Brewmaster Student In Munich Germany

Vandra Ruppel is a student enrolled in the Brewmaster and Brewery Management Operations program at Niagara College. She has recently participated in an international field study experience In Munich, Germany.  Read some of the excerpts from hher reflection to see how her experience abroad has helped her become “World Ready”!

Vandra Ruppel

My trip abroad taught me an abundance of things, some things about others and their cultures, and some things about myself. When I signed up to go to Munich with some of my classmates from the Brewmaster program, it didn’t immediately hit me that travelling somewhere outside the States or Canada could be so, well, different. In terms of “world readiness”, to be honest, I arrogantly thought I already was, but the trip honestly changed that for me. I would say that I am a bit more prepared now, after having traveled for a few weeks, but the thing is that everywhere in the world is different, and everywhere is going to be a new experience, until you go.


While in Germany for class, we stayed in a small town called Freising, it was beautiful, although a bit old fashioned in its perspective on women leaving the home. Or drinking in public. Which, for a female brewer, can be a bit difficult. All that aside, the things I found most interesting in terms of the effects they could have on my future career would be the heavy use of automation in brewing equipment, and the ever present adherence to the Reinheitsgebot purity laws.

It’s no secret that German beer is world renowned for superior flavor, and clean brewing techniques. How is that so? Well, the aforementioned automation of equipment doesn’t hurt. So automated brewing equipment is just like automated anything else you can think of. The machine a human would normally operate is routed into a computer system, some fancy (and incredibly expensive) valving, and wiring is done, then presto! Push a button, and beer. Of course it is more complicated than that, when it comes to writing a recipe and being creative, nothing beats the human mind, and the people, after all are the ones who wrote the program for the software that runs the machine. With the automation of brewing systems the element of human error is largely removed from the brewing process, meaning the beers created there are essentially exactly the same. Every. Single. Time. This kind of consistency is something that a brewer without an automated system only dreams about. For me, however, this is losing some of the romance of beer. I was brought into the world of “craft beer”, which for me means small batches, and a high level of experimentation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so glad that a brilliant German somewhere was able to connect computers to equipment to deliver me heavenly beers time after time, but I would never want to stand around and push buttons all day. Not for me.

Okay, so the second thing. Reinheitsgebot, AKA German beer purity laws that state the only ingredients allowed in beers produced in Bavarian are malt, hops, water, and yeast. No double chocolate cherry stouts here! No cucumber jalapeno pilsner. Certainly no lemongrass pale ale. It may seem like a hamper to creativity, but German brewers have been making incredible and delicious beers for centuries with these guidelines. There is something to be said for brewing a beer with the most basic ingredients, brewing it well, and brewing it consistently. It’s so impressive to be able to witness these things first hand. Being able to brew a simple beer with pure ingredients, and nothing to hide potential flaws behind is, to me, an art form.

Finally, what I learned for future travels. First, always learn at least a few phrases in the mother tongue of the country you are going to. Not only is it just good manners, it also could end up being very, very helpful. I took a German course a semester before we left, and was able to decipher menus, and at the very least ask for help and introduce myself. It turned out to be incredibly helpful.

Second, don’t expect a country that is not like the one you came from to be like the one you came from. Culture shock is indeed a thing. A thing I thought was silly in fact. That was until a very blunt German man told me that in Freising, a woman would not be out drinking with other men, but at home waiting for her husband to return. Culture shock, indeed.

Overall, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I toured institutions that have been standing for centuries, I saw technology that revolutionized the industry I work in, I drank beer with a brewmaster in a 600 year old beer cellar, and I ate 12 pretzels in 7 days. I call it a win.