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USF St. Pete Brewing Arts Course Trains Next Generation of Beermakers

Dinorah Prevost
WUSF Public Media
Johnnie Levin (center, light green shirt) was one of 19 graduates from the USF St. Pete's Brewing Arts' sixth class.

Chris Price stands in the backroom of Dissent Brewing in St. Petersburg. He’s among steel tanks full of beer lining the walls.

But instead of drinking beer, he’s dissecting it, trying to reduce the carbonation – the foamy bubbles you get when you pour one. To do that, he transfers a sample back and forth between a pitcher and a measuring cup over a sink.

Price was a homebrewer for 15 years. Then, last December, he and a friend opened up the brewery.  

"I guess, for me it's the creativity. It's actually getting to sit down and come up with recipes. I'm not artistic in any way, I don't play music, draw or paint or any of that sort of stuff. So this is kind of my outlet for creativity," said Price.

As they prepared to open Dissent, he decided to learn the science behind his hobby. So Price enrolled in a beer brewing college course.

Yes, there’s a class teaching people the nitty gritty of making beer -- and it’s based at the University of South Florida St Petersburg

The Brewing Arts Program, the only one of its kind in the state, launched in 2015. Since it’s a mostly online course offering two sessions a year, it attracts students from across the United States.

Jennifer Sedillo, the program’s director, said officials with 3 Daughters Brewing and Great Bay Distributorsin St. Pete recognized a trend. With 250 breweries all over Florida, aspiring beer makers wanted to learn the craft.

Sedillo said they reached out to USF St. Pete and Frank Biafora, then the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“They actually funded the program to begin and Frank Biafora and Jim Leonard, a retired chemist, they really got together the academics and the professionals in the field,” said Sedillo.

Three members of previous classes, including Chris Price, have started their own breweries. Sedillo said others have become brewers and assistant brewers at companies all over the state, from Tampa to Gainesville.

“Hidden Springs, 3 Daughters, St. Pete Brewing, Crooked Can up in Orlando, First Magnitude, all of them have hired our previous students,” Sedillo said.

Cigar City Brewing in Tampa held the program’s latest graduation in August. 19 students graduated, but with some learning from as far away as Dallas, only a handful came to receive their certificate.

Johnnie Levin from Polk County was one of the graduates. She said when she left the corporate world in 2014, she wanted to find a new venture. She wasn’t sure beer would be it.

“My husband and I have another company and I was working with that, just to figure out what I want to do now. What’s the next chapter of my life? So we found the program and I did it and it reinforced that this is what I want to do,” Levin said.

Now, Levin and her husband are planning on opening a brewery in Bartow.

“We are the county seat so we have a lot of people coming in every day to either work or conduct business and so we want to attract the audience as well. And just basically be part of the community. That’s kind of what a lot of, especially smaller breweries, that’s what it’s about,” Levin said.

And there’s more beer makers like Levin on tap, as a new batch of 20 Brewing Arts students -- the program’s seventh class -- recently began their journey into the world of craft beer.

Hi there! I’m Dinorah Prevost and I’m the producer of Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show. That basically means that I plan, record and edit the interviews we feature on the show.