Kelvin Keown: Mastering Beer Styles student shares experience

Mastering Beer Styles, University of Washington Tacoma’s first venture into craft beer education, kicked off March 20, 2017 – about one year ago today. Since then, two classes of MBS students have graduated. A third is preparing to start in April. The course, an introduction to the world of beer styles delivered over 10-weeks in partnership with 7 Seas Brewing, has attracted a variety of types of students. Some are home brewers, while some plan to open breweries. Others simply love beer.

“I fall into most of those categories,” said Kelvin Keown, a recent MBS graduate.

Like many students, Keown’s interest in beer goes back far before, and beyond, a classroom at UW Tacoma.

“I do love beer,” said Keown. “I have ever since I was an exchange student in Germany after high school. I fell in love with Germany – but it wasn’t just about the beer. I was really surprised at the beer culture. I was most fascinated with the parts of beer that involved history, geography, styles, being able to understand and categorize them.”

“The place of beer in German society and culture was interesting to me,” he said. “It was more than just, ‘Let’s get hammered.’”

Moving back from Europe, Keown brought his love of beer home to Washington. Though he did not pursue a career in the craft beer industry – Keown works as an English Learner Specialist in UW Tacoma’s Teaching and Learning Center – it has continued to be a major passion in his life.

“I brewed my first batch of beer in 2011 and just bottled my 35th batch this last weekend,” said Keown. “Last night I met up with two people from the (MBS) course. We brewed a beer together this summer and we’re planning another.”

Keown does more than make beer, too. When he is not hopping, fermenting and bottling he is often tasting. In 2017, Keown became a beer judge with the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). As a judge, Keown attends brewing festivals and homebrewing competitions where he ranks beers and provides feedback based on BJCP guidelines.

Kelvin Keown and fellow students practice analyzing a beer style during a session of Mastering Beer Styles.

“I work in a writing center – I give people feedback all the time. So it was a natural transition, figuring out how to give people feedback about beer,” said Keown. “It is satisfying to me to be able to detect a taste or flavor, to be able to understand the beer and maybe have some insight into what went right or what went wrong.”

UW Tacoma PDC instructor and BJCP Master Judge Trevor Nichol delivers a lecture in Mastering Beer Styles.

It was an encounter at such an event, the JBLM Brewfest Homebrew Competition, which started Keown toward UW Tacoma’s craft beer program. Attending as a steward, Keown was able to work alongside BJCP Master Judge Trevor Nichol. Years later, Nichol would be hired to teach MBS.

“Having access to Trevor was the main selling point for me,” said Keown. “Just being able to sit in the same room with a master judge on a regular basis and interact with somebody who has that level of knowledge about beer, beer judging and styles, was really valuable for me.”

In MBS, students learn industry-standard tools, methods and processes for the evaluation, ranking and feedback of beer. Students learn things ranging from the connection between what characteristics each style of beer should have and its historical origins to what a certain off-flavor can indicate about a fault in the brewing process. For Keown, the appeal of the course was getting to see how a master judge reacts to certain beers. But the course also provided an opportunity to participate in what he thinks is an exciting time for beer culture in Washington State.

While Tacoma might still be a ways behind Bavaria, programs like MBS are part of a growing beer culture in the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s great for the state. I think that Washington is a special place in the world for the production of alcoholic beverages,” said Keown. “We can grow hops, barley, apples for cider, grapes for wine, grain for distillation. We can really do it all; it’s pretty impressive.”

For prospective students considering following in Keown’s footsteps in the program, he has a few encouraging words:

“If you want to take beer seriously, this is a great place to start,” said Keown. “If you’re a casual enthusiast who would like to be more than a casual enthusiast this is a great course. It allows you to learn about beer styles in depth, but also it allows you to learn how to be a better consumer. If you approach beer with the passion of a connoisseur, this is a great way to learn more about the culture and styles of beer.”

Mastering Beer Styles returns to UW Tacoma April 18, meeting Wednesday evenings at 7 Seas Brewery and Taproom in Tacoma. To stay informed with updates from the PDC, subscribe to our emails. To follow Kelvin Keown’s beer blog, visit it here.

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