic styles and techniques are still revered."

We think that Kirkendall has a bright future in a community that enjoys a homebrewed hop.

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