Stu­dents gather to test their beer tasting skills | Courtesy Hamilton

The history of beer is full, frothy, and fla­vorful, and next semester, Hillsdale College stu­dents will get the chance to learn about it, with beer chem­istry and home-brewing lessons mixed in.

Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Chem­istry Christopher Hamilton is teaching a spring course on beer: the history, the chem­istry, and brewing process. The class is open first to stu­dents in the Col­le­giate Scholars program, and then to all Hillsdale stu­dents 21 years old who have taken General Chem­istry I.

A home-brewer himself, Hamilton got the idea to teach a class on his hobby from a col­league. Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Math­e­matics Thomas Treloar men­tioned the idea for the class to Hamilton, who imme­di­ately took a liking to it. In the spring of 2014, Hamilton taught the class as a seminar for the former Honors Program.

Next spring, Hamilton will teach the class for the third time because, he said, “Beer is awesome. That’s the short answer.”

According to Hamilton, beer has a long history — about 5,000 years of it — and had a sig­nif­icant role in estab­lishing the Western tra­dition.

“You could argue that without beer, we would not have Western civ­i­lization,” Hamilton said. “If people want to brew beer, you need to settle down and farm, so people settled down.”

According to Hamilton, beer brewing began as a necessity in early set­tle­ments because beer was safer to drink than water. Also, a key ingre­dient in beer, grain, grows almost any­where, Hamilton said.

Brewing involves much more than beer history, however. Each class period is a full hour divided into roughly three 20-minute seg­ments. The first part is a science topic, and the next part is learning about a style of beer related to the science topic. The last 20 minutes of class is devoted to sam­pling beer and filling out sensory eval­u­ation sheets with data on aroma, appearance, flavor, and mouthfeel.

Although drinking a cold brew after a quick science lesson may seem ideal, Hamilton stresses that the class does require more work than cri­tiquing beer.

“Yeah, it’s about beer. It’s going to be fun, but it’s also serious,” Hamilton said. “You have to do the work. You have to do projects. Every day in class you have to do eval­u­a­tions. You are writing things out. Stu­dents have to write a paper on a science topic related to beer.”

Senior bio­chem­istry major John Olberding took the class last spring because he loves beer and had done pre­vious beer research with Hamilton. Even with his expe­rience, though, the class was work.

“It’s not a trivial course. It’s a real course,” Olberding said.

Hamilton rec­om­mends stu­dents take General Chem­istry I before signing up to ensure each person under­stands class lec­tures and dis­cussion. He is willing to waive the requirement, however, if the student asks.

“We talk a lot about chem­istry and so I want stu­dents to have a basic back­ground knowledge. If a student had an Advanced Placement chem course or a sig­nif­icant back­ground, I’m willing to talk to stu­dents who don’t have Chem­istry 201,” Hamilton said. “You know, I’m not teaching the basics of chem­istry, I’m teaching them about the science of beer, so they have to have those fun­da­mental ideas and topics already down.”

Senior English major Tim Force is con­sid­ering taking the class next semester even though he lacks the chem­istry pre­req­uisite. He will rely on what he has learned from past chem­istry classes and watching his older brother brew beer.

Force is inter­ested in the art of brewing partly because of a desire to use it to connect with others.

“I think these sort of hands-on tasks are great methods of evan­ge­lization and getting guys together,” Force said. “So I’m really inter­ested in cre­ating future men’s groups where the focal point is brewing and tasting beer, so I’d love to see how Dr. Hamilton approaches that same subject.”

Hamilton said he has 15 spots in his class and expects them all to be filled.

“I’m sad the class is limited to 15 people because I know I could easily get two to three times that many if I had enough spots,” Hamilton said. “But there is only one of me and I don’t think they want me teaching three sec­tions of beer brewing.”