KOKOMO, Ind. — After Desean Hampton graduates from Indiana University Kokomo, and is done playing basketball, he plans to own a restaurant and brewery.
A hospitality and tourism management class in beer and spirits management offered him an inside look at the industry, as well as an opportunity to meet entrepreneurs in the business, to ask questions of those who have succeeded in his field.
“It helped me to go see how it works in person, rather than just reading about it on the internet, or in a book,” said Hampton, a business major from Speedway.
Students in the summer class, taught by Mark Meng, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management, visited the Half Moon Brewery and Sun King Brewery in Kokomo to see the brewing business from start to finish; toured the Hunt Club Distillery in Sheridan, and ended their field trips at the Coterie, a cocktail bar in downtown Kokomo.
“Being a professor, I know a lot of the theory, but it’s different when you meet and talk with a brew master who has been working in this field for more than 15 years. You hear the first-hand stories about the owners’ experiences in business operations, what issues they run into with cost control, establishing partnerships, booking entertainment, and so much more,” Meng said.
Funded by the Kokomo Experience and You (KEY) program, students — all age 21 or older — met leaders at each business, asked questions, learned how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted operations, practiced pairing beers and liquors with food, and tasted samples. In the classroom, Meng talked about the history of the beer and spirits industry, and the science involved in making the products.
Each stop on the tour provided a different perspective on the beer and liquor industry. At the Half Moon Brewery, students learned about the agricultural side of brewing, and how climate change impacts it, either negatively or positively.
In addition, they talked about how the owners changed their business model in the last year, to adjust to the pandemic, including what assistance programs were available, how they re-opened for dine-in with restrictions, and how they’ve handled lack of available staff.
At Sun King Brewery, students were interested in the decision to only offer drinks, and partner with nearby restaurants for people to bring in food. They also met the new brewer, and compared the brewing set up with that at Half Moon.
Owners of the Hunt Club Distillery shared how they started their business, and also how they pivoted to make and give away hand sanitizer during the pandemic, using many of the same processes they use to distill spirits. They also presented about the process to sell their products in area stores.
At the Coterie, students learned how entertainment and food service works in the business.
“By visiting four locations, our students met with people who could present different aspects of what they are learning in our School of Business,” Meng said. “It’s a great opportunity to learn directly from an operator or an owner, and they are enjoying their learning experience.”
Tasting was an important part as well, he said, to know what descriptions such as “hoppy” or “dry” mean if they plan event menus.
“They have probably heard these terms, but don’t understand them,” he said. “Now they have the ability to discuss these products knowledgeably.”
Senior Asya Randolph was surprised by how much science is involved in brewing, and how small adjustments can make a big change in flavor.
“The process itself, and how many steps it takes to get to a final beverage is mind-boggling to me,” she said. “This was a very interesting course. You see that a lot more goes into making beer and spirits than you could ever have imagined. I learned a lot for sure.”
The KEY program offers authentic learning experiences for students, starting with a supportive freshman learning community, and including travel, internships, connecting with people who work in their field, researching with faculty, and more.