Forget Chemistry 101. The real mad scientists at Florida International University are Biscayne's Renowned Engineers of Wort, or the BREW FIU club.
Every semester, the club offers workshops where the public joins students in boiling grainy mixtures of ale, standing over a large pot stewing fermented smells and learning the basics of beer-making. It's free to join, but workshop prices vary between $40 and $65, depending on materials provided.
Hospitality-school student Matt Weintraub started the group about two years ago, when he got an itch to explore brewing beyond the classes FIU has offered for years. The 24-year-old now co-teaches BREW workshops with Barry Gump, professor of beverage management, to audiences of roughly 30 members each time.
"Dr. Gump has been teaching us, and we kind of started reading after that and went with it," says Weintraub, of Pembroke Pines.
He and student Zhi Long Yang, of Miramar, spearheaded FIU's "beer team" at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival recently, pouring BREW creations to food-industry professionals and out-of-town visitors.
One of their signature styles is the Apple Jack Ale, a light beer infused with vanilla, apple and cinnamon, frozen and defrosted to extract the water and concentrate the flavor.
"It's been a long hard journey," he says. "Imagine you're the dean of the school and students are brewing beer and taking it out to festivals. … But they've been supporting us the whole time."
All the students in Gump's classes are 21 or older, as are BREW's five student members. They sign waivers for the school when they participate in club events, which Gump and Weintraub attend and monitor.
"A lot of people at events think of it like, 'Oh, they're going to school to drink beer,' and it's not like that," Weintraub says. "That's the one thing we always want to stress. [The students are] sampling and learning how to analyze beer."
And with their spent grain — leftovers from the brewing process — student-brewers make bread under the supervision of culinary instructor Roger Probst, then give away samples of it along with their beers at festivals.
Faculty is also helping shape South Florida's beer climate. Up-and-coming homebrewers working to break into the market include Subvert Ales, Gravity Brewlab and CerveTech, fronted by former students of FIU's Gump.
Gravity's Diego Ganoza was on the beer lineup for Cigar City Brewing's annual special-release day, March 9 in Tampa, which is attended by beer geeks from across the country. And Jonathan Wakefield, a former homebrewer who's now collaborated with CCB and gained popularity in recent months, also took Gump's beer class.
BREW FIU workshops may not make or break aspiring brewers, but when it comes to teaching, Gump says, "we're the only game in town."
Go to Facebook.com/BREWFIU for workshop schedule and updates. The next workshop is March 22.Copyright © 2015, South Florida