Downtown’s Point Park University in the spring of 2021 created a buzz when it launched a Brewing Science Academy, with its own pilot brewery and field trips to local breweries, to train future workers and owners in the burgeoning beer industry.

So it makes sense that the school now is also going to teach people to make spirits.

The initial ingredients and production steps are about the same, points out Gregg Johnson, Ph.D., chair of the university’s natural sciences, engineering and technology department that now includes the new Distilling Science Academy.

And unlike with brewing, people can’t just teach each other and themselves to do it at home, “unless you’re doing it illegally,” he quips.

The first class of Distilling 101 will legally learn the ins and outs — from raw materials for different spirits to production methods and styles to maturation — and there will be distillery field trips.

While most of the classes will be taught on campus, these students also will get a chance to work on the gleaming new equipment at Iron City Distilling, which is part of the new Pittsburgh Brewing Co. spread along the Allegheny River in East Deer.

Point Park’s brewing program was working with that new brewery last fall when someone there suggested Johnson talk with its newly hired head distiller, Matt Strickland. He not only had teaching experience, including at Louisville, Kentucky’s Moonshine University and Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology, but also authored two distilling textbooks.

Now Strickland is teaching Point Park’s course, registration for which is open until June 10. The first class starts June 11 and runs for three hours on Tuesday and Thursday evenings for 10 weeks through Aug. 15. The class size is limited to 16, and it’s already half filled. The tuition, including all course materials, is $2,200.

Those who graduate get a certificate and the knowledge they need to get hired at local distilleries such as Iron City, which soon will release its first spirits, as well as big new operations such as Liberty Pole Spirits in North Strabane, Washington County, and the opening-soon Ponfeigh Distillery in Somerset — destinations on the map of a region infamous for being the hotbed of the post-Revolutionary War Whiskey Rebellion.

“It seems to be growing,” says Johnson, who already is teaching — with Connor Murphy, Ph.D. — this summer’s Brewing 101 class. Point Park added a Brewing 201 class last fall that Johnson says will be offered again in 2025.

Those classes have been able to make beers to be sampled at the end of the course. This summer’s eight students will get to work with Abstract Realm and New France, two of three breweries in the historic Hazelwood Brewery that plans to open this month, as well as with Trafford’s new Wye Beer Co., whose owner Chris Juricich is an alum. (Another, Joe Vickless, is one of the folks who are opening Local Remedy Brewing in Oakmont.)

Alas, the distilling students probably won’t be able to make their own schoolhouse spirits, Johnson says. “I’ll have to check with our liquor lawyer.”

To learn more and to register for the class, visit

Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at

Bob Batz Jr.

Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at