Chicago's world-renowned beer college celebrates milestone anniversary

While the words "beer" and "college" have always been on friendly terms, you might not know that the world's foremost brewing college is located right here in Chicago, and it's celebrating a milestone anniversary.

"This is the 150th year of continuous operation of Siebel's Institute of Technology, which is the oldest brewing school in the Americas," said Keith Lemcke, Siebel's marketing director.

The Siebel Institute is located in the West Loop, and was founded in 1872 by German immigrant doctor Je Siebel to bring brewing science to the United States. You might call it the Harvard of the beer world.

"We have a range of people coming for all our beer courses, from home brewers up to people who have spent ten to 20 years in the brewing industry," said Lemcke.


And if you think beer school sounds easy, it's anything but, with courses in chemistry, microbiology, engineering and physics. Classes last eight hours a day, five days a week for up to 20 weeks.

The first few weeks are spent learning brewing theory at Siebel's location in Chicago. Then, students go to Siebel’s sister campus in Munich, Germany for hands-on brewing. A 12-week course costs $20,000.

"So, you could say that brewing is art and science," said Lemcke. "But science is the production of beer and art is what winds up in the glass."

Students come to the Siebel Institute from all over the world and from all different disciplines, including rocket science. Aerospace engineer Ries Smith moved to Chicago to pursue his dream of becoming a craft brewer.

"I like to be proud of the product at the end of the day that I'm working on and feel that people are taking some enjoyment out of what I'm making," Smith said.

Among the current class there are a number of brewers from South America. They're looking to learn how to make different styles of beers like IPAs and stouts.

"In my brewery, we just do light lager," said Marina Born Behling, who works at a large brewery in Brazil. "But here we can share knowledge from other cultures and other breweries."

And with the craft beer business booming nationwide and expanding worldwide, the historic Siebel Institute should continue to tap into Chicago for generations to come.

"Most of our students do take full advantage of the amazing beer culture we have here in Chicago," Lemcke said. "This is one of most vibrant beer cities in the world."