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Beginning this fall, George Mason University is offering a class that aims to broaden students’ views on alcohol consumption and production.

These lessons are part of a curriculum under the university’s new Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, which opened July 1.

“This class is sort of half experience, half analytical,” said Professor Gabriella Petrick, who teaches the new three-credit-hour elective Global Health Perspectives on Alcohol. The goal, she said, is to give students “a much greater appreciation of the role that alcohol plays in society. The good and the bad.”

Last week, students gathered in Mason’s nutrition lab — a kitchen in the old Metro Diner in Fairfax City — to brew beer. Students worked in groups of about three to make beers such as a festive Christmas-style ale with cinnamon, an Apricot Harvest Wit ale for fall and a Belgian-style ale. While gathering around tall, silver caldrons used to boil water, students added mull extract, orange peel, yeast, hops and other ingredients from their recipe lists.

“I’ve never made beer before,” said Sheena De Freitas, 25, who is working on her master’s degree in public health. “I’m seeing some new words I’ve never seen before.

“I consume alcohol, but I don’t really know that much about it and the course description looked really cool,” she said, when explaining why she enrolled in the course.

During the semester, which ends in December, students will study the history of beer and wine production; learn how grapes are grown and the process of making wine; and how grains are malted and turned into beer. They will discuss the social and cultural aspects of alcohol consumption — including lessons on Prohibition.

In early October, Petrick’s students took a field trip to King Family Vineyards in Crozet, Va., a rural town of about 2,800 people in Albemarle County.

Venus Perez, 25, said the trip was one of her favorite parts of the class so far.

“We got to walk through the whole thing. … From start to finish, we went through the entire process of wine making,” she said. Like many in the class, Perez is using the course as an elective toward her 18-credit nutrition graduate certificate.

“The tastings are probably my favorite part,” she said. “You get to test a whole bunch of wines at different prices that we might not necessarily go out and buy ourselves.”

Perez is one of 11 students enrolled in the course during its first semester.

“Most people didn’t sign up for it because they didn’t know what it’s about. But now that I’ve told people about it and what we get to do, they all want to try it,” she said.

Petrick agreed enrollment is low because — despite being listed as a new course offering — word did not spread during fall registration. The goal this semester, she said, is to remedy that.

“This is the first time we’re offering it, so that’s how many showed up. But we’re hoping to have about 25 [students in future classes],” she said. As a prerequisite for the course, students must be 21 or older. Petrick said now that the school year has started, she hopes the buzz about the brewing class will build.

“The trend for classes like this is driven by students’ interest in food and regionalism,” Petrick said. “It is also about artisanal and craft food trends in relation to large industrial food trends.”

Virginia’s wineries, for example, have increased in number and sales during the past five or more years, according to the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, based in Richmond.

In 2005, Virginia had 85 wineries and sold 328,402 cases of wine. In 2010, the numbers rose to 193 wineries and 439,533 cases sold.

“Virginia wine sales have been growing steadily for three years,” said Annette Boyd, spokeswoman for the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office. “We are tracking at a 10.4 percent increase in sales for the first half of 2010.”

Similarly, Virginia’s breweries have increased from 14 in 2005 to 41 in 2011, according to the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

The Global Health Perspectives on Alcohol course is part of Mason’s new Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, which opened July 1 as part of the College of Health and Human Services.

“It’s an interesting new department because it’s not your traditional nutrition or food science department. … It really focuses on nutrition here and globally,” said department chairwoman Professor Lisa Pawloski. “So many nutrition majors come out [of school] with this great knowledge of the science and biology of nutrition … but [they] may not know how to prepare food.”

The new department aims to do just that, Pawloski said.

About 300 students are enrolled in courses offered by the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, which began because of substantial interest among students, Pawloski said. This includes a cooking group called CAFÉ-GMU, which was started by about 30 students last year and quickly grew to more than 100, she said.

“There’s a great interest in [nutrition studies],” Pawloski said. “I’ve got people emailing me who have bachelor’s degrees in other fields and really want to switch fields. … Every day, I receive three or so phone calls from people trying to join in the program.”

Currently the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies offers graduate and undergraduate certificates and minors, but Pawloski said the goal is to eventually offer a major in nutrition studies.

Courses such as Global Health Perspectives on Alcohol might help to draw more attention to the department from outside of the College of Health and Human Services.

Philosophy graduate student Brandon Holmes, 31, enrolled in the class as part of his plans to get a certificate in nutrition.

“I looked in the bookstore and there are a lot of books on wine. That was the appeal,” he said. “The other appeal is the class looks at alcohol another way. A lot of classes look at alcohol abuse. This is taking that cultural perspective.”

Leaning over a pot of boiling beer brew, Holmes described himself as more of a beer man, but said the class has changed his perspective on wines.

“It’s taught me that, yeah, I can go out and buy a bottle of wine. But there’s more to it,” he said. “I’m becoming a wine drinker. I’d never really gotten into it before.”

hhobbs@fairfaxtimes.com