Brewing the Next Generation of Beer Experts
With more than 380 breweries and brewpubs and counting across the state, North Carolina’s brewing industry is booming. SmartAsset’s most recent annual beer study ranked Asheville the fifth-best city in the nation for beer based on several factors, including the total number of breweries and breweries per 100,000 residents. Wilmington and the Triangle area are also expanding their brewery options.
As the state continues to claim a top spot for beer brewing, North Carolina State University is expanding its brewing education for students by offering a new Brewing Science and Technology minor through the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences. Sebastian Wolfrum, the lecturer for the minor and recently appointed manager of the Wolfpack Brewing Lab, brings years of international experience to train the next generation of brewmasters while also fostering meaningful collaborations with breweries across the state.
Expanding Beer Education
Wolfrum grew up outside of Munich, Germany, where he also trained as a maltster and brewer. He worked for several years in the industry before moving to North Carolina in 2005.
“I moved here really not quite knowing how wild that ride would be in terms of the beer industry and the growth,” says Wolfrum. “When I got here, there were 20-some brewers in North Carolina. It already felt, compared to what I knew from Germany, exciting because everybody can make any style of beer. And then, all of a sudden, it grew completely out of proportion over the years that I’ve been here and it’s been super exciting.”
Wolfrum has worked with several different breweries in the Triangle area, including the Bull Durham Beer Co., the first brewery in a minor league ballpark, and Natty Greene’s Brewing Co., the second-largest craft brewery in North Carolina. He also was a founding member of the NC Craft Brewers Guild. Through these collaborations, Wolfrum learned about NC State’s impact on the industry.
“Through all these interactions, there’s nothing you can do without running into somebody from NC State,” said Wolfrum. “It always felt like the NC State folks were the ones who were really thinking about the big picture and have answers or try and find answers to growing the industry in this state. And that includes the agriculture side.”
In October 2021, Wolfrum joined NC State in his current role. The Wolfpack Brewing Lab has been around since 2006 under the leadership of John Sheppard, a professor and the director of undergraduate programs for bioprocessing science. With the addition of the minor, students are able to use the lab for hands-on learning experiences. The lab will continue to brew Porters, Oktoberfest lagers and the infamous Wolfpack red ale, but Wolfrum also plans to expand its offerings, including new flavors and maybe a seltzer.
“Beer is one of the earliest foods, so the entire food processing universe really has grown around beer.”
“We are most likely going to go for a couple of the various versions of IPAs,” says Wolfrum. “Traditionally, it was just an English [style], then there’s obviously American [style], who’s been taking over the whole industry by storm. And then hazy IPAs have come obviously into play over the last couple of years. Those all will be new.”
Beer is Food
As the beer industry continues to grow, Wolfrum wants folks to remember that beer is considered food based on the science behind brewing.
“My main focus is to shift people away from thinking that beer is alcohol,” says Wolfum. “Beer is one of the earliest foods, so the entire food processing universe really has grown around beer. The first real cooling machine was built in a brewery and all of microbiology has found its start in brewing. The first yeast cell was discovered by a brewer in a brewery.”
With the industry rapidly growing, Wolfrum says brewers will need to understand the science behind making tasty beer.
“There’s a need for not just folks who know the basics, but who are trained as scientists who work in labs that support the brewing quality or folks who can actually manage a modern, more industrial-sized brewing operation. And that’s what we’re trying to teach here.”