Craft beer, wines and spirits from the Land of Enchantment are acknowledged at prestigious competitions each year. There is a method behind the magic and Central New Mexico Community College is the first step to learning what is entailed in making them.
CNM’s renowned brewing program started it all. It will soon be launching its hands-on distilled spirits program for its spring 2023 semester with a new state-of-the-art production facility.
“They’re going to be able to work hands-on with full scale professional distillery equipment,” lead instructor Antonio Fernandez said. “We’ve got the brewhouses for producing our washes and mashes. We have a 100-gallon still, that’s a combo pot, a column still, so we’ll have full flexibility for making all kinds of spirits from pot stilled Irish whiskey and agave spirits, all the way up to neutral grain spirits that we can use to make vodka, gin, all those kinds of things.”
CNM officials think the sky’s the limit with this new facility.
“We’ve got great capability with a special piece of equipment to be able to produce mash for making things like bourbon where we can ferment on the grain in a traditional manner,” Fernandez said. “And it’s pretty well equipped and fancy. They’re gonna have a lot of access to great lab equipment, a lot of capacity, and it’s a great space. It’s designed for learning, but it’s also designed for being able to produce the spirits in mind as well.”
It has taken several years for the production facility to come to fruition. The master plan began in 2014 and was officially approved by college leadership and the CNM governing board without funding.
“It was a bond question, so it was voted on by our local voters,” said Victoria Martinez, associate dean of the school of business, hospitality, and technology. “We received most of our funding through those bond funds. We did a planning and visioning process. The distilling program came on the heels of the successful launch of the brewing program. We started with the brewing program and saw some success with our local brewers and placing students in jobs. And as the industry really grew in response to that workforce demand, we were approached by the New Mexico Distillers Guild saying ‘Where’s our program?’ ”
It did not take long for the state’s wine association, New Mexico Wine, to come knocking and ask for a formal training program dedicated to the production of vino in 2021.
“We’re celebrating 400 years of winemaking in the U.S. and New Mexico will be first in 2029,” Martinez said. “So really putting together these programs, the base of these programs are very similar. Our distilling students will be using those brewhouses as the initial part of the distilling process. So all of our students will be selecting raw ingredients, they all learn similar equipment, they all learn about maintenance and about safety, and about the different styles. Where they really differentiate is those production courses and then in their advanced courses. So our beverage production and management associate of applied science has three concentrations: distilled spirits, brewing and wine. So students can choose to specialize in a concentration in any of those three areas.”
The biggest strength of the CNM beverage program is learning the industry as a whole.
“There’s probably never been a better opportunity to get into the distilling industry right now,” Fernandez said. “And there’s no better way to learn it because you can’t really get much at home experience before. And it’s hard to get a job in an industry when you have zero experience as well. So this is going to be the best way for students to jump in. There’s so many things that are similar across the three disciplines that we’ll be focusing on for production as well. It’s not just wine, beer or spirits, the fundamentals really apply across the board.”
Having a well-rounded curriculum is an asset when looking to get a foot in the door in the industry.
“In order to be competitive and successful, you kind of have to have that kind of cross appeal and cross purpose,” Fernandez said. “The better prepared and the more base knowledge across all the disciplines that prospective employees have, like our students, the better off they’re going to be in helping them move all the industries forward.”
Anyone interested in enrolling in CNM’s beverage production and management program can visit cnm.edu. Prospective students must be 21 years of age by Jan. 8, 2023, to enroll for the spring semester.
“You can get a certificate in as little as a single term, covering production classes and equipment and maintenance or you can go for a full associates of applied science in one of our beverage production programs,” Fernandez said. “That is generally a two-year program. It gets more in depth with more science, more management. The program definitely can prepare you for more than just the making beverages side of things. People are starting to realize that it is a real career. It’s a business opportunity that we’re teaching.”