In 2022, some of the gold medal winners at the Canada Beer Cup, bronze winners at the Canadian Brewing Awards, and US Open Beer Championship had some pretty unique credentials. In fact, they weren’t even brewery owners. They were students at BC’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). To be specific, they were cohort members of the KPU brewing and brewery operations diploma program which is the first of its kind in BC.
Dominic Bernard is one of KPU Brewing’s instructors, which includes a group of industry veterans. He explains that the program was created in 2013 in response to industry prompts. A group of local brewmasters, brewer owners, and industry experts formed to advise its development while the BC Craft Brewers Guild provided consultation. Some of the same industry advisors still remain as part of the diploma’s program advisory committee. As such, the program has always been expert-led and based on industry needs.
“KPU was told that this industry was going to experience a big boom and BC needed a place to train people. Clearly, that was good advice.”
Dominic himself started teaching in the program in 2014, a year after its inception. He remembers those early days as an exciting, challenging time—much like the launch of any brewery.
“Timelines were stressful. I was hired as faculty in April, we accepted students in September, and we only broke ground for our brewery in August. Those first students certainly learned about the realities of opening a brewery.”
In the decade Dominic has been teaching at KPU, he’s seen the program evolve into the immersive, end-to-end experience it now is. Divided into four units over the course of a two-year diploma, students begin with a concept and end up with a “capstone project”. This project is a signature series beer, complete with a labelled can.
“It’s really nice that students now can their own products and learn about labels and packaging, alongside everything else. They come up with the recipe, the quality assurance plan, the marketing plan, the sales strategy, everything. I’m always gratified when they take everything they’ve learned and put it all together at the end.”
Great Little Box Company/Ideon Packaging (GLBC) is proud to supply a portion of the program’s labels. This unique project entails many different small runs; about 500 per signature series. Having the flexibility and agility to handle the job means that GLBC gets to be part of a truly unique educational experience.
“Working with GLBC has been great. I will say that the turnaround times have been excellent.”
So, what’s ahead for KPU Brewing, the only Canadian brewing program officially recognized by the Master Brewers Association? According to Dominic, it’s a mixture of ongoing innovations and the next big immediate thing: the program’s upcoming release of the 2023 signature series student beers.
“Throughout the spring, we’ll be putting out our next group of signature beers. We have Old Alt, which is an altbier; Cherry Pie Hefeweizen; Zest Friends, an American pale ale with lemon extract; Sunny Day Session Ale, with chamomile and honey; Xocolatl Milk Stout, with vanilla and chili; Cool Head Session IPA; and Equinox, a Belgian-style Saison.”
In terms of innovation, being situated in a university opens up a lot of possibilities. For example, KPU is home to NextGen Hops, a breeding program developing new hop varieties in collaboration with the KPU Applied Genomics Centre (AGC), Green Flora Greenhouses, the BC Hop Growers Association, and the Brewing Program that the students are experimenting with. Who knows? The next big flavour profile might just originate in this collaboration.
So, craft beer lovers—and we know there are a lot of you out there—don’t miss KPU Brewing’s student signature releases this spring. We’re happy to say that if you get your hands on any of them, chances are you’ll be seeing one of our labels. Cheers to learning experiences and productive partnerships!