Students Take Challenging Course On The ‘History Of Beer’
By. Mark J. Drozdowski | UNH Magazine
Every Thursday night, a group of students gathers on the UNH campus to drink beer. “Thirsty Thursdays” are common at colleges across America, but in this case the students receive academic credit for imbibing.
The 23 students, all of legal drinking age and representing a wide range of majors, are enrolled in “History of Beer,” a course taught by hospitality and tourism management professor Gabriella Petrick. They meet in Jeffery’s Fusion Restaurant in Harugari Hall to discuss—and sample—beers from around the world.
“It’s a fun elective,” Petrick said, “but it’s more rigorous than students might have thought. It is a history class, after all, so there’s a significant amount of reading.”
Petrick arrived at UNH this fall from George Mason University, where she was a faculty member in the nutrition and food studies department. An expert on the “history of taste,” Petrick graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration and holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Delaware. She revamped the existing History of Beer course, drawing on not only her academic expertise but her experience working in restaurants and wineries as well.
Why teach this course? “I love beer,” she said.
Petrick takes her students on a frothy journey through history and across cultures, from England and Germany and Canada to Belgium and Ireland and Japan. They sample early American ales while reading about tavern culture during the Revolutionary period. They try frontier beers and learn about the peculiarities of Australian barmaids in the 19th century. They sip bacon beer—yes, bacon—and discuss taste preferences between the genders. Women, it seems, prefer their beers less hoppy.
Each class offers five or six beers to complement the readings, though don’t assume students stagger out of Harugari in a drunken stupor.
“It amounts to about half a beer, total,” Petrick said.
Students also eat. Petrick pairs food with the beers, much like a master sommelier might suggest a fine pinot noir to accompany roast duck. In one class, for example, she serves hummus, pita bread and tabouli along with ancient ales brewed by Dogfish Head.
“Our palate changes over time,” Petrick said, “and bitterness was more prominent in the ancient world.” We know this, she explained, though historical inventories of what was grown and through medical records, all of which detail the organoleptic predilections—combinations of smell, taste and flavor—of humans throughout the ages.
During the course of the semester, students will visit a local pub and Two Roads Brewery in Stratford. They’ll also keep a personal journal of their own beer-tasting experiences (in moderation, naturally) outside of class.
“I took this course because I thought I would enjoy a class where I would be able to drink beer,” said management major Shane O’Neill ’15. “It has been more work than I expected, but I’m learning a lot about the history of beer, how it’s brewed, and how it has played into the history, culture and politics of different countries. I’d recommend the course to anyone who wants to learn more about beer. And anyone who likes to read.”