By Meghan Howes, Contributing Writer for RadCraft
In the late 1990s, when Harmonie Bettenhausen worked for Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado, she and founder Doug Odell often talked about the beer industry and where improvements could be made, whether it involved ingredients or equipment or fostering deeper relationships with local producers. “At that time, everyone got their malt from one or two places,” said Bettenhausen. She spent some time in Odell’s lab, and it was there that her passion for raw ingredients was born.
Within a few years, Bettenhausen picked up a Masters’s degree in Food Science at Colorado State University, where she and her advisor worked on projects involving the chemical profiles of certain crops and the relation those compounds had to quality and flavor. So much of the data that went into her Master’s thesis harkened “… back to those years at Odell. We knew there was more to it, but [the industry] wasn’t there yet.”
Bettenhausen witnessed firsthand how craft maltsters planted their unique flags in the supply chain. It felt sudden, but the momentum had been building for several years. “They said, ‘Hey, wait, barley quality matters,” said Bettenhausen. “[They were] looking at the composition of their malts and how they can manipulate it via growing and processing [coupled with] the desire to create consistency. It’s the science that drives the changes.”
And the science available through malt testing labs like Hartwick College’s Center for Craft Food and Beverage – the sole malt lab housed at an American liberal arts college — is shaping the future of craft beer. “Aaron [MacLeod, also profiled in this series] started the program in 2015,” continued Bettenhausen. “He saw the need, and at the time, craft malting was just starting. There were no resources and people were grasping at straws.” When MacLeod stepped back from directing the lab, Bettenhausen made the move from Colorado to Oneonta, New York, and took over.
“I have a deep-rooted passion for the [beer] industry, and Aaron and I were colleagues for several years,” Bettenhausen explained. MacLeod reached out to Bettenhausen about his soon-to-be-vacated directorship, suggesting that she take it. Bettenhausen applied, and soon enough she was on her way east.
As she gets a feel for the position, Bettenhausen is in the thick of goal setting. “I want to find a way to put out data and materials that are applicable and helpful – positive contributions to the industry.” Hartwick will continue to foster its collaborative relationships with both industry and academics. “We offer testing, but we’re also huge advocates for the industry as a whole, including technical assistance and professional development opportunities,” Bettenhausen said. “What I love about Hartwick is that it’s a small college where stuff gets done.”