Brew Master, Ph.D.

by Mark Baumgarten

When Richard Hanson began teaching University students about the process of brewing beers and wines 30 years ago, he decided he needed to practice what he preached.
In an attempt to know firsthand what he was teaching his industrial microbiology class, Hanson dropped by a home brewing store, bought the equipment needed to whip up a batch of wine and brewed a homemade Merlot he describes as “incredible.”
Hanson was hooked.
He adopted home brewing as his hobby of choice, enjoying brewing good, cheap wines while teaching and researching at the University. And when the microbiology professor went into phase retirement two years ago, he turned his passion into a business, opening the Home Brewery with his wife and son.
“I’ve been brewing for 30 years, and my son’s been brewing for quite a while,” Hanson says of his family’s decision to open the store. “It’s been an interest of all of ours, and (my son) Michael in particular wanted to do this for an occupation.”
Still three years from full retirement, Hanson can not commit all his time to the business, but he doesn’t mind. The professor says teaching students will always trump his affinity for brewing.
“I love teaching; I just love interacting with students,” Hanson says. “In fact, when I retire, I’m going to find a way to keep doing it.”
At 64, Hanson has had plenty of experience working with students and just last year was awarded the Stanley Dagley-Samuel Kirkwood Undergraduate Education Award by the College of Biological Sciences.
He is currently working part-time at the University as part of the phase retirement plan, but he still teaches and advises students on a regular basis. And when he’s not teaching students, he’s teaching customers the techniques of home brewing — something he is quick to point out.
“A large part of the business is teaching people and giving advice,” Hanson says. “I enjoy advising customers; they’re good students.”
Strange Brew Science
As a microbiologist, Hanson has a unique edge in the world of home brewing. The lessons and procedures he has learned doing research at the University can often be directly applied when he is making wines and beers for friends and family.
Sitting in his store, Hanson is surrounded by shelves packed with varied sizes of glass jugs complete with tubes and straps, likely to conjure up images of silver-screen mad scientists. And while he is no Frankenstein, Hanson does recognize the similarities between the brewing and his University research.
“The fermentation aspects of brewing beer and wine are very related to what part of my research has been about,” says Hanson. “One of the really important things in brewing is sanitation, really keeping things aseptic, and of course, that’s what microbiology is all about.”
In his role as a teacher, Hanson also recognizes that his experience as a home brewer makes him more effective in the classroom.
“One of the most popular lectures I give is about the production of beers and wines by (microbreweries),” Hanson says. “What makes a lecture popular is that the professor’s excited about what he’s talking about, and I like to talk about brewing.”
“I can always tell when his lecture on brewing is coming up,” says Hanson’s son, Michael. “He always gets so excited.”
The House of Brews
Tucked behind the Bike Store and Dominoes Pizza on Oak Street in Stadium Village, the Home Brewery retains an inconspicuous presence in the University community. But, Hanson says, that hasn’t hurt business.
“There is a large number of staff and faculty here that are fairly interested in home brewing,” says Hanson. “To make a store go, you need a customer base of 1,000, and we’re getting pretty close to that.”
Customers entering the store find brewing equipment for brewing wines, beers, soda, meads and root beer. And while every member of the family helps out with running the store, each has their own specialty.
Hanson’s son, Michael, is strictly a beer brewer and responsible for the stacks of white cardboard boxes with green, yellow and red labels reading London Porter or Bavarian Bock or Holiday Ale.
If a customer wants to know about wine, Hanson is the man to talk to. But above all, Hanson knows that to make his business work, he has to treat his customers like his students.
“The really important thing is to provide really good advice and stimulation,” says Hanson of talking to his customers. “You have to really keep them interested.”

Mark Baumgarten welcomes comments at [email protected]