For the Oregon Beer Growler
Mellie Pullman’s adventures with beer have come full circle. In 1986 she was the first woman brewer at Schirf Brewing in Park City, Utah. Today she is the first female college professor to launch an online certificate program focusing on the business side of craft brewing.
Pullman brought her homebrewing experiments, mechanical engineering degree, some experience at a construction company and a truckload of bravado to Park City while on a ski trip there in the ‘80s. When she noticed a business plan for a new brewery lying on a table at her friend’s condo, she had to read it. Instantly, she decided the job was tailor-made for her.
Soon she was the partner and brewer in charge of production, bottling, hiring and training. “We packaged Wasatch beer (Schirf Brewing) from the day we opened in the fall of 1986,” she said. “We had to ramp up big for the ski season.”
Pullman stayed for three years and Schirf doubled in size every year. Then she moved on to a startup brewpub chain in Arizona. Eventually she returned to Utah to round out her business education. She got her MBA and then her Ph.D., changing direction from brewing to teaching.
In 2005 she moved to Portland to teach at Portland State University’s School of Business Administration. She has concentrated on supply chain management courses, incorporating her extensive background in restaurant work and interest in food into her courses. While teaching and conducting numerous research projects, she became interested in online courses as a way to expand access for students. Several years ago, she floated the idea of a program that focused on the business of craft beverages. With the support of her dean, Pullman began developing the first ever online certificate program for craft brewing, which consists of four courses that take about five weeks each.
The first two courses are Basic Business for Craft Beverages and Craft Beverage Business Management. “It’s a condensed version of business school, focused on how to run a business,” Pullman said. Topics like schedules, cost of product, the most efficient way to market and accounting are covered.
Pullman learned about the ins and outs of online classes by creating them. She designed the curriculum. There are no books. “I took information from the supply chain management course and went out into the field and video recorded people on site. For example, we recorded how a company did labels.
“I have developed the entire content but collaborated with a marketing, finance, accounting and distribution person on their particular classes. I give them guidance and help shape the videos and curriculum. I am not the video star for those classes.
“We were on a shoestring budget. The first videos I shot on an iPhone.”
In an average week, students will watch three to four video lectures, complete several readings and an assignment as well as participate in a live session. At first, Pullman kept herself out of the spotlight, feeling that the experts were the best industry representatives. But in time, she became more comfortable sharing her expertise in front of the camera.
Many local breweries, distilleries and auxiliary businesses are participating in the program, including Cider Riot, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Great Western Malting, New Deal Distillery, Portland Kettle Works, Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider, Rose City Labels, Worthy Brewing Company and more.
“The demand for the program is high,” said Pullman. “We were totally oversubscribed within two weeks when we rolled the program out about three years ago.”
While she said the ideal number of students in a class is 50, the entry level classes are always around 60. The course was offered three times this year because the waiting list was so big. At least one-third of the students in the program are women.
The program is global with students from the U.S., Latin America, Europe and China. Originally, there were many people from the Northwest, but that market has become very saturated. Pullman is interested in doing more work internationally and has changed many of her spreadsheets into metric dimensions. “The broader our appeal, the better it is for PSU’s branding.”
Students can enter the program through any of the individual classes except for Craft Beverage Business Management, which requires the introductory course be taken first. Students must also then complete two of the three electives for the certificate. The program can be completed in 20 weeks. Some people use it to get a better job. One of her students was with Firestone Walker Brewing Company and he’s now the craft beer guy at AB InBev.
In addition to teaching, Pullman is involved with several grant projects focusing on sustainability. Recently, she and another instructor supervised three PSU students who entered an international sustainability competition. Each student invested more than 50 hours researching how to strategically sustain business investments for their chosen client, Hopworks Urban Brewery. They won the oikos Case Writing Competition, which supports the development and use of cases on sustainability, along with 5,000 Swiss francs (about $5,200 U.S. dollars). Pullman and her fellow social entrepreneur instructor are writing a teaching manual based on the project for other academic institutions.
Pullman works in Portland, but lives in Joseph on acreage with a giant vegetable garden and apple trees. “I am a skier and mountain person but prefer the rural emptiness of the Wallowas,”she said. At home in Eastern Oregon she is involved with an emerging craft malt team. And in her spare time this summer, she is completing a book on craft beverage business management with John Harris of Ecliptic Brewing that is expected to be available in August.