VCU brews up a craft beer certificate aimed at both enthusiasts and brewing industry professionals

Brian McNeill

As the craft beer industry in Richmond and across Virginia continues to explode, Virginia Commonwealth University is launching a new noncredit certificate of completion that will give enthusiasts an in-depth understanding of craft beer and will prepare students for a variety of careers at both small and large craft breweries.

The program is a collaboration between the Office of Continuing and Professional Education, the School of Engineering and the Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and is being developed in partnership with an advisory council of on-campus and community partners.

The VCU Craft Beer Certificate Program will offer two tracks: the Business of Craft Beer and the Craft Brewer Certificate, which will require prerequisites in college level chemistry and biology and will focus on preparation for industry credentialing. A packaging course and internship opportunities with Richmond-area breweries will also be available as part of the program.

“It’s going to be very engaging, and we’re hoping to have each one of the sessions be held at a local partner craft brewery,” said Liz Fillman, a program manager with the VCU Office of Continuing and Professional Education, who is overseeing the new Craft Beer Certificate Program. “It will incorporate some tasting, as well as the history of craft beer, information on each style and type of craft beer, local history, as well as tours of the breweries.”

The noncredit certificate program kicks off with a standalone course, “Introduction to Craft Beer,” that covers types and styles of beer, the history of beer, regional history, and the growth of the craft beer industry, and is taught by a local craft beer expert and industry writer. Among the program’s industry partners are Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Stone Brewing, Center of the Universe Brewing Co., Ballast Point Brewing Co., and Ardent Craft Ales.

“They’re providing us with insight into the knowledge and the skills that folks coming out of these courses would need to get hired at one of their breweries,” Fillman said.

The new program comes amid rapid growth in Virginia’s craft beer scene. In 2014, there were 78 craft breweries in Virginia, according to the Brewers Association trade group. In 2016, there were 164. Over the last 12 months, there were 1,797 job postings in Virginia dealing with craft beer and brewing, according to real-time Labor Insight data compiled by the Office of Continuing and Professional Education.

The program is tapping the expertise of VCU faculty members from the School of Engineering, Department of Biology, the School of Business and the da Vinci Center, a collaboration of VCU’s Schools of the Arts, Business, Engineering and College of Humanities and Sciences that aims to advance innovation and entrepreneurship through cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Stephen Fong, Ph.D., associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, will be among the faculty teaching parts of the program, focusing on process and the ingredients of brewing, as well as quality facets of the brewing process. He will also provide instrumentation and hands-on components.

“While there is an introductory module, the main focus of this certificate is to provide advanced, hands-on skills/training for people taking the classes,” said Fong, a bioengineer who modifies microorganisms to produce chemicals (such as beer) and who has been collaborating on a project with Hardywood. “There is no substitute for having experience inside a brewery, but by developing these courses in conjunction with local breweries, we are aiming to provide skills that are practical and potentially can provide an entry point into the brewing industry.”

The courses taught by faculty in the Department of Biology will focus on basic biology and general microbiology, as well as more specialized topics in the biology of beer fermentation and the role of yeast and other microorganisms in the brewing process. The biology faculty members will include Fernando Tenjo, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Biology who has taught a Yeast and Fermentation course at VCU, and Alaina Campbell, who established an internship program with Ardent Brewing Co. that can serve as a model for internships for students in the Craft Beer Certificate Program.

“The courses and hands-on training provided by our classes and the classes from the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering will complement each other and represent a collaborative effort from both departments that combine the expertise and the availability of resources to offer a comprehensive view of the brewing process,” Tenjo said.

For more information or to sign up for the program’s interest list, visit