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Rare brewmaster program lures people from around the world to small Alberta town of Olds

There is something brewing in the little town of Olds, Alta. The prairie town is home to Olds College, known mostly for its agriculture program but it is crafting a new identity thanks to a brewmaster program at the local college.

Olds College program runs out of fully functioning brewery, complete with tasting room

Olds College brewmaster program 0:45

There is something brewing in the little Alberta town of Olds — and it's luring people from around the world.

The prairie town is home to only 9,184 people, according to the 2016 census. It's also home to Olds College, which is traditionally known for its agriculture program — but now crafting a new identity thanks to a brewmaster program.

The two-year Brewmaster & Brewery Operations Management course is one of only three brewmaster programs in Canada, according to Jordan Ramey, a professor of brewing science.

And it's attracting craft beer fanatics and budding brewers from around the world.

Students in the program program are rolling out the barrels, literally.

The program's 2,300-square-foot state-of-the-art facility includes a fully functioning brewery complete with a tasting room.

Jordan Ramey, a professor of brewing science, says the setting attracts all kinds of budding brewers.

Jordan Ramey, a professor of brewing science in the Olds College program, says it draws everything from students fresh out of high school to PhDs. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

"We have students right out of high school, we have students with PhDs, we have students in their 60s, we have students that are opening up multi-million dollar breweries and students that are going right into work at somebody's brewery," Ramey told CBC News.

"In almost every class, we have had someone with a PhD."

Olds partnered with Niagara College in Ontario to offer the program, and it's hopping. Every year about 100 people apply for just 30 spots.

Ramey says there's a big demand for the graduates, too.

"Just depends on where you want to have your job right now. In the brewing industry in Canada, I would guess that there are three jobs for every graduate we produce."

Jian Sun, from China, is one of many aspiring brewers who have come from around the world to the brewmaster program at Olds College: 'There are some schools that teach you how to make beer in China but they are more focused on the theory....' (Allison Dempster/CBC)

Jian Sun, from China, is one of many aspiring brewers who have come from around the world to hone the craft in a hands-on environment.

"There are some schools that teach you how to make beer in China but they are more focused on the theory and more focused on the brewing lager," Sun says.

Caz Johnstone is a long way from home, too. Originally from Australia, Johnstone was studying to become a pastor but along the way he ditched the clergy and embraced the brewery.

"There is a long line of Christian history that is brewing in the church," Johnstone said.

"Martin Luther's wife was the brewer in the household. The monasteries were the central places for beer brewing all across the Middle Ages."

Caz Johnstone was studying to become a pastor when he decided to change gears. He hopes to open his own brewery when he graduates. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

Like many of his classmates Johnstone hopes to start his own brewery after graduation.

"The program is excellent in that it takes a well-rounded perspective of what it takes to get good beer into a glass."

Alberta seems like a natural place to offer the training. 

The number of new breweries in Canada has more than doubled over the past five years to nearly 800, Larry Plummer, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Western University's Ivey Business School who studies the beer market in North America, recently told CBC News.

That includes craft breweries, microbreweries and brew pubs.

In Alberta, breweries have proliferated even more rapidly, leaping from 19 in 2013 to 68 today with more under development.

With files from CBC's Erin Collins, Allison Dempster and Aaron Saltzman

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