College of Health and Human Services
George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Cheers! This class teaches students to appreciate wine and beer

April 16, 2019   /   by Mary Lee Clark

As a student, Michael Sutherland was interested in the science of food and wanted to be a dietitian, but a class he took in the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University set him on a different path. 

“I always enjoyed working with my hands, so I started applying around to all of the breweries in the area because I remembered how much I had enjoyed the class,” said Sutherland,BS Community Health ’15, who is now the head brewer of New District Brewing Company. 

The class, NUTR 430/530 Introduction to Wine and Beer, is taught by Kerri LaCharite, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, and has one of the longest waiting lists at the university.

"I've had a lot of business and economics majors,” said LaCharite. “They see this being helpful for advancing their careers.”  

Sianna Burnett is a senior and biology major in the class. She wanted to take an out-of-the-ordinary class to fill a 3-credit elective needed for her degree program. 

“This class is both fun and informative. It really goes in depth about the process behind beer and wine while you get a chance to drink it,” said Burnett. “Before taking this class, all I knew about wine was that it came from grapes and contained alcohol. Now I feel like I have enough information to make my own wine if I wanted to.”​

The class aims to help students understand how wine and beer have influence in cultures and people’s relationship with alcohol and food. Students learn how to taste both wine and beer, the major classifications of each, how they are made, their history, connections with politics and even their health effects. 

"I have the very unique and wonderful job of teaching about food, and so this is just one part of it, in understanding why wine and beer fit so much into our culture,” said LaCharite. 

There is a lot of information covered in the class, but the material is perfectly paired with experimental projects, such as wine and beer tastings and a “make your own beer” section. The course even has field trips to a local brewery and winery to learn about the process from start to finish. 

Despite the long waiting list, Sutherland was able to access the class as an Honors College student and a student within the Nutrition and Food Studies Department. Now, Sutherland brings the brewery to the classroom by returning to NUTR 430/530 each semester to teach students about the science of beer making. 

The job takes a certain understanding of microbiology and chemistry, Sutherland said, and understanding the basic sciences he learned as a student in the nutrition program, such as how yeast metabolizes sugar and how enzymes work, has helped his understanding of what goes on during the process. 

"I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to know everything about it and become really good at it,” said Sutherland, who is now continuing his education to get a master brewer certification. 

Expertise