McALLEN — What started out three years ago as a garage experiment for two beer-loving brothers has now become a first-of-its-kind apprenticeship program built to train professional craft brewers thanks to a partnership between local brewing companies, South Texas College and the Texas Workforce Commission.
That’s what Carlos Margo, associate dean of industry training and economic development for STC, wanted to emphasize and celebrate during a graduation ceremony of sorts for the college’s first two “professional brewers,” Joseph and Daniel Kamel.
“This is not just a certification as a professional brewer, but this is a Department of Labor journeyman credential that they’re receiving because we were able to make this program an apprenticeship program, which is extremely unique for the area,” Margo said.
The program got its start when existing local brewers, 5×5 Brewing Co., approached STC Vice President David C. Plummer to ask if the college — known for its many trade certification programs — had anything related to brewing.
Plummer, ever the optimist, said no, but that STC could create one.
“We know we’re not experts in everything, but if you come and ask us, we’ll find experts,” Plummer said during Wednesday’s ceremony.
“We’ll go out and we’ll find the people that can teach. We can develop the things. We can do that,” he said.
And “do that” STC did, creating a program heavy on the science and chemistry behind brewing.
The program, which is expected to last about a year, took its first two students two years to complete due to the ongoing pandemic.
Despite that, however, the Kamel brothers mastered such classes as malting biochemistry, brewhouse calculations and engineering, specialty malt biochemistry and more. They also completed 2,000 hours of “relevant” apprenticeship hours that enabled them to earn the journeyman title from the Labor Department, Margo said.
The pair, owners of Brewsome Brewery in McAllen where the graduation ceremony took place Wednesday, began their venture into craft beer brewing about three years ago, when their father encouraged the entrepreneurs to take advantage of a growing nationwide trend — small-scale, locally brewed beer.
Daniel, 30, took the suggestion to heart, setting up a small still in his garage. Meanwhile, older brother Joseph, 34, put his MBA to use crunching the numbers for their fledgling business.
When STC announced the start of the program, the pair took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about their new industry.
But even they were surprised by just how rigorous and thorough the fledgling program was.
“It did not prepare me at all for the scientific or the mathematical part of brewing,” Joseph said of the business degree he earned prior to becoming a brewer.
“It’s a very intensive program. We never thought, to be honest, that it was going to be so intricate… we had the practical side of it, but you know, the theory behind what’s actually happening in every step of the way, we didn’t have that,” Joseph said.
Two years later, and the brothers have developed nearly three dozen different brews, from citrusy goses, to dark, chocolately stouts — which happen to be Daniel’s and Joseph’s favorites, respectively.
Born in McAllen, but raised in Mexico City, the brothers have also made sure to weave the richness of Mexican and frontera culture into their beers, such as their jalapeño pear saison-style beer, or their “pica fresa” or spicy strawberry sour beer.
Celebrants at Thursday’s graduation ceremony were treated to complimentary glasses of a mango chamoy flavored gose — a sour beer brewed with salt. The brothers christened the variety “Julian’s Jungle Juice” in honor of Labor Commissioner Julian Alvarez III, with the Texas Workforce Commission.
Alvarez, who was on hand to congratulate the brothers, smiled when he learned of the new name for the drink.
And though the Texas Workforce Commission helped provide the bulk of the funding to get the brew apprenticeship off the ground, Alvarez was quick to credit the group effort it took to bring it to fruition.
“What can I say? How exciting it is for us to be just a small part of this victory. Though we’re getting a lot of the credit, I will say the majority of the credit goes to the grant writers, the outside the box thinkers like Dr. Margo and Dr. Plummer,” Alvarez said.
“It’s particularly exciting when we’re able to present and recognize two people from McAllen who are actually completing the program — the first of its kind not only in the state, but in the country,” he said.