FLORENCE — When the intricacies of brewing beer came up at Singin’ River Brewing Co., Michelle Forsythe Jones sometimes found herself wanting to ask questions.
She and her husband, Rob, opened the first microbrewery in the Shoals, but while Rob brewed beer in college, her background was in business and finance.
Rob and brewmaster George Grandinetti were at the brewery full-time. She would often arrive after leaving her regular job.
“A lot of the time, Rob and George would be talking about something and I didn’t understand,” Jones said. “The first year in business, you don’t exactly have time to stop every five minutes and say, ‘Can you explain that.’ ”
That all changed. Last week, Jones graduated from Auburn University’s first Brewing Sciences and Operations program, an 18-hour distance learning course that took her about a year to complete.
“The really big deal about this class was to kind of get me up to Rob’s level,” she said. “Not that I’m at George’s level, but at least I can be on the same page with him.”
Grandinetti, she said, has 20 years of experience in the brewing industry.
Martin O’Neill, the head of Auburn’s Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management, and director of the program, said 17 people started the program and 15 graduated.
Jones, he said, was one of two women to graduate. He said women make up about 13 percent of the people involved in craft brewing nationwide, but their number is growing.
The newest Brewing Sciences class that began earlier this month has 10 people, O’Neill said.
Jones said she would wake up at 4:30 a.m. and watch the classes online from 5 to 6:30 a.m. Then she worked from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Forsythe and Long Engineering, her family’s business, where she is the chief financial officer. Some nights after work she would join her husband at the brewery.
Jones said she was raised around manufacturing, which is one of the reasons she wanted to take the course. The brewery is her husband’s full-time job.
“When people make comments about it’s so cool, you own a brewery, Rob and I look at them and say, ‘If you only knew,’ ” Jones said. “I think it’s harder than either of us ever expected.
“There are benefits and it is fun,” she said. “The culture of brewing is fun. But anyone starting their own business, especially the first in this area, it is so indimidating. You’re always questioning yourself about whether you’re making the right decisions.”
Completing the brewing classes helped the couple make more confident decisions, she said.
Many of the standard operating procedures they had in place have been improved; inventory methods have been streamlined; and more detailed production planning has been implemented.
“We added a lot more equipment to our lab, and the testing we’re doing to ensure that the beer is quality beer,” Jones said.
They also added a “nano system,” a miniature brewing system that allows them to make small test batches of beers.
Jones said the coursework and her strong background in accounting helped her develop more efficient accounting procedures.
Since Jones is a brewery owner, O’Neill said the course will give her great insight into the logistics and business of the operation.
Jones said she was the only brewery owner in the class. There were some who worked in the industry, but many were people in other professions, such as real estate, retired veterans and some looking to work in the brewing industry.
There were historical aspects of the class, such as researching beer recipes from the 1800s. Students were also required to brew a beer from their own recipe. Jones said the brewery might attempt to brew one of the old recipes in the future.
Completing the class also allows Jones so sit for the Institute of Brewing and Distilling’s General Certificate/Diploma of Brewing examination. Located in the United Kingdom, the IBD is the world’s leading organization dedicated to the education and training needs of brewers and distillers.
O’Neill said the 18 credit hours Jones earned could be applied toward a 33-hour master’s level class that Auburn may offer in the future.
“She is a very hard worker and represents us very well,” O’Neill said.