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Vancouver School Board approves high school craft brewing course

Students with thirst for knowledge can learn about beer making while gaining work experience

The Vancouver School Board has approved a pilot project that will see a craft beer brewing course offered at several local high schools next year.

The fledgling Craft Fermentation Sciences program is the brainchild of Pacific Northwest brewmaster Caleb Colten who developed the multi-faceted, learner-centred curriculum with biology and home economics instructors at a number of East Vancouver high schools including Sir Charles Tupper, Britannia and John Oliver secondary. Modelled after similar high school programs offered in Portland, Ore., the elective course will include a biology component, an opportunity for students to develop their own recipes and 20 hours of volunteer work experience at a local brewery.

“Vancouver’s burgeoning craft brewing industry is both a great resource for high school students with a thirst for knowledge and a potential source of employment once they graduate,” said Colten, who operated an after-school brewing program out of the Boys and Girls Club before it was shut down in February after a number of parents questioned its appropriateness.

As for the issue of underage students working with and brewing their own beer on high school premises, Colten said there’s little need for concern.

“High school students handle far more dangerous things in a typical science lab or even a P.E. class. Ever get a medicine ball in the head? Let me tell you, it’s not fun,” said Colten, adding that students won’t consume their creations but instead swirl, sniff and spit out the beer, similar to a wine tasting. “In Europe and Portland, this wouldn’t even be an issue. Those places have a more progressive attitude towards alcohol, but in Vancouver we have to be sure to dot our t’s and cross our i’s.”

In a surprising move that will no doubt have fingers pointing, tongues wagging and a few mouths watering, school board trustee Patti Bacchus voted in favour of the controversial proposal along with her fellow Vision trustees and Janet Fraser of the Green Party.

“At the end of the day, this is about education and how to best equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to help them succeed in the future,” said Bacchus in a press release.

Requests to the city’s communications department for further comment were not returned by the Courier’s deadline.

For Grade 11 Van Tech student Kennedy Yeung, the opportunity to learn a trade in one of Vancouver’s fastest growing industries while exploring his own artisanal side is hard to beat.

“Am I going to be a professional trombone player by playing in the high school band? I don’t think so,” said Yeung who says he has a keen interest in barrel-aged sours, barley wines and heirloom hops. “But this course has real practical applications. It’s like, ‘You want to see my credentials?’ Sure, taste this sweet Berliner Weisse or Nitro-infused Dunkelweizen I just made. Boom. Plus beer is pretty wicked.”

Brewmaster Caleb Colten (left), who is heading up the VSB’s Craft Fermentation Sciences pilot program, gives prospective student Kennedy Yeung a lesson in brewing techniques. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Colten expects enrolment in next year’s brewing courses to be high, and says the resulting beers will be shared among teachers at the participating schools. “Let’s just say the staff Christmas party at John Oliver secondary is going to kick ass on whatever lame thing Kits High throws. It’s their loss, really.”

Requests to the city’s communications department for further comment were not returned by the Courier’s deadline.

*Note: This is an April Fools' Day story.