You don’t have to look hard to find a brewery—these days, it feels like there’s one on every street corner in Colorado and beyond. And it’s more than just a feeling: Over the last 15 years, the number of breweries in the United States has skyrocketed—from 1,511 in 2007 to 9,247 in 2021, according to the Boulder-based Brewers Association’s count. And all of these breweries need to hire people who can make beer—ideally, experienced professionals who are familiar with commercial brewing equipment and can hit the ground running.

That’s where Metropolitan State University of Denver’s hands-on brewery operations classes come in. Now, the program within MSU Denver’s School of Hospitality is getting a boost in the form of a new, 3.5-barrel, 108.5-gallon brewing system that’s comparable to what craft breweries actually use in their facilities. The $1 million equipment upgrade is backed by a little star power, too. When it opens, ideally in early 2023, the university will officially christen the new system the “Charlie Papazian Brewing Education Lab.

Papazian is a well-known name in the beer world, responsible for founding the Brewers Association, the American Homebrewers Association, and the beloved annual Great American Beer Festival, to name a few accomplishments. “Charlie Papazian is quite a personality—he’s like the godfather of homebrewing in the nation and specifically of craft brewing in Colorado,” says Bernado Alatorre, lecturer and interim director for the brewery operations program. “He’s also very fond of our program and is a great supporter. He has a lot of charisma, and he interests and entices the general public toward craft brewing. He’s definitely one of the biggest ambassadors of brewing.”

Charlie Papazian. Photo courtesy of MSU Denver’s School of Hospitality

To name a facility after a specific person or entity like Papazian, donors must contribute at least 50 percent of the construction costs before the university will chip in. The broader brewing and hospitality community has already stepped up, giving roughly $425,000 to help jumpstart the fundraising. To help close the remaining $75,000 gap, MSU Denver also launched a crowd-funding campaign “for homebrewers, beer enthusiasts, and members of the public” alike, says Steve Galpern senior director of development at MSU Denver. People who want to donate can give as little as $5 toward the cause; shelling out more means receiving perks like a logoed beer glass, a t-shirt, or a signed copy of Papazian’s book The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.

Students studying beer at MSU Denver, which they’ve been able to do since 2015, currently practice on a smaller 15-gallon system that’s more akin to a homebrew setup, says Alatorre. The new equipment will include three fermentation tanks, a steam generator, a refrigeration system, and an electronic management system. “It will have the capability to produce a lot more beer and will also exemplify to the students the complexities of a commercial system,” Alatorre says. “It’s more relatable to the systems that a student would find out in the workplace. It’s very much a mirror image of many, many systems.”

The new lab will be located inside the university’s Hospitality Learning Center, next to the on-campus SpringHill Suites Downtown Denver Hotel, where MSU Denver students get hands-on experience and training in hospitality. Funding for the project will also help expand bar seating at Degree Metropolitan Food + Drink, which will allow members of the public to sample the student-brewed beer and share feedback.

“It’s going to bring the program to a totally different level,” says Alatorre. “We’re trying to ensure students are better prepared for the challenges out in the real world and the marketplace. Brewing is such an integral part of the Colorado culture and the American culture—it’s here to stay.”

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Sarah Kuta
Sarah Kuta
Sarah Kuta is Colorado-based writer and editor. She writes about travel, lifestyle, food and beverage, fitness, education and anything with a great story behind it.