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Stuart brings industry expertise to the BrewLab

Following an extensive brewing career that's taken him all over Australia's eastern seaboard, TAFE Queensland Brewing teacher, Stuart Ritchie, is now training the next generation of craft brewers.

"After brewing for 23 years, I became interested in the training several years ago, and with my wife being from Queensland, we moved to the South East to be closer to family," explained Stuart.

Helping Stuart and his family move to the sunshine state was the opportunity to use his experience to advance the skills of Queensland's future craft beer brewers.

"I had looked into becoming a trainer six years ago, and having attended workshops to develop a similar course in Melbourne, I could see that TAFE Queensland's Certificate III in Food Processing (FBP30121) was ahead of the curve, so it tipped the decision for me," he said.

As well as bringing over two decades of professional brewing experience to the classroom, Stuart also brings a passion for teaching that he's developed in the many head brewing roles he held.

"I've gone from being a hungry young brewer to wanting to teach and train people, which has developed into a passion throughout my career," he explains.

"What led me to want to be a qualified trainer and assessor? Over the years, I have trained a lot of people to work in breweries and helped them gain competent skills. The disappointing thing was that these people would leave the workplace without formally recognising their skills. I wanted to be involved in helping people get qualifications because it’s not easy to get a brewing job, and these skills can also transfer to other jobs in the food handling industry.

"I've always had that passion of passing on that knowledge to the next people coming through. So, becoming a teacher is a logical step in my career, and it feels right."

Having worked in large, small and high-profile breweries, including Stone & Wood, and Byron Bay Brewery, Stuart is now bringing his comprehensive knowledge of the amber arts to the classroom of future brewers.

"Making beer can be fun, but technical expertise is involved. It is very fulfilling to share my knowledge and experience to help students understand what's involved, teach them the skills and help them get the nationally recognised qualifications they need to work in a brewery."

"I don't feel a burning desire to prove myself in the brewing arena so much these days. I'm really enjoying the sideways step into the education side. It allows me to remain a part of an industry I am passionate about, but it’s really refreshing to view it through a different lens," he says.

Stuart is now charged with teaching his class essential industry skills about the day-to-day running of a brewery, including how to operate wort production, fermentation, filtration and beer packaging processes.

He teaches at the Mt Gravatt campus' Nano Brewery before the class moves to the state-of-the-art Queensland BrewLab microbrewery at the Coopers Plains Health and Food Sciences Precinct.

"The Nano Brewery gives our students the same real-time, leading-edge insights they'll encounter in the industry each time they brew."

"While the nano brewery is small, it has everything that perfectly mimics professional beer production. The Nano Brewery runs on industry-standard software that tells students what's happening in real-time, things like what we've brewed, which vessels are being used, how long it's been there, and recommended temperature rests. Essentially students are learning best practices to prepare them for working in a commercial environment."

"It still requires the same level of detail during production to ensure there isn't any drop off in quality, which is important for students to understand. Every step of the brewing process exists to ensure the quality of the final product, regardless of the size of the vessel," he said.

Having already brewed a couple of dark ales and lagers, the students are learning the hurdles they will have to overcome in the industry as they manipulate flavours.

"We're extracting sugar and colour from different varieties of malt. The resulting liquid is boiled to sterilise the food product. Adding certain varieties of hops adds the required bitterness but also offers a huge array of aromatic combinations.”

“Even during fermentation, conditions can be manipulated to encourage different characteristics from the yeast. These factors are important in ending up with a final flavour.”

“Students are beginning to understand that although we have only four ingredients, literally hundreds of flavour combinations are possible through slight modifications.”

"It's a rapid turnaround, but that's the great thing with TAFE Queensland, we focus on real hands-on experience, which is vitally important when brewing."

"Students learn in a condensed environment that sees them go from knowing nothing about brewing to producing beers just four weeks into the course. They come to class engaged, smiling, speaking the speak and walking the walk, which is great for them and the industry," concluded Stuart.