Bill about fermentation classes passes Senate


Reynold Nesiba: District 15 Senator

Jordan Rusche (She/Her), Co-Editor-in-Chief

A bill that would allow 18 to 20 year olds to participate in college classes teaching about alcohol production and fermentation passed its second reading in the Senate Tuesday.

Senate Bill 108 alters existing legislation created last year, which states no one under 21 is allowed to enroll in these classes or taste any alcoholic beverages they produce.

Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) brought the bill forward as prime sponsor. He said the main goal of the bill is to increase the number of South Dakota graduates with experience in fermentation and brewing.

“This is a workforce development bill,” he said. “I’ve got people from POET, people from Remedy (Brewing Company), other people reaching out to me saying, ‘we need people who understand fermentation.’ This isn’t just about brewing, it’s also about understanding making ethanol, it’s about making energy.”

Nesiba also said by allowing an education exception for tasting alcohol, more students will be able to start taking these classes earlier in their college careers and have more opportunities to learn about brewing.

Several other proponents spoke in favor of passing the bill during its initial hearing in the Senate Education committee Thursday, Feb. 8. They included educators, local brewers and more.

Nicholas Wipf, a senior chemical engineering student at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, also spoke in favor of the bill during the hearing, representing all student association senates for South Dakota Board of Regents universities. He said the bill would allow more students to get “tongues-on” experience in labs for these classes where students must create properly brewed alcoholic beverages.

“Acidity and alcohol can be measured with instruments, but the flavor, the only instrument for that is the human tongue, and obviously, if you’re not 21, you’re not going to be able to participate in that,” he said.

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology is one of three regental universities teaching classes related to fermentation and alcohol production. Northern State University and South Dakota State University also offer these programs.

SDSU also offers a certificate program for production and service of wine, beer and spirits. The program has four required classes, two of which teach ways to properly taste, produce and pair alcoholic beverages. Currently, students have to be 21 or older to enroll in these two classes.

SDSU currently has no official stance on the bill as it is not sponsored by BOR, according to University Marketing and Communications Director Mike Lockrem.

The only opponent during the bill’s first hearing was Katie Hruska, general counsel for Gov. Kristi Noem. Hruska said that universities had agreed to very limited exceptions for allowing alcohol on campuses with previous legislation, and adding more exceptions could affect those earlier safeguards.

“If this is about workforce, then let’s talk about registered apprenticeships, … and we can talk about other on-the-job training,” Hruska said. “I think there’s a lot of other ways to go about this.”

The Senate Education committee passed the bill 4-2. 

During the hearing on the Senate floor, opponents argued that though Nesiba said the bill could bolster the bioproducts field, classes involving tasting alcohol have nothing to do with biofuel and ethanol production. It could also open the door for underage students to drink without supervision both in class and outside of it.

“There’s no reason why a student can’t wait until they’re 21 to take these classes,” Sen. Tim Reed (R-Brookings) said in opposition of the bill. “They can’t go into the workforce until they’re 21. So, I don’t believe that this is a good bill, and I think it’s just one way of being able to serve some alcohol on campus.”

The bill passed in the Senate with an 18-17 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for another round of voting.