Women brewers find their passion on-the-job
When choosing a career, Kelly Vargas (above) said she took a love for craft beer and homebrewing into a unique apprenticeship program in partnership with South Texas College, Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and local breweries.
When it came time to consider a career, Kelly Vargas said she preferred to let her tastebuds be the deciding factor.
Guided by a love for craft beer and especially homebrewing, Vargas says South Texas College has enabled her to turn a passion for brewing into a future dream job.
What began as a hobby with like-minded friends she calls “mash mavens” has evolved into a bright career that has Vargas creating her own yeast cultures and cultivating it for better generations of beer.
Vargas is learning about the varieties of hops and where it comes from, and is inspired by brewers in Austin who are seeking to cultivate it for the first time ever in the Lone Star State, she said.
“There is so much knowledge,” Vargas said. “The reward is learning that you could make beer taste like something completely unique. Your malt could differentiate your beer. Your yeast too. It just depends on whether you are looking for a more bready or lighter type of beer. It depends on what you’re looking for.”
Partial to New England IPAs, pale ales, or shandies, Vargas says what makes beer, and especially its creation, completely engrossing are the subtleties of ingredients that can alter what you’re drinking while encompassing scientific elements like oxidation, light exposure, and chemistry, she said.
“There is so much knowledge. The reward is learning that you could make beer taste like something completely unique. Your malt could differentiate your beer. Your yeast too. It just depends on whether you are looking for a more bready or lighter type of beer. It depends on what you’re looking for.”
“I can go more in depth not just with malt but with the amount water and its specifications of salt,” she said. “Salt can really change the palate of your beer, and if you have too much or too little it can make it too hard or too soft. So just learning stuff like that on making better beer is pretty much a passion for me. Just knowing characteristics like that are all part of the job.”
Thanks to a unique South Texas College Apprenticeship program in partnership with Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and local breweries like Mission’s 5x5 Brewing, STC students like Vargas have the opportunity to get an education in fermentation and brewing science.
The Brewery Apprenticeship program includes curriculum of the American Brewers Guild, which provides an academic foundation for the complex science of craft brewing.
Students receive hands-on experience through live brew projects at 5x5 using real industry facilities and technology.
Vargas said she entered the program initially as an employee in sales at 5X5 seeking to branch out further into the industry. As a bonus, Vargas says she looks forward to those days when the entire brewery smells like “Honey Nut Cheerios” due to malt aroma compounds or mashing grains.
“That's where the passion comes from,” Vargas said. “We need to see other young women interested in this science field, because it really is a lot of science and it's a lot engineering. I like to tell everybody that if you can bake a cake, you can make a beer. You really can. You just have to be patient, and you have to be ok with messing up because if you try and be perfect all the time, you’re never going to get it right.”
The Brewery Apprenticeship program is among the many unique endeavors applied by the college in order to match regional skills to workforce needs. STC also touts highly successful programs in HVAC, industrial maintenance, industrial machinery, production technician, and phlebotomy.
When it comes to brewing, the number of craft breweries has more than quadrupled in Texas since 2011, creating a dire “skills gap” that threatens to paralyze industry growth. According to the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, the industry accounts for $5.2 billion in annual economic impact, ranking third nationwide.
“We're right in the middle of it all,” Vargas said. “We actually just took our first exam, and we are expected to have two exams and a final. Where in the past we might have had to go to Vermont for a week to test and actually brew there, brewing at 5X5 is awesome because you’re getting that hands-on experience. It makes for a different experience than just reading about it.
“You can actually smell it, and it’s an amazing experience,” Vargas said.
To learn more about brewing or other apprenticeships please visit https://www.southtexascollege.edu/cpit/courses/industry/apprenticeships/ or reach out to Carlos Margo, Associate Dean of Industry Training and Economic Development at 956-872-6109 for more information on how to get started.