How to Set Up A Brewing School

_57On the eve of WW I, the Siebel Institute of Technology, a leading international brewing school based in Chicago, published proceedings which included commemorating its founding in 1901. The school emerged from the Zymotechnic Institute of Dr. John Siebel, the Dusseldorf-born chemist and physicist and one of the founders of American brewing science.

Siebel’s original activities were as a scientific station, or analytical laboratory as we would call it today. It serviced the brewing industries but also various branches of the food businesses such as sugar refining. Siebel had tried to set up a brewing school 20 years before, a venture with a Chicago brewer, but it didn’t take. They attracted one student who persevered for a time but then left to work in brewing on a practical basis. Practical brewing was a term much used then, but has disappeared from a field today resolutely technical in emphasis.

Practical brewers learn on their own, from other brewers, and by experience. They have resurged in the area of craft brewing, and often produce some fine products. Still, to get to another production and industrial level, craft brewers often end by hiring brewers with formal training. These emerge from places like the Siebel Institute (still going strong), the UC Davis school in California (beer and wine fermentation science), or Heriot-Watt in Scotland.

After Siebel’s first school closed he focused on his lab work and as mentioned this did finally provide the basis to set up a successful school. Indeed it continued through Prohibition days, and flourishes to this day. By 1901, he had his sons to help him and their assistance was key to set up the school on a successful basis. Further information on the school’s history can be read here, from the company’s website.

Between the two Siebel essays at establishing a brewing school, two things happened. In New York in 1882, Anton Schwarz whom I discussed earlier established his United States Brewing Academy. His was the first brewing school in the United States to continue on a permanent footing albeit it did not survive (I believe) the relatively early death of the founder and untimely passing of his son, Max. Max died in February, 1901, the same year the Siebel school was founded. I wonder if the Siebels saw the likely closing of the New York school as an opportunity, I think it’s possible.

As well, Robert Wahl and Max Henius established in 1891 their brewing academy in Chicago, which was very successful. It grew out of their analytical lab, started in 1886 at the back of their drugstore. The presence of a competing school in Chicago would have concerned the Siebels, but still they went ahead and ended as the surviving institution. A school of this nature, then and now, drew a good part of its students internationally, so there was room for two schools in one city.

John Siebel spoke at the 1911 Second International Brewers Congress in Chicago. In discussing this history, he indicated that his first effort to establish a school was simply too early: the value of scientific training was not perceived by a trade which had long practiced on an empirical, conservative basis.

In referring to Anton Schwarz’ successful effort, Siebel suggested New York was simply more propitious at the time as a larger, international city, to the idea. In the volume mentioned above collecting proceedings of the Siebel Institute from 1909-1910, he tells an interesting story of how in his view Schwarz succeeded. He states again that brewers were notoriously conservative on the idea of letting science penetrate the brewing hall, but the account also shows his understanding, or later understanding, that business has a marketing side. I’ll let him tell it in his own words:

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Note re images: the first two images are drawn from the volume of the Proceedings of the Siebel Institute of 1909-1910 referenced in the text above, via HathiTrust. The second image is drawn from an eBay listing, here. All copyright therein or thereto belong to their owner or licensed users. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.