Lynn Hoffman thinks society underestimates the role of beer in culture.
"When I tell people I teach a course in beer, half the people laugh," said Hoffman, author of "Short Course in Beer," "because our cultural associations with beer includes Sunday football games and college kids."
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Philadelphia, he likes to mention, does have a good brewing history. "We do have a neighborhood called Brewerytown, for God's sake."
For the last 15 years Hoffman has taught courses at Drexel University on wine, spirits and beer. But this fall, for the first time, he's teaching a course just on beer.
The 10-week course, titled “Fundamentals of Beer," will cover beer history, how it's made, how it's sold and its place in the modern world. He'll hold the class at a bar and lounge on campus.
Hoffman said Philadelphia, which is becoming well-known for its craft-beer scene, is the perfect backdrop for the course. The beer market in the US is shrinking at about 2 percent a year, he said, but the craft beer market is going up.
"So this Mr. Bud and Mr. Miller are losing share of a declining market," he said. "And the people they are losing it to are these funny folks in the flannel shirts and the porkpie hats who are making this radical thing — beer with flavor. Wow, what an idea."
In response, he said, the big brewers created a new category: Mock premiums. "Beers that have the packaging that makes them look like they're more ambitious, but don't have much flavor."
"Putting flavor in beer costs money," Hoffman added. "And a lot of what makes beer so cheap in America is cheap ingredients — corn and rice," he said. "If you want flavor in beer you pretty much have to leave the corn and rice behind and go for barley malt and wheat."
So the mock premiums are never going to challenge craft beers because they're never going to taste any good, he said.And big brewers are buying craft breweries, but it remains to be seen if the big brewers culture can sustain a small brewery's vision.
Paul Rutherford, head brewer at Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant in Chestnut Hill, said the older generations chose one generic domestic brand and stuck with it. The younger generation is more adventurous. "I think IPA (India Pale Ale) is like a standard beer for the 22-year-old kid these days."
"I want our students at Drexel to be beer-literate," Hoffman said. "Which means understanding what beer means in our culture right now."
Classes take place on Thursdays from 6 to 9 p. m. starting on Sept. 25.
A limited number of spots are open to the general public for $495 as non-credit continuing professional education.
All enrollees must be at least 21 years of age.
Interested parties can email Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tommy Rowan on Twitter: @tommyrowan