A student from California in the United States has joined Heriot-Watt University through a scholarship programme for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour within the brewing and distilling trades.
Bella Perez, 27, from the San Francisco Bay area in Northern California, is half Cuban and has joined the Master of Science degree in Brewing and Distilling at the University’s internationally-respected International Centre for Brewing and Distilling.
Giving people of colour and women a seat at the table and changing the collective voice of the industry to include different ways of thinking and brewing is the best way forward toward better beer.
Bella has joined the year-long MSc through The Sir Geoff Palmer Scholarship Award for Brewing, which is funded by The Michael James Jackson Foundation in the US. This grant-making organisation is named after British beer and whisky writer Michael James Jackson (1942-2007), whose books sold more than 3 million copies in 18 languages and helped to launch the craft beer movement in the US and worldwide.
"Receiving the Sir Geoff Palmer Scholarship from The Michael James Jackson Foundation has been a life-changing experience,” Bella said. “Heriot-Watt and specifically the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling is very much at the forefront of brewing research and getting to be here in Edinburgh, learning about advancements in brewing science is beyond a dream come true."
Bella has already been working in the brewing industry in the US for seven years and has an undergraduate degree in food science with a brewing emphasis from the University of California, Davis. After six months working on a research project for brewer Molson Coors in Colorado, she worked in different sized craft breweries in California before working her way up to brewery shift lead at a midsize production facility in Oregon.
Bella says there is a “startling” lack of people of colour and women in the brewing industry – and this is holding back innovation.
"For an industry that prides itself on innovation through collaboration, brewing is sorely lacking in diverse perspectives,” she said. “Giving people of colour and women a seat at the table and changing the collective voice of the industry to include different ways of thinking and brewing is the best way forward toward better beer."
Sir Geoff Palmer is Professor Emeritus and Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, where he studied and taught as a grain scientist in the 1960s and researched and taught from the 1970s to early 2000s. While working at the Brewing Research Foundation, a brewing research organisation in Surrey, in 1969, he discovered a process called barley abrasion. This accelerates the industrial production of malt – the soaking, partial germination and drying of grain to provide the sugars needed for fermentation.
The American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC) honoured Sir Geoff in 1998 with the Award of Distinction, widely considered the “Nobel Prize of Brewing.”
Sir Geoff said: “I am delighted that Ms Bella Perez chose Heriot-Watt University’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling to progress her studies and career in brewing.”
The Sir Geoff Palmer Scholarship Award for Brewing funds the tuition and course materials for American citizens or residents who are Black, Indigenous and People of Colour to attend well-recognized practical courses in brewing science and technology.
Garrett Oliver, founder and chair of The Michael James Jackson Foundation said: “Bella’s experience at Heriot-Watt is a perfect example of what we hope to accomplish with our scholarships – providing the additional technical education someone already working in the industry needs to reach the next level and eventually a leadership position. She gets the added bonus of meeting the person her scholarship is named after and inspired by, Sir Geoff Palmer.”
Bella hopes the MSc at Heriot-Watt will help her progress her ambition of owning and operating a farm brewery with a focus on bringing my local community sustainable beer and agriculture.
She said: “My dream is to open a brewery that can act as a community meeting place, where folks of all different backgrounds can access craft beer and produce that has been sustainably made and grown right on their neighbour’s farm."
Heriot-Watt’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling has an international reputation for learning and teaching in brewing and distilling and was formed in 1990 to meet the needs of the brewing, distilling and malting industries worldwide.