Students of Central New Mexico Community College’s brewing program are now being trained by an award-winning New Mexico brewer.
Antonio Fernandez, former head brewer at Ponderosa Brewing Co., is now in charge of the brewing component of CNM’s Beverage Production and Management program. Students enrolled in the program are taught hospitality law, guest services, food pairing, menu management, brewing equipment and maintenance, beer production and more, according to CNM’s website. Fernandez estimates that there are about 40 to 50 students currently enrolled in the program.
During his stint at Ponderosa, Fernandez won gold medals for his Italian Pilsner at the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup. He will continue distilling spirits part-time for Ponderosa but has given up his head brewer title to focus on his new position at CNM.
Fernandez applied to be a part-time instructor for the brewing program about a year ago. This summer, Nick Jones, who had been head of the brewing program left to pursue another opportunity. CNM reached out to Fernandez to lead the program and he accepted.
“It is a program geared toward training students to be able to work in the craft beer industry,” Fernandez said. “It offers two tracks, a certificate, which I believe is about a one-year program and then an associate’s degree, which is a full two-year program at CNM. Like all of their other associate’s degrees, other subjects are included, not just the brewing. (It is) a regular associate’s degree and it incorporates quite a few things all geared toward learning how to brew beer, all about the ingredients, learning about beer history and styles, service, draft systems, all the equipment.”
Students who complete either track receive their New Mexico alcohol servers license and a Cicerone level 1 certified beer server designation.
This semester, Fernandez will be teaching three different sections: Beer Production I, Beer Production II, and Beer History and Styles. Other instructors will be teaching draft systems and maintenance and another section of the Beer History and Styles.
“The Beer History and Styles (class), is pretty much just what it sounds like,” Fernandez said. “We’re gonna go over the history of beer from 6,000 to 8,000 years ago until present day and try to get the students familiar with all the major styles and categories of beers, ales, lagers, stouts, IPAs, pilsners, so they have a good basis about what kind of beer is what. And that course is pretty fun too, because it does include sensory training, so they get to taste beers.”
During the sensory training, students will not only familiarize themselves with different styles of beer but also learn about off flavors and specific defects due to production, storage or service.
The other two courses taught by Fernandez will be lab classes specifically geared toward learning about beer production.
“Until this point, the program has been using shared space with the culinary lab,” Fernandez explained. “So we’re basically doing it in the culinary teaching kitchens, brewing on small scale, homebrew size equipment. It’s been under construction for about a year and a half. They’ve been constructing an entirely new facility as part of the beverage and culinary program there. We’re actually under the new designation, BHT, the College of Business, Hospitality and Technology, which includes things like computer programming, business degrees, and of course, everything in hospitality, hospitality management, beverage service, culinary arts, baking, and now beer brewing, winemaking, and spirits production as well.”
The new, “giant” facility has all the “bells and whistles,” including professional size and quality brewing equipment, according to Fernandez.
“We actually have four brewhouses,” Fernandez said. “When a lot of the other brewers in town get to come see my thing, they’re gonna be insanely jealous because of the quality of the equipment that we actually have right now, which is really cool. It includes everything that we need to produce beer from start to finish. The brewhouses, mills, fermenters, Brite tanks, including fermenters for making the wine and the spirits and a nice spirits still, lab space, demonstration space, sensory classrooms, it’s completely state of the art. It’s beyond any kind of expectation I ever had that I might actually get to work on.”
A large portion of the beverage lab is still under construction and not ready for students to start the semester there. They will be able to learn on full-scale production equipment in the near future.
“That’s very exciting and then starting in the spring, we will be teaching spirits production,” Fernandez said. “I will be teaching those classes and we have another instructor as well. So that’s going to be a completely new thing. We’re working on the curriculum currently. And then in the summer, we will start with wine production. That’s mostly to coincide with when there will be grapes. It’s more of a seasonal one, but it’s going to be a full fledged alcohol and spirits production course. They’ll be able to learn everything from production to service, styles, all that. My main thing is, I’m hoping to be able to send out students who are completely ready to take on this endeavor when they get a position at any (company).”