Beer is a part of life at most universities, but it's rarely found in the course catalog. For M.B.A. students at Bentley College outside Boston, however, the beverage has a prominent place in the curriculum. In The Organizational Life Cycle: The Boston Beer Company, 36 students meet with the executives to study the development of the company that brews Samuel Adams. Prof. Alan Hoffman says the process improves upon the traditional M.B.A. course, in which students fly through case studies about dozens of companies each semester. "This evolves case teaching to the next level," he says, justifying the choice of Boston Beer because it created the craft-beer niche, stealing market share from bigger firms in the process.

Susan Fero, a marketing manager at Bose Corp., had to talk her boss into paying for the course. "How does this apply to your job?" he demanded. Her answer: their division is in start-up mode just as Boston Beer was in the 1980s, so it's a good model. (He approved.) Hoffman hopes to offer a one-company course again, whether it focuses on Boston Beer or another firm. Administrators have set just one condition: if the syllabus involves beer, every student must be over 21.