Mellie Pullman, who was the first woman brewer at a brewery in Park City, Utah, broke ground again as the first female college professor to launch an online course on the business side of craft brewing. She’s seen here at Terminal Gravity in Enterprise. Pullman lives in Eastern Oregon. Photo courtesy of Mellie Pullman
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Mellie Pullman’s adventures with beer have come full circle. In 1986 she was the first woman brewer at Schirf Brewing in Park City, Utah. Today she is the first female college professor to launch an online certificate program focusing on the business side of craft brewing.
Pullman brought her homebrewing experiments, mechanical engineering degree, some experience at a construction company and a truckload of bravado to Park City while on a ski trip there in the ‘80s. When she noticed a business plan for a new brewery lying on a table at her friend’s condo, she had to read it. Instantly, she decided the job was tailor-made for her.
Soon she was the partner and brewer in charge of production, bottling, hiring and training. “We packaged Wasatch beer (Schirf Brewing) from the day we opened in the fall of 1986,” she said. “We had to ramp up big for the ski season.”
Pullman stayed for three years and Schirf doubled in size every year. Then she moved on to a startup brewpub chain in Arizona. Eventually she returned to Utah to round out her business education. She got her MBA and then her Ph.D., changing direction from brewing to teaching.
In 2005 she moved to Portland to teach at Portland State University’s School of Business Administration. She has concentrated on supply chain management courses, incorporating her extensive background in restaurant work and interest in food into her courses. While teaching and conducting numerous research projects, she became interested in online courses as a way to expand access for students. Several years ago, she floated the idea of a program that focused on the business of craft beverages. With the support of her dean, Pullman began developing the first ever online certificate program for craft brewing, which consists of four courses that take about five weeks each.
The first two courses are Basic Business for Craft Beverages and Craft Beverage Business Management. “It’s a condensed version of business school, focused on how to run a business,” Pullman said. Topics like schedules, cost of product, the most efficient way to market and accounting are covered.
Pullman learned about the ins and outs of online classes by creating them. She designed the curriculum. There are no books. “I took information from the supply chain management course and went out into the field and video recorded people on site. For example, we recorded how a company did labels.
“I have developed the entire content but collaborated with a marketing, finance, accounting and distribution person on their particular classes. I give them guidance and help shape the videos and curriculum. I am not the video star for those classes.
“We were on a shoestring budget. The first videos I shot on an iPhone.”
In an average week, students will watch three to four video lectures, complete several readings and an assignment as well as participate in a live session. At first, Pullman kept herself out of the spotlight, feeling that the experts were the best industry representatives. But in time, she became more comfortable sharing her expertise in front of the camera.
Many local breweries, distilleries and auxiliary businesses are participating in the program, including Cider Riot, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Great Western Malting, New Deal Distillery, Portland Kettle Works, Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider, Rose City Labels, Worthy Brewing Company and more.
“The demand for the program is high,” said Pullman. “We were totally oversubscribed within two weeks when we rolled the program out about three years ago.”
While she said the ideal number of students in a class is 50, the entry level classes are always around 60. The course was offered three times this year because the waiting list was so big. At least one-third of the students in the program are women.
The program is global with students from the U.S., Latin America, Europe and China. Originally, there were many people from the Northwest, but that market has become very saturated. Pullman is interested in doing more work internationally and has changed many of her spreadsheets into metric dimensions. “The broader our appeal, the better it is for PSU’s branding.”
Students can enter the program through any of the individual classes except for Craft Beverage Business Management, which requires the introductory course be taken first. Students must also then complete two of the three electives for the certificate. The program can be completed in 20 weeks. Some people use it to get a better job. One of her students was with Firestone Walker Brewing Company and he’s now the craft beer guy at AB InBev.
In addition to teaching, Pullman is involved with several grant projects focusing on sustainability. Recently, she and another instructor supervised three PSU students who entered an international sustainability competition. Each student invested more than 50 hours researching how to strategically sustain business investments for their chosen client, Hopworks Urban Brewery. They won the oikos Case Writing Competition, which supports the development and use of cases on sustainability, along with 5,000 Swiss francs (about $5,200 U.S. dollars). Pullman and her fellow social entrepreneur instructor are writing a teaching manual based on the project for other academic institutions.
Pullman works in Portland, but lives in Joseph on acreage with a giant vegetable garden and apple trees. “I am a skier and mountain person but prefer the rural emptiness of the Wallowas,”she said. At home in Eastern Oregon she is involved with an emerging craft malt team. And in her spare time this summer, she is completing a book on craft beverage business management with John Harris of Ecliptic Brewing that is expected to be available in August.
It’s back-to-school season, and if you’ve been wanting to learn more about the craft brewing industry it might be the perfect time to enroll in Portland State University’s Business of Craft Brewing program, which began in 2013. Director Mellie Pullman teaches two classes and has a wealth of knowledge as brewmaster and co-owner of Utah’s first brewery and from her experience as associate professor in PSU’s business department. Photo courtesy of Portland State University
By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Remember those days growing up when summer wouldn’t even be half over and you’d be bombarded with the dreadful “Back to School” advertisements reminding you that classes were just around the corner?
Now imagine if your lesson plans took place in a virtual brewery. Or cidery. Or distillery.
With Portland State University’s Business of Craft Brewing program, your fun doesn’t have to come to a screeching halt when summer is over.
In fact, you might actually enjoy yourself. How do I know? I took the introductory class earlier this year — and, honestly, I can’t remember ever having this much fun in school (sorry Ms. Miller).
But don’t just take my word for it. Benjamin Morgan completed the program last summer before getting promoted to the marketing department at Firestone Walker Brewing Co. By April, he was approached by Anheuser-Busch for a job offer in Portland as a trade activation manager.
“The program is awesome for anybody looking to learn more about the industry. It's great for those who just need a kick in the ass to get their own project started and/or a better understanding of what it takes to be a part of the industry. The resources, quality of knowledge and experience of the instructors are the best out there, hands down.”
While a career with A-B InBev may not be the first thing that comes to mind when signing up for the Business of Craft Brewing, the program is actually quite diverse.
Since the program began in fall 2013, around 900 people have been enrolled in the various courses. Some people take four or five courses (earning the certificate and beyond) while some only take one or two courses, depending on their needs.
But the program isn’t just for Oregon beer lovers — or even beer lovers at all. Although beer is the No. 1 focus of students, about half as many students focus on cider. Spirits are third, with mead and kombucha rounding out the fourth.
According to program director Mellie Pullman, there was a heavy Northwest student base in the beginning, but now only about one-third of those enrolled are from Oregon and Washington. The other two-thirds of students come from all over the world. Thirty-seven states are represented, as well as Puerto Rico, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, U.K. and Africa (where there are Peace Corps and aid workers preparing for U.S. return).
“It's great to have people sharing ideas of where they think there are business opportunities. Also, people learn what's going on in different states and countries. Often they meet people from their own state and then get together with each other to see if they want to work together or just help each other in their own efforts,” Pullman said.
Pullman, who currently teaches both the basic business class and the business management class, has a wealth of knowledge. She is not only an associate professor of operations management in the PSU School of Business, but also was brewmaster and co-owner of Utah’s first brewery, Wasatch Brewery (along with many other accolades). As the first female brewmaster in modern American history, I’m sure Pullman is undoubtedly pleased that women make up 30-40 percent of the classes, with there even being a full scholarship awarded once a year by Teri Fahrendorf’s Pink Boots Society.
In addition to Pink Boots, there is also a full scholarship awarded each year for one active or veteran military personnel, with more scholarships being added as the program moves forward.
Just like there is no shortage of diversity among students, the instructors and courses themselves offer a nice variety that evolves from year to year.
In order to complete the program and earn the certificate (as well as an investor-ready business plan), a student needs to take four required courses: the basic business class and the business management class and then two electives of their choice (which expand and get upgraded every year).
Bryan Shull of Trap Door Brewing in Vancouver, Wash., is an example of a student who didn’t need to complete the program, but said that taking the first two courses was enough to get his business plan in shape for bank financing. Shull is not a brewer, but was in need of better business information to decide if he even wanted to open a brewery. The program must have done the trick, because Trap Door Brewing will be opening its doors later this fall.
When it comes to starting up a brewery, Shull claims the program has helped him in “every way,” from cost projections, profit and losses, equipment sizing, vendor selection, business plan data to networking. He even plans to take the strategic craft beverage marketing class this winter.
Shull’s words of sage advice? “Stay on task, do not get behind EVER. This is a fast-paced course with volumes of information that build on previous weeks’ work. Getting behind is a recipe for wasted time and money.”
While this is a fully online program that requires a great deal of self-motivation, don’t let that deter you. There are plenty of attention-grabbing field videos that feature interviews with industry professionals working in their element, weekly live sessions with guest speakers from all over the country, and as I may have mentioned, a uniquely awesome virtual brewery experience.
“I still keep in contact with instructors, guest lecturers and fellow students today. The program is such that you get what you put into it, and it's worth every penny to give it your all,” Morgan concluded.
If you’re looking to expand your knowledge about the craft brewing industry, look into the Business of Craft Brewing. I promise you won’t be singing any Alice Cooper songs when “School’s Out” for summer.
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