Recent WKU graduate runs local brewery

Brewery supervisor Josh Newell gets ready to keg beer on Wednesday Aug. 23, 2017 at the WKU research center.

Griffin Fletcher

Recently graduated and new to the professional world, Josh Newell heads the largest brewery on any college campus in the United States.

Josh Newell graduated from WKU with a photojournalism degree in May of 2017. He now works as brewery supervisor at College Heights Brewing, a sub-branch of Kentucky Ale.

Newell was born in Atlanta, grew up in Iowa and came to Bowling Green for college. Along the way, he has done everything from fixing bikes to interning as a conflict journalist in Israel.

Needless to say, Newell’s travels have afforded him a unique skill set, which he believes is perfect for the unpredictable nature of his job.

Located along Nashville Road at the WKU Center for Research and Development, CHB is barely a 10-minute drive from Diddle Arena.

Steel machines and white fiberglass beams cover almost half of the brewing quarters, with stacked bags of malted barley close by. Compared to the spotless hallway just outside the door, the brewery serves as a microcosm of craziness and production.

“Look at my pants. They were clean this morning,” Newell said with a smile and glance downward.

In just one 12-hour day, around 440 gallons of beer are brewed by means of a “brew-house,” fermenter and carbonator, but only four ingredients are actually used in the process.

Water, grain, hops and yeast.

“The recipe for beer is simpler than the recipe for chocolate chip cookies,” Newell said as he reached into a sack of barley grain, beer’s first ingredient.

The barley grain is first placed in a mill and cracked, where it is then mixed with hot water and made sugary. The mix is next paired with hops and boiled in a kettle, which breaks down the sugar and gives the beer its signature bitter taste. Yeast is added via a yeast brink, then the beer is transferred to a fermenter, where it undergoes aerobic and anaerobic oxygenation, which creates alcohol. After a week to 10 days of fermentation, the beer is sent to a “brite tank” and carbonated. Finally, the beer is able to be stored and sold.

The system sounds straightforward but is precise and delicate.

“You can leave one valve open and ruin a whole day. I’ve done that,” Newell said.

Larger breweries have largely replaced hands-on methods with technology and computerized machines, but Newell appreciates College Heights’ all-manual approach. This method took him over five months to master.

“You feel much more personally responsible for the beer,” Newell said.

Also, all-manual does not mean less scientific.

Brewery Apprentice Zach Berry graduated alongside Newell in 2017 with a degree in chemistry and worked for CHB throughout his senior year at WKU.

Berry hopes to one day make use of his experience at CHB by working in a distillery lab, where yeast analysis and quality control takes place.

“I took this as an opportunity to better myself as a lab person in a brewery and distillery,” Berry said.

Despite CHB’s current lack of lab work, Newell and Berry know there is potential for future expansion and progress.

“I want to get more students involved, absolutely,” Newell said without hesitation, when asked about CHB’s future plans.

Though brewing and distilling sciences is not yet a formal major at WKU, the Board of Regents recognizes it as a certificate and could it approve it as a major soon, according to a past Herald article.

As shown in a report by WKU News, the CHB brewery was established in April of 2016 by means of a partnership between the Alltech brewing and distilling company and the WKU Brewing and Distilling program, with the goal to give WKU students the opportunity to experience and learn the process of brewing beer.

No jobs are currently available at CHB, and all applicants must be at least 21 years old, but greater opportunity will come with development.

Even now, CHB is extending within the Bowling Green community. CHB “pint-night” is scheduled August 31 at Mellow Mushroom and September 1 at Blue Holler. CHB is also the official beer sponsor of WKU Athletics.

Though Newell had not been introduced to brewing before working at CHB, in compared to his past work as a photojournalist, he described the experience as “serene.”

“I could see myself doing this for the next 40 years,” Newell said.

Reporter Griffin Fletcher can be reached at 270-745-2688 or [email protected].